Corporate partnerships build success for children’s author

Courtesy Perrin Read Photography

Children’s author Chris Madeley and her businessman husband Keith built a novel route to literary success with a corporate partnership scheme that has seen 22 books published.

Chris’s endearing Cones characters, designed to help children understand health and safety and environmental issues in construction projects, have proven as big a hit with some of the country’s biggest construction companies as they have with children.

The idea for characters based around talking traffic cones came to the pair when stuck in roadworks on a trip for their financial services business. While Chris was keen to write appealing stories that would not only engage children and encourage a love of reading, Keith realised the other aim – that of explaining safety issues – could have broad appeal among his extensive business contacts.

It’s a process that’s provided a new career for Chris, a former PA and financial advisor. “At first it was almost like a bit of relaxation, but when we sold our company I decided to write a bit more. I wanted to do something completely different from anything I’ve done in the rest of my life.”

Each book has a corporate sponsor who suggests a topic and key messages. Chris visits the sponsors’ sites to get facts and take reference photos to help her illustrator, then comes up with a suitable story to suit both the messaging and the personalities of her characters. Sponsors check the books for factual accuracy and messaging once illustrations are ready the books are given a final check and printed.

The process means Chris, Keith and their publishers can be generous with book donations to schools and libraries as well as offering the books for sale through regular channels. Sponsoring companies also get copies to distribute.

“It struck me that this was an ideal way,” said Keith, founder and chairman of Leeds’ Unity Business Club. “Having been in business myself for 30 years I’d done sponsorship deals. I know all these people, and I could talk to them. In the early days the buzzwords were corporate social responsibility. It’s now social value and environmental, social and governance. The books tick all the boxes and give companies the opportunity to fulfill their social value agenda.”

The process means there’s no shortage of ideas for topics – the series has already covered road, rail and construction safety, power generation, environmental issues and more. Now Keith’s talking to local authorities about books set in specific places, and the couple and their publisher, Fisher King, are talking to animators about producing a cartoon series.

There’s international appeal as well, and titles have been translated into Chinese, French, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese and Romanian. Book launches are often done in schools or libraries, with Chris reading to children and titles gifted to them.

For Chris, one of the positives of the books is that by showing how companies work they expose children to a wide variety of careers. “We want them to thjink of jobs other than being a doctor, dentist, nurse or something like that. There’s lots of jobs out there for everyone.”

Keith takes pleasure in seeing children with books – especially children who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford them. At one launch, he said, a teacher told him one little girl had been in five different homes this year, and only owned what she was wearing.

“She got a book, and to see her clutching it was just wonderful.”

For more details on sponsoring the Cones books, see here.