Photo courtesy Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library.

Most libraries schedule programs, create exhibits, plan events, or buy services. Then they decide how they’re going to promote them. 

And that, my friends, is the opposite of what we need to do for promotional success. It’s one of the reasons why so much of our library marketing fails to do what we hope it will do.

Libraries must create promotional strategies during the planning process. And yet, many libraries skip this important step. Here’s why it happens.

When your library creates a program or implements a service, they are doing something. Doing something is productive. The results are immediate and obvious.

And when libraries decide to promote a long-standing event or service, like summer reading or personalized readers’ advisory, they may assume the key to success is awareness. Quite often, I hear my library friends say: “If we just told more people about this thing, they’d use/attend it!”

But it’s often not awareness that’s lacking.

Planning a successful library promotional strategy takes time, research, and critical thinking. But it’s absolutely essential. Without a strategy, you risk wasting your time and energy creating promotions.

A library promotional strategy is worth the effort. 60 percent of marketers who have a documented strategy with clear success metrics said their marketing was effective, according to the Content Marketing Institute’s most recent study. 

Creating a strategy may seem like an insurmountable task. The word “strategy” conjures up images of a daunting, intense, complicated process.

And I know library staff is often asked to do promotions in addition to their other duties. So, I’ve simplified the process. It should only take a few minutes of your time.

To create your library’s promotional strategy, open a Word document or get out a piece of paper. Then write down the answer to these five questions.

What are your library’s overall goals?


Let’s use summer reading as an example. Your library likely has a goal to increase registration, participation, and attendance at events.

The Everett Free Library put its summer reading program goals into its strategic plan. The plan said, “Completion rates for the library’s Summer Reading Program for youth will increase to 70%.”

That’s a great goal post for anyone working at that library. They know the promotions they create for summer reading must focus on youth. They also know they’re shooting for a specific numeric increase in completions.

Here’s another example: Let’s say your library’s big goal is to bridge the learning gap for children in K-3rd grade. They are doing this by increasing access to early reader services and increasing the circulation of children’s books by 10 percent.

To reach those goals, your promotions would need to target parents and teachers. The library’s goal would help you define an audience.

You’ll want to write the library’s goal or goals down on paper. They are your goalposts, your big concerns. Everything you do needs to be in service of reaching these goals.

What is your library’s current situation?

Write down what you know about your current cardholders and the residents of the community you serve.

What does your typical cardholder do with their card? Where do they live? Who is currently competing with your library to provide the service you provide?

These pieces of information will help you create promotions that reach your community.

What things can you use to promote your library?

Write down all the “stuff” you use to promote your library.

Include every social media platform you use, every website your library owns, every print publication you send out. Whatever you use to communicate with cardholders needs to be on that list.

How can you put your library’s promotional tools to work?

Now, you’ll take your goals, and what you know about your target audience, and match it to the list of promotional tools.

For example, you may know from past experience that most people register online for summer reading by clicking on links in your e-newsletters. So, you’ll want to be sure to include a summer reading promotion in every e-newsletter you send.

You know your community best. Pick the tools that will work best for your community, depending on the goals your library wishes to achieve.

How will you measure your success or failure? 

You’ll want to write down the specific ways you’ll measure the promotions you create. This will help you determine if they are effective.

For our summer reading example, you could measure success by tracking the number of people who click on the registration link you put into each e-newsletter. You might also track the number of registrations you get on a weekly basis.

It’s important to write down your success measures. This will keep you accountable and make sure your library is on track to reach the goals you’ve set.

Sometimes the stuff you do will work, sometimes it won’t.

Don’t repeat the things that don’t work! Spend more energy on the things that do work.

Next week: How to take this strategy and create your library’s promotional calendar to achieve your goals!


You May Also Want to Read These Posts

How to Create a Social Media Strategy That Actually Works

3 Easy Ways to Update Your Library Marketing Plan for the New Year


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