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How to Manage Your Marketing Without Losing Your Ever-Loving Mind

A library marketer is really a project manager.

That phrase is the best description of our job. We are all planning and managing projects. We are scheduling and executing campaigns. We’re delegating. We manage multiple people who contribute to blog and social media posts. And unless you’re a super organized genius, all that coordination can cause you to lose your sanity.

I sometimes walk into my office in the morning feeling fantastic, and by the time I open my email and see a 30-message thread between departments about a piece of content I need for marketing, I can feel the steam rolling out of my ears.

Project management is like waiting tables. You have multiple customers who all want different things from you. They order at different times and their food comes out at unpredictable intervals. In the meantime, you must keep checking back and making sure they have everything they need for the moment. You must also keep them informed about how their meal is progressing.

It’s the same when for library marketing. We are working on multiple campaigns and we have lots of different customers, internally and externally. So how do you make sure you get all your work done without losing track of projects, content, and posts? It’s not easy.

Many of you have said that project management causes you grief and stress. Many of you don’t have a staff. You are doing this job solo. You’re doing branch work in addition to marketing. Your job is hard.

I have a system, developed over five years of trial and error. I thought I’d share it with you. I hope my tips relieve you of some stress.

Train other library staff to plan. I make it a point to stop by once every month or two to talk to all the departments that contribute to my marketing schedule. I ask them to tell me what is coming up in the next one to three months. At the end of each of those meetings, I make it a point to tell them to let me know if they start planning anything at any point. These “touch-base meetings” sometimes only last 15 minutes but they are incredibly valuable.

To be honest, it took me about a year of doing this to get my coworkers trained to let me in on their plans early. I realized later that most of them thought it best to wait to tell me about an event until they had all the details worked out. Now, they’ll give me a heads-up even if they only know the general subject of the event and the date. That way, I can work it into my schedule ahead of time and plan.

Share your schedule. I noticed that when I shared my promotional schedule with my coworkers, they got a good sense of the kind of work involved in creating a campaign. They started sharing more info with me because they could see the work involved. Don’t be precious with your schedule. Share it… and let everyone see how much work and planning goes into each piece.

Set deadlines and enforce them. I do this for lots of my content, but especially when it comes time for our summer reading program. It’s a massive marketing campaign, the biggest we do all year. I create a schedule by the first week of February. In it, I share the deadlines for each piece of the marketing with everyone involved. This sets clear expectations. I also do this for those who contribute to our quarterly content marketing magazine. I send reminders one month and one week before the submission deadline so it’s clear what I need and when I need it.

Use your calendar. I  put appointment reminders in my Outlook calendar to check on the status of certain projects.  I can look at my calendar each day and remember that I need to check up on certain things. I even put calendar reminders in for things like changing signs or updating content.

Don’t respond immediately to requests. This habit was hard to form but it’s the best discipline I’ve set for myself. When someone comes to be to tell me they need marketing for an event or service, I generally do not drop everything to plan out the marketing. I will put it on my to-do list for the next day, or even the next week. That gives me time to think about the best way to market each request.

Set aside time each week for planning. I have a designated planning day. I set aside a couple of hours on that day to purposefully think through my marketing. I make lists and set deadlines. It makes me more focused and helps me to know I have that time to think about what’s coming down the road.

Say no sometimes. Listen, I know it’s an uncomfortable conversation. I know you want to help everyone. You may feel pressured to do it all. I hate saying no. But sometimes, it is necessary. If the request doesn’t align with the library’s overall strategy, I say no.

Your time is limited. If you try to do everything for everyone, you won’t do anything well. Sometimes, you must say no. It may not make your friends, but it will make you better at your job. You were hired to do what’s best for the library.

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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The Big Challenge That Taught Me All About Library Marketing

The biggest holiday of the year in my city of Cincinnati is, without question, the opening day of the Cincinnati Reds baseball season.

Yes, you read that correctly. Half a million people turn out to line the streets of our city for a wild parade that lasts two hours and contains nearly 200 entries. Then they all stream down to the riverfront for street parties and concerts that lead up to the opening pitch of the day. Everywhere you go, you see people dressed in red and white, screaming from balconies, waving handmade signs… it’s a day-long pep rally. People dress up their dogs and kids and paint their faces and wear beads. It’s the Mardi Gras of Cincinnati. This has been going on for decades.

Our library has participated in this tradition since before I came to the organization. Every year, we march in the parade. I learned I would be responsible for our entry just a few months after I had joined. I had never organized a parade entry before. I had only ever covered the Reds parade in my time in news and had no idea what it was like on the participation side! But five years later, I’ve got the process down pat. And, I’ve thought a lot lately about how that experience mirrors many other projects in library marketing. Here’s what I’ve learned.

If you decide to partner with another organization, choose wisely. When I learned that I would be organizing my first parade entry, I set out to ask for advice. A co-worker told me that I was expected to partner with a local organization that helps disadvantaged children. So I reached out to them and called a meeting. It was a painful experience. They did not offer as much help as I needed. They barely contributed to the cost and labor of creating the entry. I completed all the paperwork and recruited all the volunteers and staff. On the day of the parade, I worried that we would lose one of their young clients, as they apparently thought I should also supervise the kids they had recruited to be in the parade. This was not the first time I’d been involved in a one-sided partnership project. We’re all been there. The next year, I decided to go it alone. It was actually less work and less stress.

Partnering with the right organization can bring you more resources and can help with the workload. Joining up with the wrong group can make the experience more stressful. That’s true with any library marketing project. Do your homework and choose your partners wisely. Approach with a series of questions in mind: What do you hope to accomplish in this partnership? How much time and money can you contribute to help us reach our goals? How will the work be divided among us? How will approvals and major decisions be handled?

Sometimes simple is best. My first parade float attempt a disaster. I had never created a parade entry by myself before and I am not an artist. I had no idea was I was doing. It was a hot mess of ideas and it looked muddled.

The second year was a little better. I had hired a graphic artist who was enthusiastic about the project. She recreated the Reds ballpark, complete with smokestacks made of discarded books. It was amazing–and it took a ton of time and was difficult to manage, given our low-budget. It looked great but it was very stressful.

The third year, I decided we would simply drive our delivery truck, which we had recently re-wrapped in a beautiful branded design created by another of my graphic artists. The difference in the stress level I felt in the weeks leading up to the parade was amazing. And the entry connected with the crowd better than any handmade float because it was a branded, recognizable vehicle.

You may be tempted to be complex in your library marketing projects. After all, complexity feels more productive. More work equals better work, right? Not necessarily. If you can approach each project in its simplest terms and break it down to the points that have real meaning, then work on reaching that goal, you’ll be more successful than if you try to reach a dozen goals in a multi-pronged approach. Your messages to the customer should also be simplified. Speak clearly, say what you mean, don’t use library jargon, and you’ll do a better job of connecting with your audience. Your graphics should be simple. Your services should be simple. Simple makes it easier for people to use your library and that will lead to increases in circulation, program attendance, and overall satisfaction.

Get your staff excited. The most important critical moment of parade planning is the moment I decide to start recruiting staff members to march with our entry. I have to make sure my pitch to them includes incentives for participating and emphasizes the excitement of the moment and the value to our cardholders. I also have to make sure members of senior leadership participate because staff members notice and feel neglected if there isn’t a member of administration marching with them through the cold or rain or heat (April weather in Ohio is completely unpredictable!). Likewise, in library marketing, you need to get your staff excited about your projects. Take the time to explain why you are doing the work you do and why it will help them in their interactions with cardholders.

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button on the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on Twitter and Snapchat–it’s where I talk about library marketing! I’m @Webmastergirl. I’m also on LinkedInInstagram and Pinterest. Views in this post are my own and do not represent those of my employer.

Boost Attendance at Library Programs–How to Start a Revolution

On my first day at the library where I now work, I was handed a calendar of library events. “Here is everything that happens during the library year. You’ll learn what to expect pretty quickly and how to plan to market each of these events as they rotate in the library calendar.” The first thought I had was, “Holy cow, that’s a lot of stuff. There’s an event happening nearly every day of the year.” The second thought was, “I have never attended a library program in my life. How do I convince someone else to go?”

I am NOT saying that library programs are not important. Far from it. In fact, I don’t think we spend enough time or money on library programs and that’s why we are seeing our attendance numbers decline.  So I’m proposing a library program revolution. It basically comes down to this idea: More smart research, fewer programs overall. Get rid of the program quota!

My library is battling declining attendance for programs and I bet yours is too, whether you work at a public, private, school, or university library. It’s a universal truth rarely acknowledged. I am asked to market a lot of crafting programs–knitting, soap-making, cupcake decorating, and a lot of lecture series. I can understand the allure for library staff. These programs are fun, easy to plan, inexpensive, and they fill the dreaded program quota. But my library has tried literally every marketing trick possible to attract attention to these programs for more than four years and our attendance numbers are down. I think the cardholders have spoken–they are just not interested in those programs, even if we (library staff) are.

Here’s the good and bad news. The Pew Research Institute found in its latest study on library use that 27 percent of library users have attended classes, programs, or lectures at libraries in the last year. The good news is that’s a 10-point increase from 2015. The bad news is that the majority of library cardholders are not attending programs.

Honestly, part of the problem is feedback from cardholders. Our loyal patrons love us so much that, when asked, they give positive answers, saying the library is a vital part of the community, they plan to use the library more in the future, and that their library is doing a great job. And that’s wonderful… but it doesn’t bear out in actual attendance numbers. I appreciate their vocal support, but I also want to get bodies through the door.

Money for library program attendance is tight for every library system I can think of. So, I propose we STOP doing a ton of programs. More is not the answer. Instead, I propose that libraries back way down on the number of programs that they do and instead, spend more money and more time planning quality programs which are unique to their community and that their users really want. Here are some specifics of my proposed library program revolution!

Use informal social media surveys to ask cardholders what kinds of programs they’d like to see. Conduct a Twitter or Facebook poll and ask your cardholders what they want to do or learn at the library. It’s not scientific but it will give you a sense of what interests the community. You could also post a graphic and ask people to use the comment section to share ideas for programs they’d like to see at their library branch.

Check related organizations in your community to see what events they’re holding to make sure your library isn’t duplicating their efforts. For instance, if your branch is near a community center that’s already hosting a bunch of knitting and crafting, then your knitting and crafting programs will be in direct competition.

Partner with local organizations and talk to leaders of community groups and schools to see where they need help in teaching people to manage certain skills and then offer those skills at your library. For the past year, my library has partnered with a local organization to teach workforce development skills to single parents in areas of the city in economic distress. It’s not a sexy or fun program to market but we get good attendance because it’s there is a need in the community and we’re filling it. We’ve also created a set of programs with an organization that teaches young girls how to do computer coding. I actually only have to do a bit of marketing for that program. As soon as I let people know it’s happening, registration fills up! And one of our branches partnered recently with a local brewery to do a program on home brewing techniques. The place was packed!

Talk to librarians at other systems with similar demographics and find out what successful programs they do and then do the same. There’s nothing wrong with stealing ideas! I give you permission to use the three examples listed above.

Shift your focus to teaching technology skills. The same study from Pew mentioned earlier in this article says 80 percent of Americans want libraries to offer programs that teach digital skills and help cardholders use new creative technologies like 3-D printers. That means library administrators have to be willing to provide the in-depth training librarians need to teach those skills. They have to invest in the equipment. And library staff have to be willing to embrace this new role as technology teachers.

Do deep research before booking an author series. Check circulation of the author’s book in your catalog–are people checking it out or placing holds? Watch YouTube videos of the author’s earlier appearances to see if they’re an engaging speaker and to check the reaction of audiences. Gauge cardholders’ interest in the author using informal surveys on social media.

More ideas for increasing library program attendance:

This One Trick Will Increase Library Program Attendance by the Swiss Army Librarian.

What I Wish I’d Known About Building Teen Library Services From Scratch by In the Library With a Lead Pipe.

How a Dutch Library Smashed Attendance Records by Cat Johnson.

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button on the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on Twitter and Snapchat–it’s where I talk about library marketing! I’m @Webmastergirl. I’m also on LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest. Views in this post are my own and do not represent those of my employer.

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