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  1. 1. A C A S E ST U DY Blogging for Books: The Ingenious Idea that Grew…and Grew! Down-to-earth people. Out-of-this-world programming.
  2. 2. Five years ago, one individual from a Christian book imprint in Colorado Springs, CO, had a great idea but needed some technical assistance. Fortunately, he found Rocket Jones, and thanks to their expertise and close partnership, this idea grew into a wildly successful web application. In fact, the application was so successful that over time it grew and morphed and eventually was adopted by 17 other publishing imprints! Here’s how it happened. IN THE BEGINNING Penguin Random House is one of the five largest publishing companies in the world. It has several American divisions, one of which is Crown Publishing Group. Crown Publishing Group has 17 “imprints”– each of which publishes and markets different types of books to different audiences. One of these imprints isWaterbrook Multnomah, publisher of Christian fiction and nonfiction. When Chris Sigfrids joinedWaterbrook Multnomah, he was fulfilling his dream of getting involved in publishing. He always thought he’d end up in public relations, but his love of web design led him down the road of digital marketing. As Senior Online Marketing Manager, Chris was responsible for managing theWaterbrook Multnomah website, social media, email, newsletters, and digital marketing strategy. In other words, he was in charge of finding ways to support the imprint, the authors, and their books—online. One day early in hisWaterbrook Multnomah career, Chris discovered that publicists at Waterbrook Multnomah maintained a distribution list of bloggers’email addresses in Outlook.Whenever a new book was about to be released, a publicist would send out requests to the bloggers on the list, asking if they were interested in reviewing the book. Publicists would keep track of the email responses from interested bloggers and put their names and mailing addresses into Excel. From there, mailing labels were created, and the books were packaged and shipped.Whew! A very labor intensive process! Chris thought the process was ripe for automation. His initial concern was how to relieve publicists of sending individual emails to bloggers, entering addresses, and packaging and mailing books. His first step toward addressing this concern was to design a simple web form for bloggers to fill out online if they were interested in getting free books in exchange for writing reviews. Data from bloggers who responded would be stored in a database that could be used to generate mailing labels. This would eliminate the need for a list of Outlook email addresses and an Excel spreadsheet.When more than 2,000 bloggers signed up in the first couple of weeks, Chris knew his idea had merit, but he also realized he should expand his original idea from a simple web form to a full-fledged website. Page 2 of 7 Rocket Jones Interactive | THE CAST The collaborative project between The Crown Publish- ing Group and Rocket Jones involves many people, but these are the main cast of characters mentioned in this story: • Chris Sigfrids, Senior Online Marketing Manager, Waterbrook Multnomah • Jeff Bristol, CEO, Rocket Jones • Jeff Shoemaker, Senior Software Architect, Rocket Jones • Logan King, Technical Developer, Rocket Jones ABOUT CHRIS SIGFRIDS Chris wears two hats as: • Senior Manager, Community Operations – Crown Publishing Group • Senior Online Marketing Manager -WaterBrook Multnomah Publishers To learn more about Chris or Blogging for Books: • •
  3. 3. ROCKET JONES TO THE RESCUE! Chris decided he needed a website where bloggers could sign up to identify the types of books in which they were interested. They would then receive appropriate books by mail, review them, and publish their reviews online for others to read, thus creating a “buzz”about the books. Each time they published reviews, more books would be sent to them. As Chris expanded his vision, he realized that such a website could attract more than just bloggers with lots of followers;it could also attract librarians, retailers, and media organizations. Chris had a big vision…but no realistic way to make it a reality. He needed some help. When Chris shared his vision with another designer, the individual recommended Rocket Jones.Word-of-mouth recommendations meant a lot to Chris, and after evaluating several vendors, he chose Rocket Jones to build his web-based “dream”application from scratch. THE PROCESS BEGINS Initially, the Rocket Jones team met with Chris to hear his story and understand his vision. Chris had spent a lot of time fine-tuning that vision and even had a 100-page scope document to prove it! The document defined everything from the description of operation to blogger tasks and flow of data to howWaterbrook Multnomah staff would use that data. Not every Rocket Jones customer provides this level of detail in their project documentation, but Chris’web background and in-depth specification document helped Rocket Jones hit the ground running. After talking to Chris, the Rocket Jones team immediately realized they would be creating a single, web-based product for two very distinct audiences: • Waterbrook Multnomah wanted the front-end website to serve bloggers and other book reviewers who needed to sign up to receive free books by interest category and publish their reviews. • The back-end book management system needed to serveWaterbrook Multnomah publicists and staff who would enter information about new books, plan for book launches, and analyze data about readers and markets. This large-scale project forWaterbrook Multnomah and Rocket Jones would span five years, involve new ways of looking at things, and require a high level of collaboration for success! THE JOURNEY OF COLLABORATION The Rocket Jones team worked directly with Chris, which made things run efficiently; there was never a need to wait on a third party for a decision. “I was the go-to person for everything,”says Chris. “I had the authority and the autonomy to make decisions – the buck stopped with me.” Page 3 of 7 Rocket Jones Interactive | Chris had a big vision but no realistic way to make it a reality. He needed some help.
  4. 4. “ It’s all about trust. I can pick up the phone and call Rocket Jones about anything. I know they won’t overcharge me. They are very honest and full of integrity.” — Chris Sigfrids, Senior Online Marketing Manager,Waterbrook Multnomah “ Rocket Jones is a team of smart people with a proven track record of strong collaboration and building trusted relationships.” — Jeff Bristol, CEO, Rocket Jones As the project took off, a natural process evolved. Chris would explain his ideas with some rough sketches, and Rocket Jones would offer suggestions. Based on their conversation and Chris’sketches, the Rocket Jones team would come back with wireframes (detailed screen illustrations) and ask Chris, “Is this what you imagined?” The constant interchange of wire- frames and honest feedback built trust. Chris felt very comfortable saying, “That’s not what I first envisioned”or “I need something different.”When he did this, the Rocket Jones team would present alternative ideas, along with all the pros and cons. This was invaluable in helping Chris make quick decisions to move the project forward. As they developed the front-end web tools, the Rocket Jones team also worked on the back-end book management system. This involved collaborating closely with individuals from the Penguin Random House IT department in New York City.What a great opportunity for the Rocket Jones team to demonstrate their ability to “play well with others!” “ Large companies typically do not like opening up their processes and data to outsiders,”says Jeff “Shoe”Shoemaker, Senior Software Architect at Rocket Jones. “However, we established trust early on by working closely with the Penguin Random House IT team, learning their systems, and adapting our methods to their existing processes. As a result, their IT department willingly granted our team access to the necessary servers and databases while maintaining the security they required.” STAYING FLEXIBLE Blogging for Books has been an ongoing project for five years. During this time, Rocket Jones has accumulated the experience, technical know-now, and familiarity with the project to handle its evolution in any direction. Here are just a few examples of Rocket Jones’ability to “go with the flow.” 1. When the project first began, the focus was on sending printed books to bloggers for review. However, when Chris found a third party provider who could deliver e-books, Rocket Jones quickly evolved the Blogging for Books web application to accommodate the new media. “ I trusted Rocket Jones to say when there was a problem or when something was beyond scope. I trusted them to direct us in the path of the best solutions based on technology.” — Chris Sigfrids,Waterbrook Multnomah Page 4 of 7 Rocket Jones Interactive |
  5. 5. 2. As the project grew, so did its levels of complexity. Initially, the project was aimed at bloggers. However, as the project expanded to librarians, retailers, and media organizations, Rocket Jones enhanced the software to implement new “rules”based on reviewers’roles, backgrounds, and online influence.While “traditional”bloggers are required to post a review before choosing a new book, “partners”like retailers, librarians, church leaders, and media organizations can participate without ever posting a review. In this way, the software acts as a custom book- request-and-review portal for different types of members. 3. No software application is an island, and Blogging for Books was tightly integrated with the Penguin Random House internal database and other third-party tools. The Rocket Team often reached out to vendors, dug through documentation, and interpreted tons of data to develop solutions that worked. Even better, “Waterbrook Multnomah trusted us to integrate our code directly into their production environment,”says Logan King, Technical Developer at Rocket Jones. The trusted working relationship between Rocket Jones andWaterbrook Multnomah, combined with their flexibility and technical expertise, has allowed Rocket Jones to successfully expand and adapt Blogging for Books through the years. LOOK AT THE RESULTS! “ We now have a program that practically runs itself,”says Chris. “The system sends and receives transactional emails, simplifying how thousands of books are ordered and delivered to bloggers.” At the simplest level, Blogging for Books is an attractive, easy-to-navigate website that provides free books to reviewers in exchange for honest reviews. But it’s so much more! Page 5 of 7 Rocket Jones Interactive | “ Rocket Jones has a reputation for building products that are ‘future- proof’because they can grow as a company’s needs grow.We are comfortable with complexity. As your needs change and evolve, we help you work through the increased complexity.” – Jeff “Shoe”Shoemaker, Senior Software Architect, Rocket Jones
  6. 6. Everything about the bloggers and the books they review is stored in a database that Waterbrook Multnomah publicists access any time. After logging into the adminstrative section of the website, a publicist can quickly pull up all available information about the book, such as description, author bio, cost, number of pages, and even a cover illustration. Publicists also decide when to make advance copies available and how many copies should go to members with different levels of influence. They can also get reports of sales and marketing demographics. With almost 50,000 book reviews stored in the system over the past five years, the information available to Chris and his publicists is almost unlimited. For example, suppose a publicist has a book that needs “a little push.”Chris talks to the publicist about the target audience for the book and learns the author will be on a talk show in about a month. Chris then accesses the database and determines there are 500 bloggers who match the target audience. He crafts a short message about the upcoming talk show and the system sends it out to all qualifying bloggers. Voila! Instant marketing! LAST WORDS Chris Sigfrids had a vision of what he wanted—a book promotion program forWaterbrook Multnomah. All he needed was a partner he could trust whose skills could keep up with his ideas and make his vision a reality. He got that partner with Rocket Jones. Because there is no such thing as the perfect solution, Rocket Jones Page 6 of 7 Rocket Jones Interactive | “ We work hard to develop long-term partnerships. We do this by consistently delivering a quality product — on time and on budget. We ALL benefit when the project is a success.” – Jeff Bristol, CEO, Rocket Jones
  7. 7. continues working with Chris andWaterbrook Multnomah to support their changing needs as the product evolves. Over the past five years, the number of active members has more than quadrupled! The database has been scaled considerably to accommodate this dramatic increase in bloggers, media organizations, librarians, retailers, publicists, and marketing personnel who use Blogging for Books. Today, Blogging for Books is so successful that Penguin Random House has expanded the application beyond theWaterbrook Multnomah imprint to all seventeen imprints in the Crown Publishing Group.Who knows what the future holds! To learn more about Crown Publishing: Crown Publishing - A Division of Random House, Inc. 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019 Phone:(212) 782-9000 Page 7 of 7 Rocket Jones Interactive | ABOUT ROCKET JONES INTERACTIVE: Founded in 2001 by Jeff Bristol, Rocket Jones Interactive specializes in all things web—from web sites to custom business and online applications. Our team is made up of dedicated people who not only deliver technical prowess and elegant interfaces, but also strong communication, timely turnarounds, and met deadlines. Rocket Jones is located in Old Town Fort Collins, Colorado. 204Walnut Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524 1-970-482-5790