Super Library Marketing: All kinds of marketing ideas for all kinds of libraries.


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The Tiny Little Mistakes That Ruin Your Library Marketing Emails AND How to Fix Them!

NEW LIVE LIBRARY MARKETING SHOW ON INSTAGRAM! I’ve decided to try a new thing! I’ll be doing a live Instagram Q&A and discussion about Library Marketing. The sessions will be every Tuesday at noon ET (10 a.m. Central and 9 a.m. Pacific) beginning Tuesday, June 25. Join me to talk about library marketing topics for about 20 minutes each week. My handle is Webmastergirl. You can email questions and topic suggestions ahead of time. Just fill out this form below. See you there!

I get a lot of library marketing emails. I love to see what other systems are doing. So, I go to their websites and I see if I can get on their mailing lists! It’s fun and it helps me to find new things to promote and new ways to communicate with my audience.

I also get a first-hand look at some of the small boo-boos that other library marketers make in their emails. Email is hard. I’ve been doing email marketing for so long (feels like forever!) that I have made all of these mistakes myself! And I love email marketing, so I’m weirdly obsessed with learning about it. Some of the positive text and design choices that work for library marketing in other promotional pieces, like posters, flyers, websites, and blogs, do not work in email marketing.

The good news is that these little problems are easily fixed! Tiny adjustments in the text and design of your email can improve your click-through rates and effectiveness. Check this list against what you’re doing now and start reaping the benefits of improved email design!

Problem: too many images: A clean design is crucial to engagement. Too many images or too much text is off-putting to your email recipient.

The most common email programs like Yahoo and Outlook will NOT automatically download images. In fact, only Gmail downloads images automatically. With all other providers, the email recipient receiver must consciously click a prompt in order to download an image. That means if your image is conveying most of the key message in your email, your receiver likely won’t see it.  They will miss the information and the call to action, and your email is useless.

Solution: Create an email that is mainly text-based. I have found an 80-20 mix works best: 80 percent of my email is text, 20 percent is image-based. The image I use compliments the text. Its purpose is to create emotion or set the mood of the email. It’s there to inspire. It doesn’t convey key messages and it doesn’t contain the call to action.

Problem: too much text. An email that contains several long paragraphs of information is off-putting to recipients. It gives the impression that your email will take a long time to read.

The email scheduling platform Boomerang studied results of about 20 million emails sent using their software. They found that the optimal length of a marketing email is between 50 and 125 words. A study by Constant Contact of more than 2.1 million customers found emails with approximately 20 lines of text or 200 or so words had the highest click-through rates.

Excessive text can also send negative signals to spam filters. Too much text added to excessive punctuation or large images could keep your emails from ever arriving in an inbox.

Solution: Limit your email text to 200 words or less. The recipient should be able to read all the information in your email in about 15 seconds. If you have more information to share, use your call to action to indicate that there’s more to know about your subject. Then send your recipient to a landing page where they can get all the information they need.

Problem: Text that is too small. Keep in mind the growing number of people who will read your email on a mobile device. You want to make sure they can actually see your words. An 11 or 12 point font size is too small to be seen clearly on a screen.

Solution: Increase your text size.  Email font should never be below 18 point in size.  You should also use the bold option to make the most important information stand out.

Problem: Wishy-washy calls to action.  A compelling call to action is one of the best ways to increase the click-through rates of your library marketing. Some library marketing emails also contain too many CTAs.

Solution: Use positive, active language in your CTA. “Register” “Read This Book”, “Learn More”, “Join Us”, “Donate”, and “Get Started” are some of my favorites. I put my CTAs in a square red box that looks like a button to compel my recipients to click on them. I embed the CTA in my image as well and use the “alt text” to convey the CTA in case someone’s eye skims the email. I try to keep my CTAs to one per email.

One image, with the main text in bold at 18 point found. A few sentences and a clear call to action.

Problem: Ignoring mobile responsiveness.  Mobile opens accounted for 46 percent of all email opens according to the latest research from Litmus. If your emails aren’t optimized for mobile, you are missing a huge potential audience, particularly women and young people.

Solution: Optimize your emails for mobile to make them responsive. Most email marketing programs offer mobile responsive templates. My library uses Savannah by OrangeBoy. We switched to all responsive templates in January of this year. I’ve seen a nine percent increase in click-through rates. I count that as a win!

Problem: No system for proofing your emails in different kinds of email boxes. Your email design might look great in your creation software. But if you send it without testing it, you may find that your email becomes a kind of monster creature! It may show up a a jumbled mess of images and text. This happens because every email inbox will convert your email differently.

Solution: Test your email to make sure your message displays correctly for your recipients. Find people that you trust you have different providers… someone with Gmail, someone on Outlook, someone on Yahoo, and so on. Send them the message and ask them to check for warped images, font problems, and extra spaces.

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Nine Free Online Writing Tools To Help Add Clarity and Creativity to Your Writing Every Day!

I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately! Library marketing often means cranking out text for a variety of promotional pieces. Sometimes it’s a long form article. Sometimes it’s a few lines in an email. Sometimes it’s a speech. Sometimes you’re trying to convince the public or lawmakers to give you more money.

Writing is hard. Writing for a lot of different audiences is hard. Cranking out text on command is hard. Library marketers are always crunched for time. Sometimes we’re so exhausted that our creativity is nowhere to be found. But we still need to make sure the meaning of our text is clear and emotional.

That’s where online writing tools come in handy. They can help your writing have more of an impact. They can help you craft sentences that are clear and concise, even when the subject matter is not! They can help you figure out a headline that will draw readers in. They can help you discover just the right word to make your meaning clear.

I use writing tools Every. Single. Day. Here are my favorites! They’re all free.

Before You Write

Blog About: Sometimes the most difficult part of writing is coming up with an idea! This site has thousands of fill-in-the-blank prompts that can help you brainstorm your next topic. It’s a great place to visit when you’re suffering from writer’s block. This site was created by Neil Patel, who is somewhat of an internet marketing genius (subscribe to the podcast Marketing School to see what I mean). This tool helps with keyword suggestions, content ideas, and back link data.

Neil just added a new feature that lets you search your competitors to see what they’re doing! I was able to search some neighboring libraries to see how much traffic is going to their sites and what keywords are driving that traffic. Then I decided to check out the information for my own library.  I can use that data to insert keywords into our blog posts that will continue to drive traffic or bring new visitors to our website!

During Writing

Atlas: This website presents you with research and data which you can use to back up any claims you are making in your writing. It’s easiest for me to explain by showing you. I did a search for “libraries.”

The results come up in chart form. Cool, right?

Now, there are limitations. For one, all the data comes from one source, Quartz Media, so the charts only pull data from their publications and media properties. You have to attribute your charts to Quartz. And they have a lot of holes in their research. For instance, when I searched “hunger” and “childhood literacy,” I got no results. But they do have a lot of info on a lot of other topics that might be of interest to your library marketing audience, like careers, reading, and publishing.

HemingwayAppI use this text editor all the time! You can either write inside the program or you can copy and paste your draft into their site. Then you get a ton of suggestions on words to change or cut to make your writing clearer and bolder. This is great if you don’t have a person serving as your editor.

The Up-Goer Five Text Editor This is a fascinating tool. Its basic premise is that, in order to write clearly, you should try to only include the ten-hundred most commonly used words in the English language.

Here’s how it works: You copy and paste a bit of text, or type directly into the tool, and then hit enter. It will point out all words you should change to be more conversational. For fun, I pasted in my first-draft version of a paragraph from earlier in this post: Writing is hard. Writing for a lot of different audiences and cranking out text on command is even harder. Library marketers are always crunched for time. Sometimes we’re so exhausted that our creativity is nowhere to be found. But we still need to make sure our words do exactly what they’re intended to do. 


Why does this matter? It helps you to write more conversationally. It will help you to review the language you are using so you can really make sure your writing is going to make sense to the average reader.

Obviously, you don’t have to change your text based on every suggestion. I changed several of the words in that paragraph for the final draft of this post and ignored the rest of the suggestions. I like it because it forces me to rethink the way I write. It makes me consider whether my words are truly the best way to express my thoughts and feelings to my library marketing audience.

Grammarly. It’s not a substitute for a human editor but it’s a great way to give your pieces a first look for spelling and grammar errors, sentence structure problems, run-on sentences, and punctuation issues. You can add words using the personal dictionary function, which is helpful for those quirky instances that may be part of your library style guide. For instance, my library always capitalizes Library so I’m constantly fighting other apps over this randomly capitalized word in the middle of a sentence!

Cliché Finder: This tool is pretty self-explanatory. It highlights clichés in your text so you can avoid overused expressions. If clichés are your pet peeve (as they are mine), then this tool will be your new favorite!

Before You Publish

LibreOffice: I recently discovered this free, open-source software extension. It’s like Windows, but prettier and easier to use! It’s compatible with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Publisher. Once you get your actual writing done, this software will help you to organize your documents, add charts, and beef up your presentations so they look more polished.

Sharethrough Headline Analyzer: This is my new favorite headline tool. Type your proposed headline in. You’ll get a score, and tips on ways to improve your headlines. Every headline on this blog since the beginning of 2019 has been polished using this tool. I believe it’s one of the reasons traffic is up on my site. I use it for headlines on my print publications for the library as well.

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Customer Is Not a Dirty Word! Why Libraries Should Shift Their Focus to Customer Experience to Stay Competitive and Relevant

I bet you’ve been part of a discussion at some point about the use of the word customer. It’s happened to me several times in my nearly six years at my library, including this week.

There are a lot of word choices for libraries to use when referring to the public: Patrons, cardholders, residents, visitors, users, borrowers, and customers.

Library staff like to be accurate. They strive to be inclusive. They want to use the best term to describe the people they work with on a daily basis.

I think that’s totally fair. And it’s good to have conversations about the words we use! But when we have these conversations, the word customer causes the most angst for library staff. And I don’t understand why. I’ve turned this over and over in my head and I still don’t get it.

And today, I’m going to take a hard stand on this one. It’s okay to refer to the public as customers. Here’s why I keep coming back to this conclusion.

In order to remain relevant and competitive, libraries must start thinking about the public in terms of the way the institution and its pieces are set up to serve the public. We need to shift the focus of our jargon from thinking about our staff and services and how we present them to the public. We need to focus on how the public views us.

In marketing, customers are generally thought of as people who buy a product or service. Clearly, most of the things the library has to offer to the public are free. Most people do not make purchases at the library.

But a customer can be more than that. A customer is a person who uses the library to do something that might cost them monetarily at another institution. The fact that we don’t charge for most of our services does not mean the people we serve are not customers. They’re customers who get our stuff for (mostly) free!

Too many times, I’ve been in meetings where a new service or product is being discussed. And in all honestly, the setup usually centers around making that product or service easy for the staff to implement and use. We don’t focus enough on the customer experience… the way in which the public interacts with us. We don’t focus enough on making it easy to use the library.

Shifting our focus to customer service and customer experience will help us compete in the marketplace. Using the word customer to describe the public changes the way the library and its staff think about the public.

Tyler Bryd, host of the Library Figures Podcast  does a great job of explaining this concept on a recent episode. He points out that most of our libraries offer eBooks and eAudiobooks using a vendor like Overdrive or Hoopla.

Using those vendors is, frankly, a pain in the ass for many people–myself included. You have to download an app–not the library’s app but one that’s branded to the vendor, like Libby for Overdrive. Then you have to set up an account that’s totally separate from your library account. You can’t put digital offerings on hold using your library’s catalog. You have to go to the vendors site and put items on hold in a completely separate area. Only after you have jumped through all of these steps can you download an eBook or eAudiobook.

No wonder people don’t use the library for digital offerings. It’s so damn hard! It’s not a good customer experience. If libraries were focused on the customer experience, we would all band together and demand that vendors integrate fully into our catalog and app. We would insist that they brand their sites with our library’s brand. We would demand they put the customer experience first.

Not everyone can donate to our organization, so they can’t all be patrons. Not everyone who uses us has a library card, so they can’t all be cardholders.  Not everyone lives in our service area, so they’re not residents. Not everyone who walks through our doors actually borrows an item, so they can’t be called a borrower.  But everyone who touches our services and building and interacts with staff in any way can be described as a customer (or a visitor–I’m okay with visitor too!).

Customer is not a dirty word in library marketing. It’s an accurate representation of the public. We should let go of the notion that “customer” connotes something negative. It’s a positive! It helps us focus outwardly and provide the best experience possible for the public.

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Four Sneaky Ideas to Insert Marketing Tactics Into Your Everyday Work as a Librarian

I need your help! In a few weeks, I’m giving a short online seminar to library directors about marketing! I have 15 minutes to convince them to throw their full support behind library marketing. I really want this talk to impact the way library directors think about your work. So… please let me know what you want library directors to know about library marketing. Fill out the form before you even read this post. It’s anonymous! Thank you!

Librarians are busy folks. You’re on the front lines, trying to work with cardholders and community members. You’re looking up information. You’re connecting people with social service resources. You’re filling out paperwork, creating curriculum for story time, and putting up displays. And you’re doing about 100 other things that I don’t know about because I’m not a librarian.

I worry about how much libraries lean on librarians to do their own marketing. Senior staff might believe spending money to hire staff for marketing is not a good use of their limited funds. But it’s not good for the librarians and it’s not good for the library.

I also can’t change the world in one blog post. What I can do is help the librarians in my readership to strategize to make marketing part of their regular duties. Here are four things that you can do that are already part of your job. These are marketing tactics, though you may not have thought of them that way before!

Merchandising. Merchandising is a form of marketing that focuses on presenting the items in your branch in the way that will compel people to interact with them. Every display, every sign, every decision on the arrangement space in your branch is a chance to market your library.

I know that the decision many libraries made to switch from using the Dewey Decimal system to a more categorized approach for arranging items pains library purists. But it pays off.  Library visitors are accustomed to browsing in stores by categories. By mimicking that display effect, libraries make it easier for people to find the items they want and need. We want to be as easy to use (or easier) than our for-profit competitors.

It’s a time-consuming process but I’ve put merchandising first on this list because it is the most important and impactful way that librarians can market their branch. If you haven’t thought about re-arranging the materials in your branch, now is a great time to start. And to get some help, I recommend the slides from a presentation from Allison Fiscus of the Toledo Lucas County Public Library. She recently did an online seminar. Her presentation includes data that shows how merchandising positively effects the customer experience. She included a lot of visuals to help you understand her concepts. You can find them here.

Exceptional customer service. A lot of big brands have focused on improving customer service as a marketing tactic. If you are working on the front-line of your library, you have a unique opportunity to interact with cardholders.

The marketing buzz phrase for doing this is “surprise and delight.” We want to surprise our cardholders with service that exceeds their expectations. When we do that, they feel delighted with us! (Isn’t that just a sunny thought?) Delighted cardholders are more likely to spread the word to their friends and family about our system and the services we provide. They may be compelled to talk about us positively on social media, give us great reviews on Google Business, and support our work through donations or volunteerism. These are all marketing wins!

Good customer service is a competitive edge for libraries. If we can create an environment of inclusive and open access where people truly feel supported and cared for, we’ll have the clear advantage over for-profit competitors. One-on-one help is time-consuming, but it will pay off. We’ll build a reputation as a warm and inviting space. When’s the last time you heard Amazon or Best Buy described in those terms?

Library staff must make the commitment to provide good customer service. It’s not a skill that comes naturally to everyone. To help you, I love this free guide from Hubspot. It’s got templates and a ton of great information that you can use to improve your own customer service skills.

I also recommend you read this interview with Dan Gingiss, an expert at customer service. He’s written a great book with tips about customer service in social media and his interview has lots of ideas for improving library customer service to make our industry more competitive.

Word of mouth promotion. I get a lot of requests from librarians in my system who want our marketing department to promote their event or service. Posters and emails and fliers work, but the most effective method of marketing, in my experience, is word of mouth. You need to be telling your cardholders about your branch, events, and services. Talk to them!

Librarians are in a better position to sell people on their services and events than a for-profit business. That’s because you are a trusted member of the community. Librarians are admired and your opinions are valued more than the average person. Use that advantage to help “sell” the things that your branch offers!

I know word of mouth promotion seems time-consuming.  But consider this. Data tells us that you have to get your message in front of your cardholder an average of SEVEN TIMES before they’ll be compelled to act on it. But when you have a direct conversation with a cardholder about your library, you are making a compelling and personal case. 75 percent of people don’t believe the advertisements they read but 92 percent believe brand recommendations they receive from trusted sources. Librarians are trusted! So just talk to people.

Sharing on your personal social media. Yes, you should be sharing posts from your library’s social media channels on your own personal channel. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. Just pick the promotions you feel most personally passionate about. Hit the “share” button and add a line about why this particular event or service is meaningful to you.

Your recommendations are trusted because of your position. It’s not unethical to share your employer’s promotional social posts. I know you feel passionate about the work your library is doing. Don’t be shy. Share your enthusiasm!

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How Can You Tell If People Want To Read Your Library’s Print Newsletter or Magazine? Some Not Exactly Scientific Ideas!

I love my library’s print publication, Library Links. It’s full of stories about the library, its staff, and its cardholders. It’s fun to write. It fun to watch it transform from a bunch of Word documents into a legitimate magazine. It’s satisfying to put it into the world every three months.

But for all the personal satisfaction I derive from creating it, I sometimes wonder if it’s a good use of my time. How do I know that it’s actually something people want to read? How do I know if it’s effective? It’s impossible to track the return on investment of print promotions. Or is it?

I know many library marketers face this same dilemma. Most libraries have a newsletter or magazine of some form. The strategies for each of these print pieces vary. The audience varies. The budget varies.

But we must measure the return on investment of all of our marketing, including print pieces. So how do you do that? Here are some of the ways I use to measure the effectiveness of my print magazine.

Track who actually wants to read your publication. Many libraries print thousands of copies of their publication. Then they send them out automatically to all the people living in their service area. They might also send copies home with each child in their school district. I totally understand that tactic. But my bet is that more than half of those publications end up in the trash. It’s like sending un-targeted email messages. If someone isn’t already engaged with the library, the sad truth is they aren’t going to read your newsletter. That’s a shame, because it’s a waste of money for the library and a waste of time for you and your staff.

A better approach is to ask readers to opt-in to the publication. There are a couple of ways to do this. Ask people to sign up for it, either when they sign up for a library card or through an email campaign. You could send your print publication to anyone who donates your library’s fundraising groups. You can put copies out in your branches. You can also distribute copies to partner organizations with locations that have a lot of foot traffic, like museums and theaters.

Then, quite simply, count how many copies you have to print to meet the demand of your mailing and distribution lists. If people are seeking out your publication–if they are making any kind of effort to get a copy– that’s a good sign that it’s effective.

I’ve noticed that if my library releases a great issue of Links with a compelling cover story and lots of great content, people clamor for copies. We might have to visit our partner organizations again to give them more copies for distribution. We sometimes have cardholders who approach branch staff to ask when the next issue is coming out. My goal is always to run out of copies!

It’s not entirely scientific but an opt-in approach to your print publication can give you an idea of whether the publication is effective. And why spend money and time printing something that isn’t read?

Hashtags and emails: Ask readers to post a social media comment on a story or an event in your print publication. Give them a unique hashtag to use when they post their comment. Then count how many comments you receive. You can also ask readers to send an email with their comments to a special inbox. Then you can count the number of emails you receive.

Custom URLs and sub-domains on your website: I like to create URLs for sub-pages on my website that allow me to track traffic to those pages that are specific to readers of my print publication. For instance, my library has a web page that explains our passport service. For our upcoming issue of Library Links, I created the URL I’m not using that URL in any other promotions. So once the issue is out, I can see exactly how much of the traffic driven to that page came from my Links readers.

If your marketing department is also in charge of your website, create vanity sub-domains and use those URLs only in your print publications to help you track readers. If you decide to go that route, you can use Google Analytics to watch traffic to those sites. Create a custom tracking URL (How to Track Library Marketing with Google Analytics URL Builder). This will let you sort out the traffic coming to that particular webpage and determine what percentage is directly driven there by your print publication.

Secret: This same idea can be used on all your library’s print pieces, including posters, bookmarks, and other handouts. If you feel like your library is doing too much print marketing, you can get some hard data to back up your claim by tracking it through digital means.

Re-purpose your content and track engagement. Many of the stories we publish in Links are re-purposed a month or so later for social media posts, blog posts, and other content purposes. This helps us to get more out of the stories and gives us another way to measure whether the story is interesting to our audience. Plus it gives us a way to reach new audiences and make people aware of Library Links so they’ll want a real print copy.

Ideas for More Engaging Print Content

Amazing Content Marketing Stories About Your Library Are Right Under Your Nose!

How My Library Pivoted Its Event Newsletter Into a Content Marketing Magazine

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Be Quietly Relentless! A Guide for How to Win Senior Leadership Support for Your Library Marketing Ideas

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!!

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button in the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. I talk about library marketing on all those platforms!


We Increased Summer Reading Participation by a Whopping 97 Percent! Here Are the Four Easy Changes that Worked.

A summer reading program is the cornerstone event of the year for most public libraries. But in my conversations with other library marketers, there is a central worry: slipping participation numbers.

Our summer programs compete so many other things: camps and vacations, transportation issues and poverty-related issues. We struggled with summer reading participation at my library. Between 2013 and 2017, our registration and check-in numbers steadily declined.

In 2017 and 2018, we made some changes that not only stopped that decline in participation, but actually reversed it–in a big way. In 2018, we saw a 12 percent increase in registration and a 97 percent increase in participation. Yep, you read that right. It was slightly insane!

The changes we made were not revolutionary. They weren’t costly. To me they actually felt a little… vintage. And they were easy. I think that’s why we were so surprised by the results.

These changes were all suggested by our planning committee so I take no credit for coming up with them. But my staff helped implement them. Each one made it easier for us to market summer reading. So if your library is struggling with declining participation, you might consider these options.

Drop the library card requirement. We decided to let anyone participate in summer reading, not just library cardholders. Dropping the requirement to get a library card sounds counter-intuitive, I know. It felt weird! But it opened the program up to a whole population of people, particularly those in under-served communities and those who may not be year-round residents of our service area. It makes your program more inclusive.

Of course, at registration and check-in, our front-line library staff still suggest that those participants get a card. And our new cardholder numbers still increase during the summer. As long as staff are still suggesting people get a card and explaining the many benefits of having one, you can drop the requirement without risking a dip in cardholder sign ups.

Add experiences to your participation elements. Several years ago, we decided to re-brand the program as Summer Adventure. In doing that, we set up new guidelines for what counts as participation. Reading, for certain, is a big part. But our participants can also get credit for doing things!

We created themes for each week of our summer program. They include the arts, nature, sports, and maker and technology. Then, we make suggestions for activities people can complete to earn participation credit. They can attend an event at the Library, go on a nature walk, visit the zoo or a park, draw a picture, build something with LEGOs, write a story… the list is pretty long. So, if someone doesn’t read 20 minutes a day but still completes an activity, they get credit and a prize.

Consider paper tracking. Okay, I know this is going to sound really nuts but hear me out. Many libraries have an app or an online software platform that participants use to track their reading. It seems like that would be exactly what customers want. It’s certainly what I want!

But when our library switched to online tracking, our registration and participation numbers went way down. Many of our under-served community members don’t have access to a computer or Wi-Fi at home. They can’t log in to track their reading and they can’t download or use an app.

In addition, many of our connected participants apparently forget to track their participation electronically. Or they just found the process of downloading the app, putting in their information, and then using it to log their reading to be cumbersome.

We went back to a paper tracker. Actually, we created a passport. It’s small–about the size of a real passport so it fits easily in a purse, backpack, or pocket. It’s about 24 pages long. It has suggestions for activities. It has reading tracking. It has space for doodling. It has blank pages for journaling or other creative writing.

Our participants get a passport at the start of summer. They bring it back to the library every week for a stamp. They love it. The idea of a passport or a printed log they can carry around is fun and it makes their participation tangible. Their reaction to it was totally unexpected. And it might work for you!

Summer Adventure Passport
A customer shared this photo of her child’s passport page last summer.

Make a game out of getting a prize. Last year, our summer planning staff had the craziest idea yet. I’ll be honest: I did not think this would be a popular thing. Boy, I was wrong.

Here was the idea: instead of giving out set prizes at certain levels, we printed scratch-off tickets. When someone completes a prize level, they get a scratch off ticket. Then they get whatever prize is on the scratch-off.

People LOVED the tickets. We had to reorder them twice last year! And we really think this fun element was the big driver of our huge participation numbers in 2018.

Scratch off ticket for Summer Reading
This is what the ticket looks like this year. The prize will be printed in the compass and covered with silver metallic scratch-off material by our printer.

Do you have any fun tips for marketing summer reading? Please share them in the comments section below.

More tips

Three Very Un-Library Ways to Market Summer Reading

Four Ways to Hook Summer Readers Forever

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button in the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. I talk about library marketing on all those platforms!


Everything You Need to Know to Create an Effective Marketing Plan for Any Library Promotion

I love planning. I am the queen of to-do lists. I am addicted to reminder notifications. I’m a fan of the Excel spreadsheet.

I rarely go into any situation without a plan. The same is true for my library marketing. I create a marketing plan for everything. And so should you.

A marketing plan has a lot of advantages. It ensures everyone knows the end of goal of your marketing efforts. It defines roles for all the stakeholders. It sets deadlines. It keeps people accountable. And it clarifies how you will measure your results.

Why a marketing plan is important

A marketing plan is NOT a strategy. A strategy is the path you decide to take to achieve your library’s long-term overall business goals: increased circulation, increased program attendance, brand awareness, etc. You can have an overall library marketing strategy that guides your actions for six months, a year, or longer.

A marketing plan lays out all the steps involved in one particular promotion. Everything in the plan should tie into the strategy. It must help to achieve your library’s overall goals. But the plan lasts for a shorter period, involves more specifics, and covers just one promotion.

You don’t need a plan for everything you market at your library. You do need a plan if you are creating a campaign that lasts for a month or more.

And here’s how to put one together.

Know the thing you are promoting inside and out. Be sure you can answer every single question known to man about the thing you are marketing. If it’s a new database, use it… a lot. Have non-librarians use it and then ask them to tell you what questions they have. Read and re-read the tutorials. Becoming an expert on the thing you promote means you can explain it to your target audience in a simple and clear way.

Clearly define your end goal. Use business terms. If you are looking to increase brand awareness, set an actual, measurable end goal like: “We want 50 percent of residents living within a 30-mile radius of our Main Library to know that we have renovated the building and to be able to name at least one new service available at the renovated Main Library.”

Don’t be vague. A defined goal keeps you accountable.

Determine your target audience. Many library marketers say their target audience is “our cardholders.” Be more specific. Which cardholders? How old are they? How often do they use the library? What exactly do they do? Do they have children? What’s their transportation situation?

Add in as many demographic characteristics as you can. This gives you and everyone working on the plan a picture of who you are trying to reach.

Analyze competitors. Research anyone providing a similar program, service, or product. What are they doing well? What are they doing poorly? What are the things that differentiate your library from their business? These are your marketing advantages.

Create the message. This might seem crazy, especially if the marketing campaign isn’t set to launch right away. You can adjust the wording later. But getting the message down in writing now, with everything fresh in your mind, an efficient and effective way to make sure all the main pieces of your marketing plan mesh right from the start. It also gives you time to make sure your main marketing message is clear, concise, and correct.

Choose your tactics. Go through all the available avenues at your disposable for marketing and decide which ones will work best to reach your end goals. You do not have to use everything that’s available to you. Not every promotion needs print materials or a press release or a digital sign. Sometimes, a video will work well and sometimes an email will do a better job. You know best how your core cardholder audience reacts to each tactic and which will bring you the best results. If you have budget, decide how you’ll spend it during this step.

Set the schedule. I am a huge fan of tiered distribution of marketing. The approach takes advantage of a consumer cycle of excitement. You release one or two promotional tactics at the beginning of your promotional cycle, like a social media post and a press release. The promotion gets some play, and excitement builds in the consumer base. It gets shared and people talk about it… and then the excitement dies out.

Then, you release the second tactic, like an email, and the people who see the email get excited and start talking about it and sharing it, and then their excitement dies out.

Then you release a video, and that builds excitement and gets shared, and the excitement then dies out. And so on!

When you use the tiered distribution approach, you get a longer promotional thread. Your promotions will be more successful because the excitement around them builds over time, not in one big burst. This method has led to increased success for my library marketing. It also easier on the person running the marketing! It gives you a small break in between each tactic and creates time for you to measure the success of each tactic individually.

But you need to schedule your promotions, especially if you are using a tiered approach, so you can make sure you have room for them in your regular schedule. It also helps to create a picture in your own mind of how this marketing campaign will play out. Again, you can adjust this later if you need to. Nothing is ever set in stone at my library!

Assign tasks. Delegate jobs and deadlines for appropriate staff. If you need help from another library department, assign their deadline now so they have plenty of time to get you the information you need.

Measure results. Don’t forget to measure and record the reaction to each piece of your marketing plan. Analyze what worked and what did not, so you can put that knowledge to use next time.

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button in the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. I talk about library marketing on all those platforms!

Want More Media Coverage for Your Library? Here’s How to Fix Your Press Release!

It’s ironic that a former broadcast journalist can find herself without a good plan for getting more positive news coverage for her library.

And yet, that was the situation I found myself in last year. I run the content marketing team for a thriving library with high circulation numbers. We win awards. We are constantly looking for ways to improve the customer experience. And yet, the only times we found ourselves in the news, the coverage was for negative developments–an increase in drug overdoses, a fight over the sale of a library building, or the arrest of patrons.

I had worked a news desk. I remember getting off the phone with organizations asking for coverage of positive news. I would respond politely. But I knew the score. After I hung up, I would often shake my head and say, “Unless someone dies in your building, we won’t ever cover that.”

And now I found myself on the other side of that unspoken rule. I found it frustrating and humiliating. So, I decided that my team was going to do something about it.

The process of creating more positive news coverage for our library was a long one. It’s taken about a year. It involved changing our methods in some areas. But one of the big changes we made was also one of the most basic: we fixed our press release. We changed both the look and the content.

It worked. At my recent performance review, senior leadership acknowledged an increase in positive news coverage for the library. I want to share what we did so you can get the same results.

Simplify the look. We changed our press release template. Our past template was pretty and branded. But it was hard for my content specialists to use. The header and footer design made it difficult to type more than one page. It looked messy. It also took too much time to load on newsroom computers or smartphones.

Our preview releases looked messy and were difficult to format.

So, while it may seem counter-intuitive to transition to a template with less branding, it’s turned out to be a good move. Our new template has a cleaner design. It loads faster. We can fit more on the page. And it’s easier for the media to copy and paste the text to use in their stories.

Our new format has a cleaner look. It’s still branded but it’s easier to read.

Stop embedding photos. I don’t know why this was a thing but the library marketing team embedded their accompanying photos into press releases long before I got there. The photos made it difficult to format text correctly and required captioning in teeny tiny text, which is difficult to read. The photos were also incredibly small and were never used by the media. Reporters had to email us to ask for the high-resolution version. That adds to the workload of my team and it’s a barrier to news coverage. So, we’ve changed our policy. Now we just attach the high-resolution photos to the email we send with the press release. The media can easily download and use the photos.

Write better headlines. I noticed our headlines were long. We tried to convey the entirety of the information in the headline. And we used a lot of puns. I asked my team to write shorter, engaging headlines. We use action verbs if possible. We eliminated subheads. And NO MORE PUNS.

Write clean, conversational sentences and shorten paragraphs. The media is an audience, just like the audience for our other customer-facing content. They are pressed for time. They need a clear lead and information. And, like customers, they are not well-versed in library-industry terminology.

Now we write shorter paragraphs. We explain any library term in clear, concise language.

Less manufactured quotes. I never, ever used the provided quotes from news releases when I worked in news. I’m sorry, guys. That’s the truth. If it doesn’t sound like something a real human would say, it’s not a real quote. They know you’re making it up.

However, I know that this small portion of the news release is not always something you have control over. Fight for quotes that sound more like a real human. And if you lose that fight, it’s okay. A manufactured quote won’t disqualify your library from getting coverage if you’ve done the rest of these steps.

Include contact information for the people who can actually answer the media’s questions in a timely fashion. This was a pet peeve of mind when I worked in journalism. A press release without contact information forced me to do extra work, and that makes it less likely I’d cover the story.

Many marketing and public relations professionals fail to add contact info. It’s amazing how many times I’d contact the person listed on the release, only to learn that I needed to make more calls to other people within the same organization to find the answers I need.

The contact info you provide must be the most direct line to the information the press needs. We include contact info for my content specialist who is in charge of public relations. She takes the media’s information and question and finds the answers. The media only has to make one phone call. They’re more likely to cover your story if your organization has a reputation for finding their answers in a timely manner with few hassles.

Don’t mass send your release. We used to send one mass email with the press release to all available media. That wasn’t working. It sounds silly, but it makes your news feel less exclusive. Newsrooms will make decisions about whether to cover something based on what their competitors are doing. And by mass sending the news release, we were also sending information to media outlets that had no interest in our content.

Now, my content specialist matches the promotion to the media she feels would have the most interest in the event. Then she sends separate emails to those media members. It’s more time-consuming, but it’s more effective. She can personalize the email with the media contacts name. She can tell them exactly why our new information is relevant or interesting to their audience. She can also offer up interviews or video and audio opportunities to radio and TV stations that are specific to their show schedule. It makes our work with the media feel more like a partnership and less like we’re constantly trying to “sell” them on our stories. And it works.

More ideas for improving your library press relations:

How to Get Media Coverage Without a Press Release

Lessons From The Greatest Press Release Ever Written!

It’s Not Personal: What to Do When Your Library Gets Bad Press

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button in the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on Twitter, Snapchat, and LinkedIn. I talk about library marketing on all those platforms!

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