Learning a New Dance Step or Two

With creative marketing more than 400 tickets were given out to see the Avalon String Quartet.

With creative marketing more than 400 tickets were given out to see the Avalon String Quartet at the West Chicago Public Library.

We’ve all been there.  Your library has a fabulous public event planned, and you’ve expended a great deal of time and money to make sure it will be one to remember.  But two weeks before the event, the majority of the tickets you expected to give away are still sitting at your public service desks.  Yikes!

It’s the stuff of any marketers’ nightmares!  Stepping back to review what we might have missed, we see the announcement in our newsletter, the web site postings, e-news flashes, flyers and posters strategically placed, the social media engagement, the displays – why are those tickets still sitting there?  Haven’t we covered all the bases?  In a word – NO!

These days, most of us in the field of library marketing and public relations are overwhelmed with the rate at which new technologies come flying at us, all promising to reach our patrons in new and better ways.  Not many of us can keep up with it all – Facebook, Twitter, GooglePlus, LinkedIn, FourSquare, Flickr, Pinterest, Slideshare, YouTube…and Hoot Suite just seems to add yet another level of stress needing to be dealt with “tout de suite!”

No matter what kind of technological bells and whistles we’ve got at our disposal, though, it’s times like this that we need to roll up our sleeves and simply get back to the basics.  At the end of the day, it’s all about communication.  If your patrons aren’t responding, no matter what tools you’ve used, your message just hasn’t been communicated.

So, what now?  Well, let me tell you what I did when I faced just such a nightmare scenario recently at my library.  First, with the encouragement of my administrator, I made just one more sign.  Then I put it on a table right in the middle of the lobby.  I got a chair and a stack of tickets, put a smile on my face, and started to talk to everyone who came in the door.

“Hi, how are you today?  Did you hear about our event?”  And, guess what?  Most people I talked to had no idea!  And my stack of tickets started to get a little smaller.  Not everyone was interested in the event I was promoting.  But almost everyone was interested in being greeted, in being acknowledged, in talking about something.

In my two weeks in the library lobby, I heard so many interesting stories and met so many wonderful people.  I gave directions, I helped a patron use the lobby copier, I made a crying child smile, I even learned a line dance step or two.  And, after a while, I started to recognize the faces of many of our regular patrons and, more importantly, they recognized me.

Curious staff members stopped to find out what in the world I was doing, and pretty soon I had a couple of recruits to cover the hours when I wasn’t working at the library.  In two weeks, we gave away over 500 tickets.  I think we were all a little amazed.  Not only had this simple strategy worked, it was surprisingly easy!

Now, I’m not suggesting that we all pick up shop and camp out in our lobbies.  But I did learn some important lessons from this experience.  First, there is no more powerful communication tool than the act of one person simply talking to another.  Second, our patrons really do want to talk to us.  And, most importantly for me as a marketer, the next time I really want to know what our patrons think, I’m going to skip the SurveyMonkey.  I’m heading to the lobby.  Who knows?  I might just learn another dance step or two!

Shelley Campbell is Public Relations Specialist at the West Chicago Public Library District.

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15 Responses to Learning a New Dance Step or Two

  1. Shelley, great post. we will certainly discuss it in our library in Amersfoort (the Netherlands). of course we too are struggling with these problems

  2. Pingback: Sometimes The Old-Fashioned Ways Work Too! | Cheryl Becker

  3. Big time “duh” moment – I feel like Homer Simpson and the people who could have had a V8 all wrapped up into one… Great post, very inspirational. Hopefully we can use the technique to turn around our lagging attendance at events.

  4. How simple, and how perfect – get out from behind the desk. person-to-person marketing.

  5. Heather says:

    When you tell “one” person you’re not just telling one person. Often I’ll tell one person something and someone else will come up and ask about it because they might hear one or two words that catch their attention. That also helps to spread word about events and things to read. I’ve even overheard some people talking about things and I’ve asked so I could help spread the word. Being polite about it also helps a great deal (since I’m also younger being polite helps to show that not everyone in my generation is rude). “Did I hear correctly? That sounds interesting.” and “I’m sorry for listening in but…” are two that I use.

  6. I just talked to Shelly, at the West Chicago Public Library, a very friendly and knowledgeable person, who said they had almost 350 people including children attend the event.

    • Shelley Campbell says:

      Nice talking to you today, Jeff. I was thinking, after we hung up, that I forgot to mention how this event proved to be an excellent source of patron testimonials. One of our staff members put together a little feedback form that simply asked, “Tell us what you think.”
      I got enough material to use in the next couple of Annual Reports!

  7. Tracie Kreighbaum says:

    This is exactly what my upcoming doctoral thesis is all about, except outside the physical library. Thank you for sharing, and hopefully inspiring more of us to stop and say hello, and smile, and connect.

  8. Judy Duer says:

    Just curious, did you have a good turn out for the event? Sometimes people take tickets but don’t show up…

    Love the idea though!

  9. Alexis H Sarkisian says:

    Shelly, the additional value to this is that we know from word of mouth ‘marketing,’ that your good will is also being shared with others by those with whom you spoke. You have extended the reach of the libraryconsiderably. I very much enjoyed reading your post!

  10. elizabethsneill says:

    Shelley’s approach – finding a way to establish a personal connection – is an important tool that everyone in the library, circulation clerk and board member alike, can use to promote library products and services (including programming). I suspect that the folks at Shelley’s library who met her are likely to be library ambassadors in the future: people who will not only have a positive impression of the library but will feel qualified and eager to recommend it to others. And, Shelley’s technique is relatively inexpensive. Bridget Bittman talked about the value of a personal connection in her post as well, and it’s my ambition to find a way to do something similar at my library in the coming year.

    • Great original post and I have to say I totally agree that the people who were spoken to will go out and tell others about the friendly and approachable library staff and the great events they have on offer. Good to know that in the digital age there’s still a place for a good face-to-face chat and a friendly attitude, something I will take into my future career.

  11. Kay Palecek says:

    Talking with patrons is surprisingly easy and worthwhile. Great story!

  12. Brilliant! I love it! That’s my kind of customer service and more!

  13. Cris Cigler says:

    This is fabulous!

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