Adam Philips is a familiar figure in the comics world, but one you might not know you know. For many years he was the guy running the slide shows at DC’s convention panels — and as anyone who ever did a panel with images knows, the less attention that person gets, the better the slideshow! Philips was much more than just a great A/V guy though — for more than 20 years at DC as Director of Marketing Services he worked with retailers behind the scenes as well as all of DC’s DM marketing efforts. Prior to DC, he worked in Marvel’s pioneering direct market sales division and Welsh Publishing as an editor.
All of that has given him a unique and in-depth knowledge of the comics industry, knowledge that he’s now putting to use with the announcement of his new company, Untold Stories Marketing, which will act as a marketing agency for publishers to help them stand out in a field that is growing fast despite a pandemic and habitual doomsaying.
With the announcement of his new venture, we reached out to Philips with a few questions to give more background on just where he’s been and what he’ll be doing. There are actually a lot of untold stories about Adam — from his non-comics writing to his early days in fandom — but we’ll leave that for the next interview!
THE BEAT: Untold Stories is your new company, which you call an agency, but from talking to you, I know it will be doing a lot of stuff behind the scenes. Can you give us a better description?
PHILIPS: I think of Untold Stories Marketing as an agency because, to me, an agency provides fast, flexible service and expertise. One of the things I’ve heard a lot from retailers is that if they knew what a project was, they would have ordered more. So, the main purpose of Untold Stories Marketing is to help publishers provide better information to retailers. Retailers are the first audience for any comic. They have to understand it and believe in it before they place their orders and before they talk it up to their customers. That’s why my focus is on sell-in.
THE BEAT: You’ve had a long career in comics — including 20 plus years at DC Comics as Director of Marketing Services, so this is probably a natural role for you, but why did you decide to jump back into the comics fray?
PHILIPS: Honestly, I love comics. I’ve developed so many great relationships with people at different publishers, as well as retailers, writers and artists, distributors, convention organizers, and the comics press…it’s such a great field, and we’re in the midst of an exciting time, with lots of new companies developing distinctive approaches to publishing. I see a lot of potential out there.
Every conversation I’ve had since leaving DC has made me more enthusiastic about sticking with comics and launching Untold Stories Marketing. People want to know what I’m doing and how we might work together. They want their projects to succeed.
THE BEAT: What sort of tasks did you do at DC that prepped you for this?
PHILIPS: All of them! But the things I loved best were communicating directly with retailers, either on videos we would post on Facebook, or creating presentations and getting up in front of a crowded room to talk about new sales and marketing initiatives.
I used to say that when I died they would put “He Did Previews” on my gravestone, because that was my main gig at DC for such a long time, but the fact is that it taught me a ton about what’s important – and what’s NOT important – when it comes to the solicitation info. Retailers have very little time to spend reading catalogues. I used to tell editors, when you get to the word “meanwhile” in your solicitation text, stop — that’s when you’re getting past the main point of the story and into subplots. And little things like how I position the creative teams, the story, and the characters can make a huge difference.
In the past year or so, I had a few opportunities to solicit new projects where I had to position and explain them in a very limited amount of space. The biggest version of that was the Future State special, where I worked with a couple of other DC staffers to create a 32-page promotional magazine in just a few weeks that would explain an entire two-month event. I wrote articles that covered the futuristic worlds of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and more, with quotes from the writers and artists. That brought me back to my roots in comics, because my first work in the field was at Marvel Age magazine, where I wrote articles and worked as an assistant editor. (Did I mention that I’m blogging my way through the entire run of Marvel Age? Check it out at https://makeminemarvelage.blogspot.com! Why yes, I am a fan.)
All these skills and others bring me to a place where I can provide a lot of business to business marketing for publishers to reach retailers, through optimized solicitations, retailer communications, sell sheets, etc.
THE BEAT: What kind of clients will you be working with — you’ve mentioned it will be both publishers and creators?
PHILIPS: My primary clients are publishers, but the kind of marketing work I’m looking at will directly involve the creative teams on new books, so in a way the writers and artists are the clients as well.
I’m also talking to a couple of other comics-related groups, so we’ll see what kind of marketing help they might need.
THE BEAT: What are some of the challenges you see for your clients in the current market place? What can Untold Stories do to help with these challenges?
PHILIPS: The marketplace is exciting, but very crowded. Getting a new project noticed can be very hard, especially if it’s different, or if you’re up and coming talent. Retailers have limited shelf space, buying budgets, and time, so getting your message out can be difficult. My work at DC placed me right at the crossroads of publishing, writing and drawing, distribution, and retailing — meaning that I can take the publisher’s mandate and the creative team’s messaging and push them through the distribution channels, all couched in language that retailers respond to.
THE BEAT: There seems to be a growing space for companies like yours in the comics field. I think it’s a healthy sign of growth — there are just too many comics and too little time. Comics were heading for a huge year in 2020 before the pandemic, but even with the pandemic they had a pretty successful year. What do you think is the overall health of the direct market?
PHILIPS: I agree! Like I’ve been saying, it’s an exciting time. Even though the marketplace is dominated by the big two, there are so many new publishers that have popped up in the past few years with new approaches to the business and their own distinctive styles and tones. One of the biggest thrills I’ve had this year has been picking up tons of new titles from publishers I just couldn’t find the time for when I was reading the entire DC line.
This could just be confirmation bias, but I think we’ve seen a decrease in stories of shops going under in the past year, which is a good thing, especially in a pandemic.
THE BEAT: Obviously the biggest story in comics has been Marvel’s partnership with Penguin Random House for periodical distribution. Unlike some of the other “distribution war” moves of the last year, retailers seem fairly happy with this pact. What’s your take on it?
PHILIPS: From my conversations with retailers, there are still a lot of questions in the air. They’re wondering how PRH will be able to handle the incremental business of multiple variant covers or store variants and guarantee that the product will arrive in pristine condition. And with PRH, they get free shipping but a flat discount, while ordering through Diamond traditionally got you variable discount rates month to month — but you have to pay for shipping. That may change, too. That said, Penguin Random House has a great team in place, so I’m confident that they will be able to rise to the task. And a lot of retailers already work with PRH for book distribution, so there’s a certain amount of familiarity and comfort already baked in.
It’s been great to talk to you, and I just want to add that I’m as enthusiastic about comics now as I was when I started in the field. Anyone who wants to know more about what I’m doing can visit my website at UntoldStoriesMarketing.com, or you can email me with questions at [email protected]. Or, you know, both.