Photo courtesy Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library

Trenton Smiley’s job in a library is what you might call a full-circle moment.

At the age of 21, Trenton went to the library with his future wife to research careers. While inside the library, he decided to study communications in college.

Years later, he is working in communications for a library, specifically as Director of Marketing and Communications for Capital Area District Libraries (CADL). Located in Lansing, Michigan area, the library encompasses a service area of approximately 230,000 residents.

Every year, CADL does something extraordinary to reach new audiences. Beginning in 2020, the library launched a Christmas Eve Radio Storytime in partnership with 99.1 WFMK, one of the top radio stations in the Lansing market, especially among female listeners. During the holiday season, the station switches to an all-Christmas Music format, which provides a nice fit for storytime.

“We decided to read Clement Moore’s 1837 poem ‘Twas the night before Christmas because it was part of the public domain,” said Trenton. “Each year, we select one of our youth librarians to read the poem over a wonderfully produced music bed (done by the radio station) that also included special sound effects.”

“A holiday greeting from our executive director Scott Duimstra is always included along with a message from a special guest. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer appeared in 2020 and 2022, while a cast member of Disney’s Broadway Show Frozen appeared in 2021 to promote the show, which was coming to our community a couple of weeks after the storytime aired.”

The radio storytime, which is about six minutes in length, aired twice on Christmas Eve. Listeners could also hear the storytime on sister station 1240 WJIM every hour until midnight. To become more inclusive, CADL launched a Spanish version of the storytime which airs on two NPR radio stations and a Spanish podcast owned by WKAR.

The cost is about $500 to air the storytime, but the station helps promote the special through free commercials and placement on the website and social media.

In addition to promotion on the radio, CADL began working with a local TV station WILX TV-10 to promote their reindeer visits and other holiday events.

“In addition to on-air ads, we also run homepage takeovers of,” said Trenton. “A homepage takeover allows us to have 100 percent share of voice by using all available ad positions for a 24-hour period. We use this practice often to generate a great deal of web traffic over a short period of time.”

The library has taken that one step further by sponsoring the station’s broadcast of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and 5 More Sleeps Til Christmas. It’s a fantastic opportunity to reach people who never interact with the library.

“The idea to sponsor the holiday block of specials is really based on the homepage takeover concept,” explained Trenton. “We would secure all the available local ad positions during the hour block of holiday specials, which translated to two minutes. We would use this ad time to air 2, one-minute segments featuring a duo of librarians demonstrating a craft that was related to one of the holiday specials.”

It only took one day for the library to receive clearance from station management. The station also offered to help produce the library segments and promotional ads, as well as help create awareness of this special program the week leading up to the air date. It took another hour to shoot the segments and promos for the event.

Trenton said his library had specific goals for this paid partnership: to find ways to share the library experience. Specifically, Trenton had three main goals.

  • Increase marketing reach and frequency. “We focus on a more outward approach to our marketing. The larger pool of people we can engage with the greater chance we have to convert them to users of the library. The same is true of how they are seeing and hearing our messages and content. “
  • Strengthen brand awareness. “These programs provide us with an opportunity to highlight our expertise, create awareness of CADL, and position the library differently in the minds of the viewers and listeners.”
  • Expand promotional inventory. “Creation of programs like these provide CADL with content in which to promote other services and generate sponsorships.”

“Since the specials aired during primetime on Friday evening, December 23, we were confident that there would be a large viewing audience and worthy of the $800 price tag,” shared Trenton. “The total planning time on our part was about an hour.”

The television and radio events were marketed via email, social media, branch digital signage, press releases, a holiday guide, and promos on radio and television stations. “All the tactics helped spread the word about the specials,” said Trenton. “But I favor the digital ones because they provide real-time reporting on engagement.”

And, the partnership was indeed a success. “Based on the audience sizes of both our television and radio programs, we were able to accomplish our goal of increased marketing reach,” shared Trenton.

“Through the partnerships with both the television station and three radio stations, we received free promotional ads which helped with our goals of increased frequency, strengthened brand awareness, and more content in which to use to cross-promote services and use for sponsorships. Discussions have also begun about expanding the number of radio stations airing our special storytime.”

Trenton says his library marketing inspiration comes from the for-profit world including Disney and retail outlets.

He has advice for library marketers looking to leverage events to promote their libraries.“Negotiate from a position of strength,” he said. “Libraries have so much they can leverage including their expertise, content, goodwill, footprint (digital & physical), and customer base.”  

More advice

The One Question Your Library Staff Should Ask Every Single Guest To Unlock Promotional Success!

Building Advocates and Allies: How One Library Marketer Used Storytelling To Improve Promotions and Unify His Library

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