My Media Day: Frances Sutton, press manager, Edinburgh International Book Festival

FRANCES Sutton is press manager at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, which continues until the 25th of this month.

She says: “The Edinburgh International Book Festival is the largest public celebration of the written word in the world, welcoming over 900 participants and 225,000 visitors to Charlotte Square Gardens in the heart of Edinburgh for 17 days every August. The Book Festival provides a forum for writers and thinkers from around the world to discuss, debate, speculate, entertain and engage with audiences on an ever-expanding range of topics.”

She submitted this on Monday, August 11.

What exactly is it you do?

I plan and oversee all media activity related to the Book Festival. From before the launch of our programme in June until the Festival itself I meet and brief commissioning editors, literary editors and news journalists for broadcast, long lead and national print media to discuss features and interviews.

During the Festival, we look after over 500 accredited media from all over the world, co-ordinating interviews with authors, filming of events, and even arranging live national radio broadcasts at 24 hours’ notice.

I work with a press officer who comes on board just before the launch of our programme, and a press assistant who joins us in the ‘Press Yurt; in Charlotte Square Gardens during August.

What did your working day today or yesterday comprise?

Yesterday, I started by arranging for Sir Tom Devine to do an interview on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme about the talk he was scheduled to do with the First Minister, Alex Salmond, at the Book Festival later in the morning.

On arriving in the press office at 8.00am, I sent out the daily Book Festival Bulletin to all our accredited press, listing a few highlights for today and tomorrow, and reminding everybody to pick up their press tickets.

Having arranged for Sky TV to film the Alex Salmond and Tom Devine discussion – and pool the footage to the other national news channels – I set the cameras in position in the theatre, co-ordinated a press photocall with 20 photographers and ensured that tickets had been issued to journalists from over 20 media outlets who wished to attend the event.

From there, I went straight into setting up an interview for BBC Four with Brian Turner, an author and poet from the USA whose prose inspired the film, The Hurt Locker.

Once Brian had finished chatting, and reading some of his poetry for the BBC, I placed cameras from the British Forces Broadcasting Service into his event, and introduced Val McDermid to a journalist from Stern Magazine who wanted to talk about the Independence Referendum.

More broadcast cameras into William McIlavanney’s event, this time from a documentary crew who are making a film, again around the Referendum.

A super quick turnaround an hour later to remove these two cameras and crews, to put them into the signing tent to catch McIlvanney signing his books and replace them in our Main Theatre with cameras from the BBC who were here to stream our first event with Game of Thrones author, George R R Martin, live onto the BBC Arts site.

Another open photocall with George R R Martin and a large group of enthusiastic photographers, followed by taking Martin to a photoshoot for The Guardian and finally to Chris Close, the Book Festival’s portrait photographer.

All achieved in under 15 minutes, giving him plenty of time to take a deep breath before his event.

Working with our wonderful technical team and venue managers not only did we pull the live stream off, but I also managed to watch 15 minutes of it and have a brief catch-up with my team who had been busy dealing with other interviews, photocalls and press ticket requests all day, check our press coverage and deal with various other requests that had been coming in throughout the day.

Onto the George R R Martin signing queue, which stretched right around the gardens, making sure the BBC could get the pictures they wanted without impeding the hundreds of audience members who wanted their books signed – and a few staff too!

Back to the press tent and a chance to catch up on my emails before heading home at 10.00pm.

How different or similar is your average working day to when you started?

This is my ninth Book Festival, and we just get busier every year. The Festival has grown over the years, with more authors and, as a result, many more media attending from around the world. The main change over nine years is the growth of online media and social media. We work with many more bloggers and websites than we did in 2006, and now generate online content which can be accessed by a much wider audience.

How do you see your job evolving?

The Book Festival is a feast of words and ideas, and my role is to find a way to reach not only our audience who can attend events in Charlotte Square but also people around the world who are interested in what we, and our participants, have to say.

We must innovate and stay fresh, and with the success of the George R R Martin live stream this year, I can see us developing more ways of streaming events online and through our national and international broadcasters. The use of social media is also growing and now it’s not just the journalists who are commenting and engaging with our events – so is our audience. We are constantly working on ways to engage that audience, not just during August while the Festival is in full swing, but throughout the rest of the year.

What gives you the most job satisfaction?

I think I get the most satisfaction from being part of a press team that provides a high level of service to both our authors and our media – and as a result generating national and international coverage for the Book Festival.

I hope we have a reputation as an efficient, competent and friendly press team, who can help with both mundane and bizarre (and sometimes very last minute) requests and provide a warm welcome to those 500 members of the Press that enjoy the very best the Book Festival has to offer in August.