Marketing on a Shoestring: Fifty Nifty Thrifty Ways

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Tough times = increased library use, but don’t neglecting marketing just because people are coming in more
Even though many libraries do not have a line item in their budgets for marketing, no library is too small to market
We took a look at excuses people use to not market including not knowing how to start, what to do, and how to handle the increased numbers if it worked.

Starting Out:

  • When you are small (or non-profit), the public is more apt to cut you some slack and are not expecting all the bells and whistles.
  • Plan first. Develop a strategic marketing plan before you start then decide what type of efforts it will take to make that happen. Be sure the plan includes how you are going to measure success. You need to be able to know if your efforts are working.
  • Good doesn’t mean expensive, but you may have to spend some $ so present your plan to the trustees and try to sell them on the idea of allotting funds for these efforts.

Don’t lose ground by disappearing when market gets tough. Get out and show how you are useful, what services you provide that are valuable to the public

No Nos of Library Marketing:

  • Mass marketing is not cost effective
  • Don’t focus on just one segment of your community. Look at teens, business owners, parents, ESL etc. Each specific segment has its own needs and you should try to speak to each individually
  • Do not rely on one medium. Go outside newspapers, less than 30% of public reads print newspapers. Use of multiple media is a must. Branch out and get your message to community
  • Test, then roll. Don’t mail the entire city a promotion. Start with 1/5 and look at results. Then decide if it’s worth it to continue. Saves paper and postage that way.
  • Don’t look cheap. Whatever you do, do it well. If it looks unprofessional, you do your institution a disservice
  • Inconsistent branding. The community needs to be able to readily identify your promotions.
  • Not counting staff time as $. Staff time is not free. Sometimes outsourcing is cheaper than overloading staff
  • Use caution when dealing with donations. Some come with prohibitive strings and restrictions or barter agreements that do not benefit your library in the long run. Look at value, not price A one time radio spot is not the same thing as an actual campaign. If there is no sustainability then it may not be worth it to start?

Ways to Market Your Library (highlights)

  • Good marketing always gets measured so build measurements into every marketing initiatives. Ask “How did you hear about this?” and record how much $ was raised, etc.
  • One message will not resonate with everyone. Identify a need of each segment of the population then target that group. This means mapping your population by looking at the census and getting to know all of the various groups in town (government, religious groups, schools, civic organizations), identifying those who can help introduce you to the populations you are targeting
  • Use stories/testimonials in your marketing like getting someone medical information or helping someone with a job search
  • Double duty rule: Look for marketing ideas that support multiple strategic goals. If you want to support both early childhood literacy and teen programming, try a program where teens act as reading buddies to younger kids
  • Your next customer is your current customer. Talk up new services to your current patrons. Are they story time parents that might benefit from one of your databases?
  • Make friends and trustees ambassadors of the library. They should know your services and be voices in the community.
  • Recruit marketing talent in community to be on the board or to otherwise volunteer time
  • Create a quality library presentation and go out and talk about it out in the community. Let them know what we can do for them. Try school board meetings, rotary, chamber of commerce, etc.
  • Get your info inserted in church, school newsletters, that of other city departments. See if you can get a flyer in the mailings sent out by other groups. Try to develop a relationship with the schools to make use of things like internal TV, newsletters, back to school nights, etc. Place ads in the yearbook and school play programs.
  • Use local celebrities in PR events and marketing campaigns like the mayor or fire chief
  • Get customer input before investing in wide scale production
  • Treat website as a virtual branch. Use it to promote e-resources & serve more people without more staff
  • Participate in community events like parades and town fairs
  • All communications should market a program or service. Create reader’s advisory bookmarks for patrons Solicit marketing support from vendors.
  • Provide local newspapers with book reviews
  • Draw the public into your space by inviting schools to display kids’ artwork or the public to display their old photos.
  • Train staff re: marketing. Ask circ staff to will hand out reader’s advisory or to talk up new services. Have materials handy to give out on various services
  • Solicit corporate support to cover the cost of promotional materials
  • Staff and trustees should have business cards. Hand them to potential supporters. Use both sides of the business card, back side for services
  • Incorporate return-on-investment statements into your annual report. Ex. Summer reading program helped 500 children retain their reading skills.
  • Remind callers of upcoming programs
  • Co-develop materials with other libraries to save staff time
  • Identify longtime card holders or frequent reader and reward them with something. Gift certificate to local store, button, tote bag

Marketing on a Shoestring: Fifty Nifty Thrifty Ways

Nancy DavisMonday, 8:30 – 10:00

Shoestring, pittance, trifling amount, tight budget, wing and a prayer, next to nothing, scratch, chickenfeed, small potatoes. What librarian hasn’t had to do more with less? Come to collect some great ideas for marketing your library on a shoestring, presented by Nancy Davis, partner in The Ivy Group. She has 20 years of experience helping organizations – both large and small – achieve their goals by implementing innovative, cost-effective ideas that maximize resources.

Presentation Slides:

Marketing in a down economy is more important that ever.

Our first inclination is to look at the budget and cut marketing. But the public needs to be aware of our services, because this is when we help the public the most.

Difference between “branding” and “marketing”
Branding: the uber-image of the library
Marketing what you do to make people aware of your image

Opposition to marketing:

  • The library is “too small” to market itself
  • What’s the point? We can’t compete with Borders or Amazon
  • It won’t work, and how could we even tell?
  • It might work too well and we’ll be overrun


  • People don’t expect library marketing to be slick and perfect
  • It’s generally better to do something rather than nothing
  • “Good” doesn’t mean expensive
  • Marketing does work, but you need a plan, and need to support it
  • It will cost some money
  • Not marketing will cause the library to lose ground in the minds of our investors (voters and tax payers) – especially important is to market the services that will appeal to patrons in bad economic times

What not to do

  • Mass-marketing – it’s not targeted, and that’s what we want (libraries should have a focused message); it’s also usually done through one channel (libraries need to use a broad range of medium to get the message out)
  • “Rolling before testing” – make sure you test your message first, otherwise it could look cheap, inconsistent, confusing, or waste money. Try your marketing on a small group to see how it works
  • Forgetting to include staff time in the bottom line – staff time is money
  • Barter – people will try to give you things for free in exchange for something else, but this is usually stacked against the library; make sure everything is in writing (thing includes donations with “strings attached”); always keep value value in mind
  • Not thinking long-term – sustainability is vital, so make sure you can follow through with programs and it’s not just a one-shot deal

Adopting the shoestring mentality

  • Always dress your best – staff represents the brand of the library
  • Learn something from every marketing activity (keep stats, review successes and failures, ask people how they heard about a program
  • Think in targeted segments – one size does not fit all
  • Tell your story – people connect with real stories that they can put themselves or their community into
  • Think double-duty – achieve more than one strategic or marketing goal with each program: Teen Reading Buddies serve to both improve literacy with kids and teens, and works as community service hours for teens

Strategies to use (not quite 50 ideas, but a lot…)

  1. Convert current users to new services
  2. Make friends, trustees, staff your ambassadors to the community – let them know of services first
  3. Motivate offline people to be online people – it’s cheaper and faster
  4. Get marketing talent on the board, or create a marketing advisory committee
  5. Make your library card look good – it should be the best looking card in the patron’s wallet
  6. Create a “intro to the library” presentation and talk to any group that will listen – get on peoples’ agendas
  7. Use public service announcements (PSAs) and local cable stations – it works
  8. Ask other town organizations, groups and departments to insert library info into their newsletters and mailings
  9. Work with the schools to use their distribution channels
  10. Use vehicle signage – magnet signs, bumper stickers, license plates
  11. Use local celebrities to assist with PR – have the mayor do a story time
  12. Get input and feedback from teens, senior citizens, etc, before you print
  13. Use websites as a virtual branch – it is the most cost-efficient marketing you can do
  14. Participate (visually) in local events
  15. Place ads in yearbooks, playbills, sports programs – they’re not expensive and they are unexpected
  16. Invite other groups to host their programs at the library, and then show them the tools and services the library offers that appeals to them – and sign them up for library cards
  17. Insert cross-marketing and readers advisory bookmarks into checked-out materials
  18. Solicit marketing help from vendors and library associations
  19. Submit book reviews to the paper, or other articles of interest (bibliographies of topics in the news
  20. Make the best possible use of in-library displays to involve and engage the public
  21. Replicate best marketing practices of other libraries (aka, don’t be afraid to steal good ideas)
  22. Make sure the staff understands that they are a huge part of the marketing effort – never let an opportunity to cross-market between services, products, service desks, etc
  23. Ask local printers about economies in print production – efficiencies lie in certain types of paper, printing in b&w, etc. – they know how we can save money, and will tell us to keep us as a customer
  24. Solicit corporate support to help pay for speakers, printing and other materials – printing their name on your materials is okay, and great for them
  25. Make sure you, the staff, and trustees have business cards – and give them out (printers can help with inexpensive ways to do this, and use both sides of the card)
  26. The annual report is a marketing document – make the dull statistics interesting with benefit-oriented information
  27. Maximize the potential of your telephone as a marketing tool – remind people of upcoming programs or new services; either with recordings or staff
  28. Display banners are seasonal and reusable – and changing the look of the library (outdoor and indoor) is visually interesting and engaging for patrons
  29. Offer free targeting training to specific groups (business databases for chamber of commerce members, etc)
  30. Co-develop materials with other libraries, leaving space for the library logo blank so you each can insert your logo and use the materials
  31. Create a stewardship program to honor long-time patrons, or frequent reader programs, to incentivize heavy library users


Is a state-wide library promotion campaign effective?
It does happen, and the general goal is to remind people libraries exist and raise awareness in a very general sense or to get a library card – it’s hard to be cost-effective locally

A lot of the ideas presented seemed like after-hours work for the staff – how do we do this?
That wasn’t the intent; it was to raise the priority of marketing during the workday. Marketing shouldn’t require overtime (but some things, like parade floats, are exceptions and worth overtime

How to make segmented maps of the population?
Just use a town map and indicate where churches are, civic groups, residential areas, sports associations, etc. Then try to associate people with these groups, and then look for which people are in more than one group. Evaluate what groups exist, what their needs are, and what communication channels each uses or has established

How do we get staff on board with marketing?
Tell them it’s their job [lots of laughs]; show them how easy it is – they talk to patrons while they are checking out anyway, so they could be suggesting library services during that transactions, too. It won’t take them extra time, as long as they recognize the opportunities when they arise. Make sure staff know how important they are to the cause. Try pairing new staff with veterans to pick up good habits, and share good ideas and success stories among staff. Show staff how to do this by having the director or other admins work the circ desk while marketing at the same time

What do staff say “no” to?
Have staff report or keep track of when they say “no” to patrons, and work towards getting everyone to saying yes by identifying the unmet needs of patrons

Marketing with other organizations?
Have local realtors include a library info packet with their materials for new home owners

Marketing in the schools?
Have a scavenger hunt or checklist (with prizes) to get students to explore other areas of the library

Can you elaborate on return-on-investment analysis?
It draws a correlation between the cost of library services and the benefit they offer – assign retail values to all services and compare that to the budget and what patrons are actually paying for. Try the Highland Regional (NJ) Library Consortium has a simple ROI model – Valuing Your Library – with a one-page worksheet, and show this to your town officials to show how much bang they are getting for their buck (usually 4-1). Also use the Library Value Calculator on your website