The Story Behind Primal Branding’s Scary Book Cover

Patrick Hanlon
6 min readAug 7, 2022
The original “scary” book cover

A friend once told me that my book Primal Branding was successful despite the first black and white cover. On the other hand, I knew of people who bought the book specifically because of its impactful cover.

“Primal Branding”’s original scary book cover, first published in 2006, has always been controversial. First of all, what is that image? An alien? A mask? More to wonder.

Fred Hills, my editor at Simon & Schuster, liked it. My literary agent, Jonathan Lazear, did not. The publisher at Free Press liked it, and as I remember, so did the sales guys. Others did not.

I designed the book cover myself. But not intentionally. What happened was, while the book was being prepared for publishing, I gave talks at Presidents Clubs, CEO Circles and other events to upgrade my speaking skills. Several times, people mentioned that I needed something (a handout) that listed the seven pieces of Primal Code®. It was just too much for people to remember.

New, socially acceptable “Primal Branding” cover

So I designed a 4 by 6-inch postcard to hand out. This was probably in 2004 and there was no place on the internet (yet) to search for stock photos. You had to rummage through encyclopedic stock photo books, published by stock photo companies — if you could find them.

Luckily, I found a random but thrilling photo of a dress mannequin head which looked suitably attention-getting. I designed the postcard using Quark Express (inDesign was available but I had no skills). In case you don’t know, I’m a writer.

Fast-forward back to Fred Hills at Simon & Schuster. Fred mentions during one of our weekly calls that he is meeting with the sales guys the following week. I tell him about the postcards, which I now hand out during speaking events. I send him a dozen for his meeting.

The original cover also became a poster which served as backdrop during Primal Digs, like this session in Beijing that included representatives from Baidu (far right) and HuaWei (center)

The following week, Fred calls to tell me that the postcard was a hit. “And I think you’ve already got the cover,” he said. This news was happy/sad…

Patrick Hanlon

Author of “Primal Branding,” “The Social Code,” writer on Forbes, FastCo, Inc., East Hampton Star. Founder