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Tim Underwood: A Passion for Christian Publishing

When you read Tim Underwood’s Twitter feed, check his profile at LinkedIn, and correspond with him, there’s no escaping his passion for our industry. Name the province and Tim can recite a list of stores and the names of the owners.

Tim blends a variety of experiences starting from when he was raising his own support at The Navigators which gave him an understanding of how parachurch organizations and denominations operate, to his tech work with web design, to his MBA which helped him grow his understanding of business and marketing.

Tim worked his way through the ranks of R. G. Mitchell (RGM) until its closure — six years ago today as it works out — as a brand and marketing manager. Then he became a first round draft pick when the agency Graf-Martin started which does the behind the scenes promotion and publicity for many of the books (and now movies) that our stores carry.

If you want to really know Christian publishing from the inside out, Tim is the guy to get to know; either for Canadians wanting to better understand how things work south of the border, or Americans wanting to better understand how things function north of the 49th.

About a month ago I felt compelled to ask him if we could do an interview here at Christian Book Shop Talk…

~Paul Wilkinson


Tim UnderwoodPaul: What is your current title and what are your current responsibilities at Graf-Martin?

Tim: Integrated Communications Manager (which highlights that we try to integrate all marketing and publicity pieces to increase effectiveness). I look after the digital marketing of what we do, but I also work with strategy and publishing. My love continues to be in the publishing industry. Our clients now include small businesses, non-profits, ministry, authors, and publishers and entertainment (movies).

Paul: What factors or circumstances led you to this particular place?

Tim: The fall of RGM. Ellen Graf-Martin started her own agency, I did some retraining in inbound marketing, and then Ellen urged me to consider joining with her as we had worked together well at RGM.

Paul: This is obviously a critical time for publishing and book retail; what changes do you think are happening more subtly than are widely reported?

Tim: Although it is not going unnoticed, I think the direct publisher-to-consumer channel is happening more widely than really reported. You are seeing more of the larger publishers experience their livelihood taking place [in that sector] and now digital enables this more than ever. That and the increasing dislike of Amazon and the inability of retailers to manage digital.

Paul: The Christian market has historically had some unique traits (i.e. the relative strength of its backlist versus frontlist, though that has changed recently); what do you see as the particular blessings and challenges we face?

Tim: The continued blessings are that local retailers know their customer unlike any publisher or distributor will because you have regular and honest face to face interactions that can often be described as ministry interactions. There is something different and special about that. The business counsel here is how can this be fostered and maintained? How can this be self-sustaining? What models will provide for that? More church-store integrations, community-store integrations? What can this look like into the future?

Paul: Do you have any independent projects you’re working on right now?

Tim: On the publishing side we are working with World Vision Canada to help with their publishing and I am the one who creates the eBooks. In fact, I have a couple of eBooks I am working on this week. I am also helping a couple of Christian authors with their websites, including SEO, search engine optimization (becoming found better on Google).

Paul: This was an unusual year for Christian film projects and Graf-Martin worked on publicity for a couple of these; do you see this continuing into 2015, or was this year an aberration?

Tim: Because we are seen as providing unique access to the Christian/faith/family marketing in Canada — no one else doing this the same — for publishers and film production, this might continue into the future as we become more well known to the movie production houses.

Paul: How do you manage to track down all the various articles on your Twitter feed?

Tim: I am a researcher and content curator at heart. That coupled with my interest and love for the publishing industry and other trends. It keeps me reading and posting what I read.

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