Having worked in public libraries of all sizes for the past 15 years, I’ve found there’s one common thread. Actually, there are many, but one really critical thing stands out. We don’t toot our own horn nearly enough, yet marketing always seems like an easy target to kick off our overflowing to-do list. And while we’re generally great planners, when it comes to marketing, we’re not always the best implementers. This is why I wasn’t surprised that 40 percent of public libraries have a communications strategy, but only 17 percent keep it current.
I encourage everyone who doesn’t have a marketing and communications strategy to develop one. For those who aren’t keeping plans current, why not commit to revisiting them on a regular basis? You’ve already done the really hard part. You’ve aligned your marketing plan with the library’s strategic goals, built buy-in with leadership and staff, and created tactics that speak to your community.
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.”
The truth is, a marketing and communications strategy isn’t optional, it’s essential and should be built into everything you do. And getting there doesn’t need a ton of additional commitment. In fact, to maximize your time and resources, it makes total sense—many hands make light work and the more people know about what you do, the more help you have spreading the word.
Try thinking about your marketing and communications strategy from a three-step approach.
1. Make it count
With every new venture, I ask myself, “Who else needs to know about this?” Inevitably, this opens doors to new partnerships and opens minds to new ways of thinking about and experiencing libraries today. Intentional community engagement in all its forms has always been part of my success formula—I keep it at the top of my list. After all, it matters little what we do if nobody knows we’re doing it, right?
Start off by creating big picture marketing goals. But then attach measurable steps to reach them. Develop realistic timelines so you, your staff, and your board are all aligned with what needs to get done, who needs to do it, and when these steps need to be taken. Timelines are perfect opportunities to check in with your plan to make sure you are on track. Frequent community assessments and evaluations will keep you focused on what is important: service to your community.
2. Keep it fresh
Track the data. Assess the results. And if the results aren’t remarkable, take time to figure out why, ask questions, and involve staff and the community in your information gathering. Your action plans’ focus should be to create awareness, change perception, and garner community support. Those are your touchstones; review and revise your plan frequently with them in mind.
As you learn, don’t be afraid to try new ways of doing things or taking chances. So … make that call and invite new partners into your plan. Start with a list of small businesses, nonprofit organizations, cultural groups, and local legislators. Make sure you and your staff present the library to them at their monthly meetings.
3. Stay on target
To support activity and energy around your strategy—and to make it easier to continually keep things up to date—think about creating a marketing and communications committee that meets quarterly with very specific tasks. Plan to review results, check in with your action plan, brainstorm innovative and tactical ideas, and make necessary changes and updates to your timeline. Prioritizing, reviewing, and elevating your strategy regularly will reap benefits across your organization, lead to better results in engaging your community, and keep marketing and communications as a permanent addition on everyone’s to-do list.
Be the change
Libraries are critical elements in the infrastructure of their communities. To make a lasting impact, you have to truly believe that. In order for the field to stay vibrant, active, and relevant, we must be vigilant with our marketing, passionate about telling our success stories, forthcoming with solid data, and consistent with a mindset of community engagement in all we do. A strategic, measurable, organic marketing and communications effort will keep us aligned internally and on the right track to stay on the minds of those who support us and in the hearts of those we serve.
Want to learn more about library marketing?
- OCLC Next: Jenny Johnson on, “A fresh look at public library marketing.”
- OCLC Next: John McCullough on, “Keep a ‘customer first’ focus to meet the challenges of e-resource management.”
- OCLC Next: Scott Livingston on, “Make the first move: three ways to initiate relationship-building conversations.”
- OCLC Next: Cathy King on, “Get closer to ‘customer first’ in seven days.”