Penguin and Random House merged in 2013, forming the world’s largest publisher. Seven years on, the functional and logistical aspects of the merger had been completed, but one problem was yet to be resolved – unifying its internal culture.
How do you reconcile the differences between two previously competing companies? With numerous independent publishing divisions, imprints and teams, all with their own strategies and goals, the path to unification needed to go beyond branding and marketing.
We said at the outset, this is not just a branding and marketing exercise. If it is, then we will have failed. But if our Mission is meaningful and committed to, then it will become the guidepost for decision making – and our moral compass.Tom WeldonCEO, Penguin Random House UK
This was an incredible opportunity to help give Penguin clarity about who they are, as well as create transformative impact on the wider world of publishing.Elise Santangelo-RousExecutive Creative Director, DesignStudio
In a business characterised by breadth and diversity, Penguin Random House needed a mission that reflected the impact they could collectively commit to strive for. A mission that could inspire decision making. And crucially — a mission they could take action with.
PRH UK had pursued work like this before, but had never found success in bringing it to life in their everyday work, or making it relevant and influential for all corners of the business. It was crucial that this work wouldn’t just live in a drawer — and could become a tangible filter for every future decision, creative or commercial.
In line with our roots, we wanted the process to be as democratic as possible, involving everyone irrespective of level or job function... The end result needed to be a shared North Star that inspired 2,000 colleagues and connected them in a way that was meaningful, tangible and actionable.Becca SinclairDirector of Audiences, Brand and Communications, Penguin Random House UK
Our first step? To listen. In one of our most collaborative and democratic processes ever, we engaged over 90% of the business over six months, bridging conversations between colleagues and leadership across every division — Editorial to Design, Production to Distribution, Marketing to Publicity.
Our process didn’t shy away from the warts and all, and we took the time to understand different voices and perspectives. The process at times was rough, messy and uncertain, while we navigated cultural tensions, strong viewpoints and individual agendas.
This was the most collaborative and iterative project that I’ve ever been a part of. I was struck by just how much listening was done.Will SmithHead of Brand, Penguin Random House UK
Defining the mission
How do you capture the perfect words, for people who work with words every day? Spoiler alert: it wasn’t easy.
We explored a huge range of formats, with the ultimate goal of making sure it was incredibly simple, and refreshingly useful. Stripping away all cleverness and worthiness. The outcome was a clear and powerful Mission:
“We make books for everyone, because a book can change anyone”
Unsurprisingly for a book publisher, the wording of the Mission was painstakingly deliberated and crafted. The answer lay in simplicity, cutting out any jargon or complex language.Becca SinclairDirector of Audiences, Brand and Communications, Penguin Random House UK
It is the concise language of our Mission that makes it so effective. It's surprising, if not even counter-intuitive, for a publisher and therefore you immediately start to reflect on it.Philipp BartscherStrategy Director, Penguin Random House UK
Creating guiding principles
To support the Mission, we created a set of 5 actionable Principles, each carefully articulated to capture PRH UK’s unique spirit, and resonate with every colleague — both individually and collectively.
ACTIVATING THE MISSION
The success of the Mission didn’t come down to words on a page, it needed to be embraced by and embedded in the business, from publishing houses to distribution teams and everyone in between.
So we didn’t stop there.
Digging through PRH UK’s rich and diverse archive helped us create the Mission launch film, which was supported by activations, including digital and physical internal comms, an internal “A book that changed…” series, onboarding workshop toolkits, and a leadership presentation for every member of staff.
After a successful introduction to the business in early 2020, the new Mission and Principles have provided a lens for all decision making, commercial or creative. They have shaped the website and social media strategies, connecting the brand with readers through original editorial, as well as informing business decisions, recruitment policies, CSR strategy, publishing decisions, partnerships, campaigns and events – all focused on the ‘change’ the Mission inspires.
It’s been deeply rewarding to see people find real meaning in the mission and make it part of their everyday. The impact we’ve seen is testament to the strong collaboration that enabled us to capture that distinct ‘Penguin’ness’ that exists in every colleague, author and reader.Alex JohnsExecutive Creative Director, DesignStudio
I’m immensely proud of what we achieved together through a uniquely collaborative and fundamentally democratic process – one that involved input and investment from everyone across the company. Launching was an important moment but it was just the beginning. Now it’s down to all of us to continue bringing our Mission to life, both in what we do but also how we do it.Tom WeldonCEO, Penguin Random House
Newly defined Publishing Principles (an industry first) were created to provide support for all publishing teams to exercise the shared responsibility that comes with freedom of expression, exploring many viewpoints, and paying attention to the impact their work has on the world.
This is just the beginning of an exciting, ambitious new chapter for Penguin Random House UK, and their position as a global leader in the world of publishing. We can’t wait to see what they do next.
- Brand strategy
- Employer brand strategy
- Employee engagement
- Brand films