Submitted by Ann McGinley, Branch Manager, Rio Rancho Public Library
There are a lot of demands on people’s time and a lot of for-profit companies with large marketing budgets and departments, so we in the library field need to work hard to get our messages out there. In November 2019, I had the privilege of attending the Library Marketing and Communications Conference in St. Louis, Missouri. The conference was extremely informative and very relevant to my job at Rio Rancho Public Libraries where I chair the marketing and social media committees. I attended sessions on community engagement, visual communication, external strategy, internal strategy, and tools of the trade. By far, the session that excited me the most was “Imagine the Library of the Future: Mobilizing Staff for a Successful Information-Only Bond Campaign” by Amanda Donovan at the Spokane Public Library (SPL). Since New Mexico libraries depend so heavily on Go Bond funds, I knew this would be an important session to attend.
In 2018, the Spokane Public Library had a $77 million bond measure on the ballot to build three new branches and remodel several existing locations. The bond measure passed with 64.54% approval, and in 2019, the Spokane Public Library won a John Cotton Dana award for their information-only bond campaign.
During her presentation, Ms. Donovan outlined five steps to their successful campaign and pointed out that this approach can be scaled down to suit smaller goals such as increasing active cardholders or increasing self-check rates. The framework for the campaign is based on The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling.
The first step is to focus on the wildly important. The day-to-day running of the library can take up a lot of our time, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of the bigger picture. It is important to set Wildly Important Goals” (WIG). When setting a WIG (or any goal), define where you are, where you want to be, and by when: Move from X to Y by (date). For example, the Spokane Public Library wanted to go from 0 to 108,246 citizens educated about the library bond issue by October 31, 2018. They wanted the public to know what the library was asking for and why, as well as the consequences of doing (or not doing) it.
The second step is to enlist every employee. Every staff member, from the director to the page, should know what the goal is. Set the expectation that every staff member will be an advocate for the library. Each department should make a mini WIG in support of the main WIG. The department WIGs could have either direct or indirect impact on the Wildly Important Goal.
The third step is to create a cohesive campaign. The Spokane Public Library designed informational materials with a very consistent look and feel. They used language that matched the wording used in the bond measure. The materials included important dates such the voter registration deadline and the date of Election Day. The materials also included sections that explained “If the prop passes…” and “If the prop fails….” SPL also created both succinct talking points and detailed FAQs for employees so that staff would know how to talk to the public about the bond issue.
The fourth step is to saturate the market. Spokane Public Library put the message everywhere, including:
- Library homepage
- A special website
- Digital signs
- Overdrive landing page
- Library wifi splash screen
- Recorded interview with the director
- Social media posts that linked to the special website
- All newsletters
- Community events such as farmers’ markets
- Presentations at community meetings
- Scheduled community conversations (public invited to come to the library for a conversation about the bond issue)
- Newspaper and TV coverage
- Utility bill insert
- Yard signs
The fifth step is to track progress and inform staff. At the Spokane Public Library, they sent out updates via a newsletter called the WIG Weekly. The newsletter included answers to questions that had come up and emphasized that everyone was responsible for moving the library toward the goal. They tracked progress towards the goal of 108,246 educated citizens by counting every time the message “touched” someone. For example, if they made an outreach appearance and educated attendees about the bond measure, they counted everyone they spoke with and recorded that statistic. When they posted on Facebook about the bond, they looked at Facebook analytics to see how many people that post reached. As email newsletters went out to the subscribers, they looked at the open rate and counted those people. When they made an announcement about the bond measure at the beginning of a program, they added the program attendance figure to the progress towards the 108,246 educated citizens. With all staff working towards the goal, a cohesive campaign, and a saturated market, they achieved their goal several weeks ahead of schedule.
Ms. Donovan concluded her presentation with a few more tips. Before starting a bond campaign, specifically try to increase your total number of cardholders. Of course, be sure not to suggest to anyone how to vote but provide information only, such as where to register, or what will happen if the community votes yes or no. Avoid paid advertising but do use the Friends of the Library as appropriate (for example, to pay for yard signs). Know what your community wants and mention it in the campaign. Know that not every component of the campaign will work, and be prepared to make small adjustments as needed throughout the process. Finally, repurpose the campaign to thank the community and to provide updates on the funded project.
While your library might not have a Wildly Important Goal as big as adding three new branches and remodeling four others, this framework can be scaled down and help guide your approach toward accomplishing any goal that the library sets.
I strongly recommend the Library Marketing and Communications Conference to everyone involved in the marketing efforts of your library. Thank you to the following organizations for providing the professional development funds that allowed me to attend in 2019:
New Mexico Library Foundation
New Mexico Library Association
Friends of the Library of Rio Rancho
City of Rio Rancho