Houghton Mifflin The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language

When Houghton Mifflin, publishers of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, contacted us about promoting the Fourth Edition of their respected reference book, we were very excited. This project was exactly the type of challenge we love.

Like The Old Farmer’s Almanac, The American Heritage Dictionary had a built-in fan base, but Houghton Mifflin wanted to appeal to an audience more likely to watch Oprah (who appeared as an entry for the first time in the Fourth Edition) than C-SPAN. We were tasked with attracting a new audience while making sure “wordies” the importance of the new edition.

The Fourth Edition had a lot of things going for it. Not only was the title well known amongst dictionary connoisseurs, but the Fourth Edition was the first to be released in a full four-color design. It also simultaneously released an electronic version on CD (which was soon followed by an online version).

Now the downside: the fourth edition of the American Heritage Dictionary is a behemoth of a book at over 2,000 pages. There’s no paperback edition. Because of its immaculate design and production, it carried a hefty price point. To ensure our promotional efforts were successful, Quinn/Brein had to make a case for why this was the dictionary everyone needed in their homes whether they already owned one, purchased a new one every year, or saw no need for one.

Our Approach
It was apparent that we needed to speak to two different audiences--dictionary enthusiasts and people who, well, weren’t.

The first group was a no-brainer; for the second we had to overcome a possible pre-conceived notion that there was no need for a big print dictionary (especially with paperbacks and burgeoning Internet resources), all dictionaries are created equal, or (*gasp*) dictionaries are boring.

To reach our target markets we created two distinct campaigns with their own press materials and messaging. Everything we did kept in mind these two audiences and the importance of reaching both—from the events we planned to the media we spoke with.

Because of our efforts, the American Heritage did reach its dual audience base through:

• Reviews of the Dictionary (print and electronic versions) in literary journals, mainstream magazines, and daily newspapers. Because of the size of the book, sending ARCs or final copies was impossible. We created a review package that included select pages from the book that showed off the stunning color design or highlighted new and noteworthy entries.
• A 7-city national media tour with the dictionary’s editor that included appearances on Fox News, CNN, local TV affiliates, and with large daily newspapers such as The Oregonian. To help our “talent” prepare, we provided media training.
• A speaking tour with the dictionary’s editor that targeted large bookstores and literary groups. Two of these talks (one in New York and the other in Washington DC) were aired on C-SPAN’s “Book TV.”
• Product placement on TV’s “The West Wing” and as a topic on “Jeopardy!”