If you have excuses, be prepared to shed them now… Lucy Werner’s book story is quite simply extraordinary. Having entered the 10-day Business Book Proposal Challenge last January on a whim, she went on to win it. She was pregnant at the time so knew things might be tricky, but she wasn’t prepared for the full enormity of what the following year threw at her. Nobody could have been.
Despite having every reason not to finish the book, Lucy hit her deadline. And then of course she had to deliver the PR campaign to support it (because you can’t credibly publish a book called Hype Yourself without, well, hyping it yourself). And she did that too, with incredible results.
Genius PR tips and an honest, challenging look at what it takes to write and promote a book when the world is conspiring against you. Essential listening.
Lucy’s website: https://www.thewern.com/
Lucy on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wernchat/
Business Book Awards 2020 Shortlist: https://www.businessbookawards.co.uk/shortlist-2020/
Alison on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alison-jones-9b09893/
Alison on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookstothesky
The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/
This Book Means Business – the mentorship programme: https://alisonjones.lpages.co/this-book-means-business-mentorship/
Alison Jones: I’m here today with Lucy Werner who is a PR expert and founder of The Wern, a design and PR consultancy for startups, entrepreneurs and independent brands. She’s worked with top emerging business talent such as Jimmy’s Iced Coffee, The Marshmallowist and Vinyl Me, Please. She also consults for innovation marketing and other public relations consultancies on their go-to-market strategies, raising CEO profiles and developing thought leadership.
Lucy brilliantly uses her own profile to demonstrate how other small businesses can do their own publicity. And her Instagram feed, by the way, probably the best in the world. I put the link up to that on the show notes, just saying. She’s also the author of Hype Yourself: A No-nonsense PR Toolkit for Small Businesses published by of course, Practical Inspiration. Welcome to the show, Lucy.
Lucy Werner: Hello, thank you for having me. No pressure on the Instagram feed there.
Alison Jones: It’s ace. Actually, do you know what? Let’s start with that because it’s so distinctive – you sort of outline in bold colour – where did that all come from? I’ve always wanted to ask you that.
Lucy Werner: Do you know, I limped with my Instagram for quite a while. I think I’ve got a creative eye but I couldn’t get it to reflect what I wanted my brand to look like. And around the time that I was coming up with a concept for the book, I did a brand strategy with my partner Hadrien. And he created these templates and a feel and I basically just decided I wanted my Instagram feed to be like the website and be a visual representation of what my brand was like, really. It was kind of part of my book strategy that I knew I wanted to grow a community and an audience there. And the way that I could stand out was by having that distinct visual personality.
Alison Jones: And that’s a great phrase, isn’t it? Visual personality. Because I remember you, you did a piece for our Practical Inspiration author day a little while ago, which she couldn’t actually come to in the end. We might have to talk about that. But you were talking about publicity and giving publicity tips to people and it was really interesting that you focused so much on visual personality, visual identity. You said basically one of the first things you should do is get some decent photos taken.
Lucy Werner: Yes, definitely. I mean even on a very basic level, if you do get invited to speak to an article on the press, like even if I’m doing a podcast with you today, if you’re speaking at an event, one of the first things you’re going to be asked for is a headshot and the amount of times I’ve asked for CEOs for a headshot, and it’s sort of a selfie on the back of the toilet door or something, and you’re like, “I don’t understand.” So actually, yes, the very first thing I did was in October 2017 was I did a photo shoot in my own house, but I just got lots of props and cleared out areas of my house so I have plain backgrounds and did these kinds of different settings so that I had basically a hundred images I could use, which served me really over a year. Almost all my Instagram content and everything I’ve used for events and guest posts, so that if you do Google my name to look me up, it’s not just the same headshot again and again and again.
Alison Jones: I’m making notes frantically here. I’ve got one headshot, I use it to death. I think many of us are guilty of that. That’s really gold. So there you go, you’ve got some gold in the first two minutes of the interview. Absolutely brilliant. Tell us a little bit about the book. I’m going to come on to talk about more PR stuff – just basically to tap you for PR stuff for the rest of the interview-
Lucy Werner: Yes let’s do it.
Alison Jones: But I do want to talk about the book because… The book. And also it’s got such an interesting story behind it. So tell us how it came about and you’re very welcome if you want to mention the 10-day business book proposal challenge at any point, feel free.
Lucy Werner: So funnily enough I’d been talking about doing a business book for about four years and my best friend is my childhood best friend is Fiz Osborne, who’s now I think she’s the editorial director at Scholastic and she’s actually in children’s picture books. But she’s in that book world and she saw actually a tweet from you about your podcast and so I decided to listen and it was your year in review and you’re talking about all the tips for business book writers and at the end you plugged your challenge and I thought, “You know what, I’m going to do that.” It was January, it’s a good time of year. I think that’s when people are really getting their plans together and I knew I wanted to pivot my business and I just felt there wasn’t a PR book out there that told people the actual strategy and the plan behind it.
Everybody gets so rushed into, “I want to be in Vogue, or I want to be in Forbes, I want to be on the BBC,” but actually that sort of press coverage doesn’t necessarily move the dial for your business. So I really wanted to get business owners to think about why they want to get PR in the first place and then look at all the different tactics and put a plan together that really reaches their target audience rather than serves their ego. And from a personal perspective, I just felt there wasn’t enough actual PR. I was telling people how to do publicity. Like the top 10 was dominated on Amazon by male journalists turned publicity experts. But the PRCA, just like the governing body for PR, said it’s a 66% female-led industry. So I just thought it was about time that those numbers were jigged about a bit.
Alison Jones: Well too right. And just let’s go over the timeline for a minute because we are recording this and your book is published in January, 2020. And I’m looking back, you joined the proposal challenge pretty much the day it started in January, 2019 didn’t you? That’s been quite the year.
Lucy Werner: It has been. Yes, in more ways than one, I would say. It’s definitely been Quite. The. Year. So obviously at the end of that proposal challenge, obviously you very kindly offered me a publishing contract.
Alison Jones: Okay, let’s just rephrase that a minute. You aced the publishing challenge and won it and I offered you a publishing contract.
Lucy Werner: And I was pregnant. So I said to you, “Right, I’ve got to get it done before I give birth…”
Alison Jones: “I’ve got a deadline.”
Lucy Werner: …otherwise it won’t get done.” So that I think also helped whip it through a bit. But actually I think having a deadline that wasn’t movable was really good for me because I think had I not had the baby deadline, I probably would have tried to have pushed it back. So yes.
Alison Jones: And let’s talk about that for a minute because you finished your manuscript before Beau was born, but that isn’t the end of the publishing process.
Lucy Werner: No.
Alison Jones: Then it all got a bit difficult, didn’t it?
Lucy Werner: Yes. Actually I used to set one day aside to write and I think one of those days I was writing, I had a phone call from my parents to say that my dad had cancer and that sort of knocked out a day of writing and it always seemed to be that he was having hospital appointments on my writing day and I’d get sidetracked. Then three weeks before Beau was born, my mother had a brain aneurism and I actually remember being sat as she was having neurosurgery writing the redraft of the book. Scoring out loads of… I had my A4 lever arch file of the first draught of the manuscript and was just crossing out stuff, writing notes to myself in the hospital and falling asleep in the waiting room at eight and a half months pregnant with my lever arch file at the top just being like, “Is she all right? Is she okay?”
Lucy Werner: My older brother being like-
Alison Jones: Surely she shouldn’t be doing this.
Lucy Werner: Yes, he was like, “Nah, she’s fine. She’s just having a good rest, she’s bit tired.” And I think it was at that point that I thought maybe I should push it back. But actually the book was so geared up to how I was going to pivot my business, and I had had such a plan of what I wanted my 2019 and my 2020 to look like that I just thought, “No, I need to keep going.”
And then after my baby was born, we were rushed to Great Ormond Street for open heart surgery and stayed there for a month, came home for three weeks and then we were back again staying in hospital for a month whilst he had a wound infection, was on antibiotics. So it’s been quite a hairy year. But I have to say, actually in a way, the book kept me going because it gave me something else to focus on.
So when it came out last week, it was a real high and a low at the same time, but like just, “Wow, I didn’t just write a book. I wrote a book with all of this going on.” And I think people don’t talk enough about… It’s very easy on my Instagram to be like, “Here’s another PR tip and make it look like I’m all happy and fun at the time.” But actually there was some real personal trauma happening and I found kind of hiding in that hype yourself bubble, a really cathartic way to get through that.
Alison Jones: I think that’s incredible and I’m sure there’s people listening going, “Right, I should probably stop with the excuses now and just crack on.” But I think it’s also an important point that when you’re doing something purposeful, it’s actually quite good for the soul. When the world is spinning out of control, having this thing that you’ve committed to and you’re doing, there is power in that.
Lucy Werner: Yes, I definitely remember asking you early on in the process, “What happens if something happens? Like if I give birth early?” And you giving me this kind of get out of jail clause that you said I could use. I think it might’ve had a swear word in it, but-
Alison Jones: I’m sure it didn’t…
Lucy Werner: And then when it came to me being able to maybe use that get out of jail card thinking, “No. I’ve come this far, I’ve come this far. I’ve got to keep going.” And it’s a weird thing when you run a business and you’re a woman and you have children because it’s a different type of pressure on you, I think, too, of what you’re doing and what you’re not doing. So my maternity leave was really intended to just be the time I spent promoting the book and the marketing of it. And that was my full intention and I still somehow managed to stumble my way through and do that. And I think it was good. It was a good thing to have as a distraction from the heaviness of everything else.
Alison Jones: Yes. And I remember the whole publishing team, sort of consult with each other. “Have you spoken to… will you speak to Lucy?” Because we didn’t want to be bombarding you with stuff. We wanted to check everything was okay, but we also knew that you were so committed to getting it done that yes… I think we’re still all quite amazed that you managed it. And so, so impressed. And of course the great news is it works because you went straight to number one of Amazon, of how many? It was a reward, wasn’t it, for everything that you’d gone through?
Lucy Werner: Yes, I really hoped that I do it in the first week, but I think I got a… Actually, the first person that drew it to my attention was a guy called Carl Reader on LinkedIn who DM’d me with a screen grab, he’s a writer as well, and he said, “I know how quickly these things can change. You’re number one.” And then I suddenly had a phone call from another previous client of mine called Rosa Bloom, and she was like, “You’re number one.” And I was like, “Ah, I need to grab it. But I’m out with the children.” And she took a computer screenshot for me. So I had it. But actually I think I stayed there for the first five days. It was only late yesterday afternoon I dropped back down again to number two. So I was happy with that.
Alison Jones: Yes, it was absolutely brilliant to see. And obviously we were taking screen grabs like they’re going out of fashion as well. And you get that little orange bestseller flag, it was just fantastic. It’s so gratifying isn’t it? It shouldn’t matter as much as it does, but it really does.
Lucy Werner: Yes, it was good. So going back to the Instagram side of things, it was a real tactic of mine because I guess from the inside, I know that publicity is great for awareness but not necessarily sales. So I deliberately for the last year I’ve been growing my community on Instagram. And actually I’d probably just about to answer one of your questions before you ask me.
Alison Jones: Crack on.
Lucy Werner: So the question of like what a piece of business advice would you give to… Or what piece of advice? The answer to what piece of advice would you give to a business book writer? For me, it was about growing my community and I probably spent three times the amount of time doing that as I did writing the book. So I was giving away a lot of content, a lot of free tips, a lot of advice. Sometimes on my Instagram stories, I would open up slots for people to DM me for questions.
Lucy Werner: So I had this real community after a year and I asked people about two or three months in advance of the publishing day if they wanted to be part of my launch team. Explained that I wanted to be number one. Why it’s important to be number one, how it makes a difference on the Amazon algorithm and would people be willing to put it in their newsletter or interview me on their website or invite me on their podcast or share it on their grid. And so I kind of recruited this huge group of small business and entrepreneur users on Instagram. So when it got to launch week, I did a series of different posts that played with the book cover in different ways that replicated very expensive PR stunts.
Alison Jones: It was brilliant. A bus stop, the tube advert and stuff. It was wonderful.
Lucy Werner: My favourite was Bill Gates reading it, which a few people thought was real. I was like, “No.” And that was an idea that I casually borrowed off of Sam of Be More Pirate fame as well. I floated it down the Thames, we threw it into space, we got somebody to dress up…
Alison Jones: It’s so cool because it’s so accessible isn’t it? Anybody could do this, but it’s about that sort of spark of fun and creativity.
Lucy Werner: Yes. And so a lot of people I think just… It wasn’t just, “Here’s the book cover, here’s the book cover, here’s the book cover.” Another way you could launch a book is like this, or, if you have a product, here’s a different way that you could do it on a low budget. So I was trying to give ideas all the time rather than saying buy my book.
Lucy Werner: And I tagged like all of those people. And it was like on the actual day of lunch, I think I tagged everybody who’d said they’d help and said, “Today is my launch today. If you’re tagged in this it’s because you said you would share and support,” and literally I think by the end of launch day I was being shared across 100 different stories across Instagram. And when I just looked even at the initial 20 people who said they’d share it, that already had given me a reach of like 250,000 people.
Alison Jones: It’s astonishing. And that’s horizontal reach, isn’t it? That’s trust. And you’re building on those people’s networks and that’s the stuff that really, really moves the needle. I mean, it’s funny you said before about you can get really great traditional PR. We’ve had authors on national television, national radio. You don’t see a massive spike in sales. What moves the needle is that community and that sense of excitement around it.
Lucy Werner: And it’s weird where like pockets are forming. So I live in East London now, so I have got a bit of an East London community that have been supporting, but originally I’m from Kent. So a few people I know from the Kent business community, there’s a bit of a mushroom effect on sort of social media there. So I started to see like lots of people from Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells where I grew up suddenly getting in contact with me or even people that I haven’t spoken to in 20 years that I went to school with or something being like, “I just seen your book.” So it’s weird how I can see this regional mushroom effect where I’ve got an engaged audience.
Alison Jones: That’s brilliant. It’s everybody loves to be a part of success, don’t they?
Lucy Werner: Yes. Yes. And I think because a lot of those people went on the journey with me as well. I don’t talk about my personal life all the time, but I do hint at it and I have referenced it in podcasts, so people know that I didn’t have the easiest year. So I think for them, they’re there to help just remind me that it’s… Because I think I take it for granted. I just think, “Oh, there’s all this promotion I haven’t done because of what’s happened.” And they’re there going, “But you wrote a book going through what happened.” And I’m like, “Oh yes.” And that reminder is quite nice sometimes.
Alison Jones: Yes. And that’s the lovely thing about community isn’t it? It isn’t just reach, it’s people and it’s connection and they’re real people and you build up that sense of actually connection and caring.
Lucy Werner: Yes. Yes. Totally.
Alison Jones: When we talk about PR, it’s got a bit of a bad rep.
Lucy Werner: Yes.
Alison Jones: I think most small business owners have a fairly ambivalent relationship to the idea of PR because on the one hand, they don’t quite trust it, but on the another hand, they think they want it and they don’t quite know how to get it. So why is it that odd, dark art that’s quite mysterious and you need a well-paid consultant to do it for you?
Lucy Werner: I think historically, advertising, marketing and public relations has still got a bit of a kind of 1980s… It’s like we just go out all day and drink and it’s for big brands with big budgets. What I really want to do this year is champion individuals and small businesses that do publicity really well because even most of the examples you see are still big brands doing it, when actually the needle’s being moved by hundreds of individuals. But I think small businesses don’t necessarily know that it is essentially a free skill. It’s just learning how to do it and it isn’t really rocket science. One of the questions I get a lot is “How’d you get on a podcast? Or how do you write a guest article?” And I’m like, “You just email and ask them.” And I’m obviously like putting it on a basic level there.
But nobody who’s a business author is going to get on your podcast without approaching you to be on your podcasts. So you’ve just got to sort of get it out there. I also think people think, “Oh, but I don’t have a press release.” I personally don’t love a press release. I hardly ever use them. I don’t find that they’re needed. I think, like for myself, when I send out information about my book, I’ll maybe have a couple of paragraphs on what the book is, but it’s not really… Historically the press release was used verbatim to describe a new use case. I think the very first time it was used was to describe the results of a train crash or something. So for me to be like, “Hey, big news, my book is out today,” and talk about it in that way. Nobody’s going to write about it or talk about it in that way. So really it’s more like you’re just giving the background factual information about your product or your service to somebody.
But for me it’s like the pitch email, that’s the bit where you’re selling yourself and you can really tailor it to that journalist or that event organiser or the publication you want to be in. And it’s just really basic things like getting that person’s name spelled correctly, identifying the slot of what that column is called or what that radio show is called. One of the really fun things I’ve had even in the last week, because I went on radio and I talked a bit about radio. Three of my followers all got on the radio within the next week and then told me how they did it. And each of them, it was in a different way, but none of them tried to sell their product or use a press release. They just approached the show producer or the news desk of that radio show to just talk about why they think they’d be interesting.
Alison Jones: It is fascinating isn’t it? As you say, it’s so simple, but actually what it depends on is confidence and an action. But what’s brilliant of course is the way you present it in the book. It really is a no-nonsense guide. You’ve got this kind of action points, summary. Try this, do this and, and that is really empowering. And you’re right, it shouldn’t be hard. But if you haven’t got those specific action points, you haven’t got the confidence of your instincts. It is hard. So what I love about the way that you present it is, “Okay, do this, do this, do this. Try this.” And then you build that confidence in people to do it themselves.
Lucy Werner: Yes. Hopefully. That’s what I’m hoping to do. It seems to be that a few people are already trying out already. So I’m really looking forward to seeing the results of people putting it to use.
Alison Jones: Absolutely. That’s going to be the best thing, isn’t it? When you start getting those emails going, “Oh my goodness, you have transformed my business. Thank you.” That’s really cool. And that’s actually one of the wonderful things about the book, in the time that you’re writing it until it goes out, it’s all about the book and people looking at the book and you as the author, and then suddenly the book kind of takes on a life of its own and it goes out and helps other people and then it’s about their story and that’s a nice part of the trajectory of it.
Lucy Werner: I’m not going to lie as well; there’s definitely that pressure that when you’re writing a book about how to do publicity you need to get publicity for your book.
Alison Jones: Do you know, when you’re writing a book about writing a book for your business, for your business? A bit too meta…
Lucy Werner: But yes, I think I actually had really underestimated how much marketing and PR of the book would take. I did a day a week writing it and then I was probably doing a day and a half, two days a week promoting in the last six months. I took December off.
Alison Jones: It’s as much work if not more than actual writing. I always say the writing’s kind of the easy bit because it’s just you and the book. Yes.
Lucy Werner: And I thought, “Oh, I’ll just write a few guest articles here and there. It’ll be easy, I can just take excerpts of the book.” But of course it never works like that because you’re writing tailored articles for people. So whilst it was like really exciting, I was suddenly like, “Hold on a minute, I’m doing another 15,000 words.” I’m so over writing right now.
Alison Jones: “You’ve written your book. Now you have to write loads of articles. That’s your reward.” That’s so funny. Has it been fun?
Lucy Werner: No! But I don’t mean that in a bad way. I wouldn’t describe it as fun, but it was a passion project for me. It was something I really wanted to do. I really wanted to move out of having an agency, a team. For people that don’t name me, I used to run a full on PR consultancy with a team and was growing it. And I was obsessed with getting more staff and getting more turnover. And it really wasn’t making me happy, whereas actually what makes me happy is helping people promote their businesses. I love small business. I love supporting startups. I love meeting entrepreneurs. They’re so passionate about their business. So for me it’s more soul-fulfilling, I guess, than fun.
Alison Jones: Deep fun, how about that? So deep it doesn’t always feel fun. Soul-fulfilling, let’s go with that. That’s a much more resonant phrase. Well as you know, I always ask people about their best tip. You’ve gone and done that. That’s the community building bit. Love that. Thank you. But I will ask you, what’s a tip for… I mean clearly everybody should read Hype Yourself, but what other business books should anyone listening to this podcast read, do you think?
Lucy Werner: I think related to my first point about my business, my favourite book is the Company of One by Paul Jarvis. I don’t know if he’s already been mentioned by other guests on your show, but I think it’s really poignant and we’re definitely moving more into a place that business success isn’t just about turnover and actually you can be a sole business owner or just be a small business owner with a couple of employees and still have a really great and successful business. And I think it really helps solidify for me that what I am doing with the book and how I intend to take my business forward, and what I’m using the book to promote from my side is this one-woman service that’s going to have different mediums of helping people to promote their businesses without necessarily growing the agency side again. And it was never my dream to run a big PR agency. It was always my former employers, former mentors who’d be like, “Yes, grow it, grow it to sell it.” And I’d be like, “Yes, I’m going to hit a million.” And then I suddenly saw-
Alison Jones: And suddenly, yes, you’re on that track and you’re like, “Hang on a minute. I didn’t ask to be here.”
Lucy Werner: Yes, and it was actually only when I got pregnant the first time that I suddenly thought, “What am I doing? This is not what I left working for somebody else’s PR agency to do.” And so for me, I just think that there’s something really powerful. The world of freelancers and small business owners is still exponentially increasing all the time and I think it can only be a good thing for the world really.
Alison Jones: Yes, I agree. There’s a little sustainability piece in there, isn’t there? Yes, I love that book. It’s a great recommendation. Thank you. And Lucy clearly I’m going to put your Instagram feed on there. Just say it so that people who are listening can hear it as well.
Lucy Werner: So it’s @WernChat, which is W-E-R-N-C-H-A-T. It was going to be The Wern, but some child has got it and I can’t get it back off Instagram.
Alison Jones: So annoying.
Lucy Werner: I used to have it and then I gave it up one day. I don’t know why. I was fiddling around with names and then I lost it. Because I’m quite chatty, it’s Wernchat and that’s my same handle across all of my social media channels if you want to find me.
Alison Jones: And there’s a great tip in itself, eh? Fantastic. Thank you so much, Lucy. We will put all that on there and congratulations on the book again. We are absolutely so delighted with it. It’s going to transform people’s businesses and what more could you ask for in a business book?
Lucy Werner: Thank you so much.
Alison Jones: Really good to talk to you today. Thanks for your time.
Lucy Werner: Thanks Alison.