The biggest holiday of the year in my city of Cincinnati is, without question, the opening day of the Cincinnati Reds baseball season.

Yes, you read that correctly. Half a million people turn out to line the streets of our city for a wild parade that lasts two hours and contains nearly 200 entries. Then they all stream down to the riverfront for street parties and concerts that lead up to the opening pitch of the day. Everywhere you go, you see people dressed in red and white, screaming from balconies, waving handmade signs… it’s a day-long pep rally. People dress up their dogs and kids and paint their faces and wear beads. It’s the Mardi Gras of Cincinnati. This has been going on for decades.

Our library has participated in this tradition since before I came to the organization. Every year, we march in the parade. I learned I would be responsible for our entry just a few months after I had joined. I had never organized a parade entry before. I had only ever covered the Reds parade in my time in news and had no idea what it was like on the participation side! But five years later, I’ve got the process down pat. And, I’ve thought a lot lately about how that experience mirrors many other projects in library marketing. Here’s what I’ve learned.

If you decide to partner with another organization, choose wisely. When I learned that I would be organizing my first parade entry, I set out to ask for advice. A co-worker told me that I was expected to partner with a local organization that helps disadvantaged children. So I reached out to them and called a meeting. It was a painful experience. They did not offer as much help as I needed. They barely contributed to the cost and labor of creating the entry. I completed all the paperwork and recruited all the volunteers and staff. On the day of the parade, I worried that we would lose one of their young clients, as they apparently thought I should also supervise the kids they had recruited to be in the parade. This was not the first time I’d been involved in a one-sided partnership project. We’re all been there. The next year, I decided to go it alone. It was actually less work and less stress.

Partnering with the right organization can bring you more resources and can help with the workload. Joining up with the wrong group can make the experience more stressful. That’s true with any library marketing project. Do your homework and choose your partners wisely. Approach with a series of questions in mind: What do you hope to accomplish in this partnership? How much time and money can you contribute to help us reach our goals? How will the work be divided among us? How will approvals and major decisions be handled?

Sometimes simple is best. My first parade float attempt a disaster. I had never created a parade entry by myself before and I am not an artist. I had no idea was I was doing. It was a hot mess of ideas and it looked muddled.

The second year was a little better. I had hired a graphic artist who was enthusiastic about the project. She recreated the Reds ballpark, complete with smokestacks made of discarded books. It was amazing–and it took a ton of time and was difficult to manage, given our low-budget. It looked great but it was very stressful.

The third year, I decided we would simply drive our delivery truck, which we had recently re-wrapped in a beautiful branded design created by another of my graphic artists. The difference in the stress level I felt in the weeks leading up to the parade was amazing. And the entry connected with the crowd better than any handmade float because it was a branded, recognizable vehicle.

You may be tempted to be complex in your library marketing projects. After all, complexity feels more productive. More work equals better work, right? Not necessarily. If you can approach each project in its simplest terms and break it down to the points that have real meaning, then work on reaching that goal, you’ll be more successful than if you try to reach a dozen goals in a multi-pronged approach. Your messages to the customer should also be simplified. Speak clearly, say what you mean, don’t use library jargon, and you’ll do a better job of connecting with your audience. Your graphics should be simple. Your services should be simple. Simple makes it easier for people to use your library and that will lead to increases in circulation, program attendance, and overall satisfaction.

Get your staff excited. The most important critical moment of parade planning is the moment I decide to start recruiting staff members to march with our entry. I have to make sure my pitch to them includes incentives for participating and emphasizes the excitement of the moment and the value to our cardholders. I also have to make sure members of senior leadership participate because staff members notice and feel neglected if there isn’t a member of administration marching with them through the cold or rain or heat (April weather in Ohio is completely unpredictable!). Likewise, in library marketing, you need to get your staff excited about your projects. Take the time to explain why you are doing the work you do and why it will help them in their interactions with cardholders.

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