Photo courtesy Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library

Effective internal communication is incredibly important to the success of any library. But it’s hard to do successfully.

Last week, I shared advice from libraries that have had success communicating with staff and stakeholders using tactics like email. But a friend of mine went about it in a slightly different way.

He used his storytelling skills to improve communication between his marketing team and other library staff members. And in doing that, he built support and unified his library around common promotional goals.

Chris Boivin is the Assistant Director of Community Relations and Marketing at the Jacksonville Public Library in Florida. He’s been there for six years. He’s also the host of The Library Marketing Book Club on Facebook (Not a member yet? We’d love to have you!)

Jacksonville is a large library, with a main location and 20 branches. Chris’s team manages all the marketing for the system, including the website, social media, podcast, graphics, and volunteers.

“Our work is governed by three things,” explains Chris. “Requests for marketing assistance from other departments (Public Services, Learning Services—centralized programming, and others), an annual promotional calendar that we create with input from Library Leadership and Library staff, and the needs of the Library Director to meet the library’s strategic and operational goals.”

Like many libraries, the marketing department at Jacksonville Public Library operated on an order-taking model. Library staff would request flyers, posters, bookmarks, social media mentions, or digital slides for an event or service they wanted to promote.

Those requests were often not what the audience would respond to. And Chris and his staff were left to talk their co-workers into finding a way to reach their target audiences.

“This built up a lot of conflict between marketing and the rest of the library,” remembers Chris. “People felt like we enjoyed declining their requests and were either finding ways to do less work or doing just the things we liked doing.”

Chris says his department realized the form that library staff was using to make requests was part of the problem.

“They were looking at it like an order sheet (because that’s what we gave them) and focused on the stuff, not what they were trying to actually achieve,” explains Chris. “So, we created a new process where instead of the order form, they fill out a questionnaire that asks:

  • What problem is this solving for the customer that wants this?
  • What does success look like for this thing?
  • Who is the target (and it can’t be everyone)?

This new focus helped the marketing department improve things, but Chris says the change wasn’t easy for everyone on the library staff.

“Many of the folks we work with had been doing the other request process for so long that it was very hard for them to give it up,” he recalls.

Then Chris had an idea. He asked for some time at the monthly manager’s meeting to review the process, ask about pain points and gaps, and share marketing’s vision for how promotions could improve at Jacksonville Public Library. There were also some misconceptions about marketing’s role that needed to be addressed.

“There was a long list of things,” says Chris. “There was a clear lack of trust with our internal clients. It needed to be addressed head-on.”

So, Chris carefully crafted a presentation that would give his coworkers a clear understanding of how his department worked to support them and the library. When the day arrived, he was a mix of emotions.

“I was worried that they weren’t going to receive what I had to say well,” recalls Chris. “But (I was) also excited because I was confident that I was going to show them lots of things they probably didn’t even realize we were doing to promote things, and I had data and results to back up the methods we use.”

“I used some of the tactics that Dr. JJ Peterson from Storybrand talks about in this podcast about speaking,” said Chris. “I started by saying that this is how they might feel when they are trying to get messages to customers – they’re shouting and shouting but getting no reaction.

“I said that we in Community Relations & Marketing often feel that way too, and I’m going to tell them what things we do to make that better. I also acknowledged that they might feel this way when working with us.”

“Next I set the situation: where we are, where we need to get to and how we can help each other meet these goals will follow. I talked about how important email is to get the right messages to the people who have the problem that we can help them solve.”

Chris used examples to explain how email marketing is working for his library, emphasizing the importance of collecting addresses to build their subscriber list. He also explained how the library and marketing can work together to solve problems for their community. And he positioned marketing tactics, like bookmarks, the website, blog, and flyers as ways to provide an exceptional customer experience.

“I saw a lot of head nodding, got a few laughs, a few looks of ‘oh, I get it now!’ recalls Chris. “I felt like this was making sense, especially the opening where I talked about their frustration with customers and with the marketing department. That frankness really seemed to help disarm everyone and set up a good conversation.”

It’s been a few months since his presentation, and Chris says he’s seen a positive impact. “Resistance to complete the new request forms has gone down, and my team is reporting more cooperation and less tension than before,” reports Chris. “It’s a long road but the more we keep delivering this message, the better.”

And now Chris’s presentation is part of his library’s new employee orientation. He’s also looking for chances to recognize library staff to foster a sense of community amongst workers and encourage them to find positive solutions together.

Chris has some great advice for libraries that want to make sure all staff understand and value the role of marketing. “Use every opportunity you can to inject your messages whenever talking with staff and leadership and try not to get hung up when people aren’t getting it,” advises Chris.

“Remember that in this scenario YOU are the guide, not the hero. Your staff are the heroes using the strategy and plan to find their success in helping customers. Celebrate every win even if it’s just a fist pump to yourself.”

“Lastly, when you find those staff members who get it, keep them in the loop and ask them for their advice and feedback. You’ll build wonderful allies and advocates.”

He also encourages you to connect with other library marketing staff members in the wider library world. “There is a wonderful community of support out there for those who market libraries,” explains Chris. “You will find that we are all experiencing the same frustrations and will be thrilled to learn of any breakthroughs no matter how small you might think they are.”

“It’s easy to feel like you’re all alone because you’re operating in a sea of people who largely share the same skills, experiences, and goals as each other (but different from you). They may seem like the enemy sometimes, but you can help them reduce wasted time and effort and really make a difference in your customers’ lives.”

“Reach out to Angela, me, and other library marketers and library marketing enthusiasts anytime you feel unsure, frustrated, or just want someone to share in your success. You got this. Seriously.”

Chris was also recently featured on the new podcast, “Library Marketing for Library Marketers“, hosted by Katie Rothley. Listen to his episode.


You May Also Want to Read These Posts

Effective Library Internal Communication Is Not Impossible! Libraries Share Tips for Keeping Staff Up to Date, Engaged, and Happy

The Most Frustrating Part of Library Promotions: Real Advice on How To Manage Approvals

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