As the marketing and outreach coordinator at my library, I find it’s often easy to focus solely on our external constituencies: patrons, local organizations, and the community at large. However, a recent experience proved the value in cultivating staff buy-in by remembering that staff is another marketable constituency. In the fall, a colleague and I launched a marketing initiative called the “Communications Task Force” (CTF). Every couple months, we would craft a brief statement highlighting an upcoming program, library service, or fact about the library and ask staff, trustees, and volunteers to spread that message to patrons and the community.
Prior to the CTF, I had made efforts to encourage staff to “talk up” major upcoming programs, largely by mentioning these programs at staff meetings and asking staff to tell patrons about them. However, these efforts had met with limited success. While developing the CTF, I was reading Building a Buzz: Libraries and Word-of-Mouth Marketing by Peggy Barber and Linda Wallace. The authors discussed the need to market new initiatives to staff as well as patrons and the community. I realized that in order to successfully market new programs, I first had to successfully market them to staff.
As a result, I changed my strategy and decided to take a new approach when talking about the mission of CTF to staff. I thought about what would make a CTF brief compelling to staff:
- Staff had to feel like what they were talking about would have a direct, positive impact.
- Staff had to feel like their participation did not create a large additional workload.
- Staff had to feel like they had the right tools.
I took care not only to explain what the CTF briefs were, but also encouraged staff to raise questions and concerns and suggest ideas for future messages. This gave them a strong sense of involvement and excitement about our library’s messaging.
The first CTF brief coincided with a large publicity campaign for our community read Moby-Duck. The book lent itself to lots of fun, duck-themed publicity, which generated enthusiasm among staff. Taking the above approach, the first CTF initiative got enthusiastic buy-in and participation. I was thrilled to see most of my colleagues talking up the message and hand-selling Moby-Duck to our patrons. We also had patrons say that they attended a program because staff had told them about it. Finally, because our staff had fun participating, they got into the habit of talking the message up. As we have moved on to new messages, staff interest and buy-in has remained high.
Several things helped to encourage staff buy-in. In contrast with previous attempts to get staff involved, the CTF is a structured initiative rather than an sporadic, casual request. Explaining the “why” of the CTF as well as the “what”, including giving compelling statistics that supported its likely effectiveness, gave the request more weight and helped staff understand how their participation fit into the bigger picture. Providing a succinct, easy-to-remember message supplemented by pointers to more information and tools such as phrasing suggestions made it easy for staff to participate. Finally, the value of expressing gratefulness and appreciation cannot be underestimated. At each staff meeting, I mention our current message and express my gratitude for staff’s important contribution to our marketing strategies. I want to be sure that my colleagues know that their continued efforts are valued and necessary.
Launching the CTF was a great learning experience for me. The success of this initiative not only taught me the value of staff buy-in, but the need to view staff as a core target audience when developing new marketing proposals.
Heather Backman is the Programming, Public Relations, and Outreach Coordinator at the Howe Library in Hanover, New Hampshire.