Strategy on a ‘Glocal’ Scale: A Few Words with Kerry Saretsky

In News by Erin L. Cox

‘Global publishing right now is a dance between the scalable and the bespoke,’ says HarperCollins’ Kerry Saretsky ahead of her appearance at the June 13 Rights and Content conference in New York City.
Image - iStockphoto: zimmytws

Image – iStockphoto: zimmytws

By Erin L. Cox | @erinlcox

‘To Help Our Authors Grow Those Global Fan Bases’
Kerry Saretzsky

Kerry Saretsky

With offices in 18 countries in Asia, Australia, Europe, and North and South America, HarperCollins is the second-largest consumer book publisher in the world, after Penguin Random House. It’s the job of Harper’s Global Corporate Strategy Director Kerry Saretsky to create and implement HarperCollins’ international strategy, at both the corporate level and at the far more granular level of specific titles.

Starting her career in the editorial department, Saretsky got a MBA and moved into the business side of HarperCollins, using her experience in the “engine room” of publishing, as she calls it, to see how each department engages with books as they are acquired, launched, and published.

A writer herself, Saretsky blogs about “food and memories” at her French Revolution site, as well as at Huffington Post and Serious Eats, she carries a creative perspective into her work in partnerships and projects around the world.

Looking ahead to her participation in the June 13 conference, Rights and Content in the Digital Age, Saretsky talks about planning, sharing, and thinking “glocally.” She also looks at the future of global fandom, and why it’s not just talking about big ideas, but executing them that makes her job so important.

Publishing Perspectives:  What is the role of a Global Corporate Strategy Director?

Kerry Saretsky: Execution. Strategy is the allocation of limited resources; it boils down to focus.  No organization can do everything — and it shouldn’t aim to. It’s about understanding what value this organization is going to deliver. What role is it going to play? What is it going to be and to whom? Why does it need to be that?

I look for ways to achieve those objectives. What projects, what partnerships, what process changes will get us there?

But it’s not enough to say, this is where we want the company to be in five years.  It’s also about making sure we get there.  That’s the part of the iceberg below the surface — execution and delivery — which is the bulk of it. I work across our offices and divisions and teams to deliver our plans — such as building a global publishing program.  The big-thinking part may be sexier, but there is nothing so satisfying as really making something happen, and saying, we did it.

PP: You began your career in the editorial department, how does your background influence the work you do today?

“Figuring out how our industry will continue to bring stories from writers to readers? How cool is that?”Kerry Saretsky

KS: Books have always been my life. I was an English major in college, and went on to get my masters in literature before my MBA. I worked as a freelance writer and began my publishing career as an editorial intern at Philomel. I started out there because my passion was always in the books — and I think when you are on the business side of anything, you do a much better job when you love and value the product, when you are truly one of your own consumers, and when you can relate to your suppliers.

Editorial is the engine room in a publishing house — it’s the basis of the business. If you understand what goes on there, and how it interacts with sales and marketing and publicity and rights and legal and design, then you know the business. I don’t think I would have been nearly as effective at my job had I parachuted straight into strategy.

Having that love and understanding of the books is what fires me up in the morning, and why I love working in strategy.  Figuring out how our industry will continue to bring stories from writers to readers? How cool is that?

PP: When publishing a book worldwide, are there challenges in selling or promoting to different audiences? Do you need different materials, marketing language for promotion, expectations? If so, how do you manage that strategy?

“Planning, sharing, and thinking ‘glocally.’  In other words, we want to focus on global brand building and global marketing effectiveness, but we want it to resonate at the local level.”Kerry Saretsky

KS: Yes, of course. We do live in a digital age, where there is an expectation that we will all consume the same media at the same moment. But, if there is a future in which that turns us all into the same person, with the same tastes and attitudes across the globe — well, it’s still in the future. Each market into which we publish has its own expectations, values, and, of course, language.

We manage this by planning, sharing, and thinking “glocally”. In other words, we want to focus on global brand building and global marketing effectiveness, but we want it to resonate at the local level.

When we have a title that we know is going into a number of our markets in translation, we come together as a team, across the lead publishing office and all translation offices. I can’t emphasize enough how much this is handled on an individual title basis.

The question is always, what is the best plan for this title?

  • Is it a global laydown, with synchronized digital media hitting the world in the same instant?
  • Is it something more dispersed, where the unique perspectives of each market should lead the program?
  • Is it something in between?

No matter what we decide, we have created a process through which all markets share their plans and assets long in advance so that they can be effectively proliferated and customized.

PP: Which markets have you found most challenging to work in and why?

“We are not just pushing content globally out of New York or London.  We have dedicated, expert teams in each market in which we publish who live and breathe that market.”Kerry Saretsky

KS: In all honesty, I haven’t found any market easier or more challenging. The challenge is simply that in the aggregate, they’re different.

This is why I love our setup.  We are not just pushing content globally out of New York or London. We have dedicated, expert teams in each market in which we publish who live and breathe that market. The hard part is educating yourself. It’s similar to the last question — and that “glocal” way of doing things. You want to be effective in an increasingly global world by maximizing the worldwide impact of your stories.  But there are the vagaries of the individual markets to consider — you can’t discount books here, or the readers don’t view your author that way there.  That’s why global publishing right now is a dance between the scalable and the bespoke.

My favorite example of this is when we were planning a global release for one of our titles. We wanted to be globally impactful by using a similar cover worldwide. We were all, around the world, on a call reviewing the US cover. Most of the markets loved it and used a very similar version. But a couple of markets had issues and made a subtle change that worked for them. We are not all the same, and that’s a challenge — but what a fun and great challenge.

PP: What do you see in the future of global publishing?

KS: I see global fandoms. Readers, as human beings in a digital, social age — and an age of unprecedented travel — will not understand or, I dare say, tolerate borders for media content.  If I’m a fan of a movie, or a TV show, or a band, or, of course, an author, then I’m likely to engage with that author or with other fans of that author, either via my far-flung analog friendships or my virtual ones.  I’m going to want to engage with that global community in the anticipation and appreciation of the upcoming book, or single, or show, etc.

I think our job is to help our authors grow those global fan bases, and to ensure that our readers are getting the book content they love in a fashion commensurate to our era.


Kerry Saretsky will be speaking at Publishing Perspectives’  Rights and Content in the Digital Age conference on June 13, Grand Hall at the NYU Kimmel Center in New York City. The conference hashtag is #pprights16Tickets are available here.

More on the conference:

About the Author

Erin L. Cox

Erin L. Cox is the Business Development Director for Publishing Perspectives and a Senior Associate at Rob Weisbach Creative Management, where she represents writers and handles publicity and advertising clients.