At a recent conference I attended, one of the big topics of discussion centered on senior library leadership. My new friends were wondering about how to get support for their marketing ideas and initiatives from the folks that run their libraries.

That’s one of the main areas of angst for library marketers at nearly every event I attend. How do you convince the people with all the power to give the okay for your marketing ideas?

It happens at every library. For five years, I lobbied our library’s senior leadership for a customer-facing blog. Five years is a long time.  And the thing I learned is that you must have patience. I also learned how to live with frustration. That doesn’t sound ideal. But its reality.

And I learned that you can ask for something, but to make a good case, you must craft a clear message that demonstrates how your idea will work. Basically, you have to market your idea to your senior leaders! Here are some tips on that process.

Understand your leadership’s priorities. What top-line problems are your director and senior leadership trying to solve at your library?  What is your library’s strategy? If you can clearly identify the pain points of your library leaders, you can show how your marketing ideas can help solve those problems.

Pick one marketing idea to pitch. What is the one marketing tactic you believe will give your library the best result? Do you want to start email marketing? Do you want more budget for advertising? Do you want to start a print content marketing magazine? Pick the tactic that you believe will have the most benefit for your library. Focus is key when pitching ideas to library leadership.

Create a complete plan. Plan your pitch in as much detail as possible. You’ll want to educate your senior leaders about what the tactic is and how it works in marketing.

I started my pitch by creating a document outlining the reasons why a blog is an effective marketing tool. To beef up my pitch document, I addressed these areas.

  • Supporting data and research. Include testimonies from other library marketers already using the tactic. Outline their positive experiences and the benefits. These first-hand experiences go a long way in strengthening your case. I asked other library marketers about the benefits of a blog. I also asked about the problems they encountered and how they solved those problems so I would have clear answers if senior leaders brought up these potential pitfalls.
  • Go over how you’ll use already existing resources to make this tactic work. If there will be a cost, be clear about that. But also show why spending money on the tactic will bring your library a clear return on investment or even save your library money in the long run. For my example, I talked about how the blog would increase SEO and allow us to reach new audiences. I argued that it would save us money in advertising, build brand support and recognition, and increase cardholder awareness of everything the library has to offer. I also created an editorial calendar to help the senior leaders envision the kinds of stories we would tell and the cadence at which we would write and release those stories. I did a time study with my staff and identified staff members who would be able to devote time to writing posts or soliciting content from other staff members and outside organizations. Finally, I created examples of promotions so the senior leaders could see how we would promote the blog.
  • Be sure to include clear information about how you will measure the success of the tactic. I included data about views and time spent on the website from successful blogs in similar industries.
  • Include a few lines about what may happen to your library if you don’t adopt the marketing tactic you propose. Talk about what your competitors are doing and how your tactic will help you compete in an increasingly crowded market.

Consider just doing it and asking for forgiveness later. When I started at the Library, I wanted to change our quarterly newsletter into a content marketing magazine. At the time, it was just a list of programs and events happening at the Library. I knew that if I asked outright, my leaders would say “no”. A change in the content of the newsletter would be too scary to consider.

So… I took the initiative. I took out some events and added in a few content marketing articles. You better believe that I was nervous when I sent the proof up the chain for approval. But it worked. In fact, the senior leaders commented on how much they liked the pivot. It was a gamble, but it paid off.

If you have confidence that your idea is worth merit, you might consider just moving forward without asking permission, particularly if there is no outright cost to the tactic. Sometimes, it just takes seeing your idea in action for a senior leader to realize its value and potential.

I don’t want to be the cause of a library marketing rebellion. But I also want us to assert ourselves more. We were hired because we are capable. Use your confidence and stand firm in your convictions in the workplace.

Remember the senior leaders have a boss too. Even the director has someone who he or she answers to… the board, the community, the city manager, etc. This may be why your most senior leaders seem to be afraid to take risks or try new things. The fear of failure may be holding your leaders back. That’s normal. But it’s also an opportunity for you, particularly if it seems like your library is stuck in a pattern of failure or if you’re facing major opposition from community groups. If you can show that the fear of change is holding your library back, you may be able to convince your leaders that it’s worth the risk of trying.

Don’t give up. Look, it took me five years to get a blog. It was frustrating. There were many moments when I thought I should just give up. But I kept asking. A change in senior leadership, or in priorities or a random conversation between your senior leaders and someone at another library is all it takes to do the trick. Don’t be annoying. But be quietly relentless!!

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