Are your CD-ROM products getting the attention and use they deserve? Do your patrons stare blankly when you mention that you have CD resources like InfoTrac SearchBank, American Business Disk’s ABI, American Board of Specialities’ Medical Specialists Plus, or Granger’s World of Poetry? When suggesting CD-ROM databases, are you cut off in mid-sentence by statements like, “I don’t need that—I’ll just use the Internet. I know I can find everything there.”? Perhaps it’s time to consider some active marketing.
Just how do you market CD-ROM products? Actually, you can market them like any other service—with a twist, that is. Unlike announcing the arrival of video collection or Internet access, CD-ROM products are often unfamiliar to users, so simply announcing their availability is not enough to bring people in. “The Internet seems to overshadow CD-ROM use because it gets so much coverage and has become so much a part of our culture,” said Ellen Justice, electronic resource librarian for Cumberland County Public Library and Information Center. “Librarians have to actively suggest CD-ROM products as resources.”
This article takes a look at the marketing campaign for the NC LIVE service that was done at the Cumberland County Public Library and Information Center (CCPL&IC). It is unique in several ways, but any size and type of library can use the same basic strategy. If certain elements of the campaign are beyond your resources, then pick the ones you can do, and do them well. Any positive exposure is better than letting your products lie hidden—and wasted—on your terminals!
What is NC LIVE and why did we market it?
In September 1996 the State Library of North Carolina initiated a project that would “give all North Carolinians—students, faculty, business people, and residents in all walks of life—equal access to a range of electronic information resources and to the resources housed in libraries statewide.” Representatives from public, state university, private college, and community college libraries formed a steering committee and created NC LIVE (North Carolina Libraries for Virtual Education).
Modeled after Georgia’s Galileo and Virginia’s VIVA services, NC LIVE is a huge collection of Web-based databases. Similar to CD-ROM products, the databases are available only through subscription and cannot be accessed by Internet users. These databases are costly when purchased individually, and so large collections are often found only in libraries with large financial resources. In order to “level the playing field” and provide access to all North Carolinians, the NC LIVE steering committee petitioned the General Assembly to appropriate state funds for the project. During its 1997 session, the General Assembly appropriated $2.7 million for NC LIVE. An additional $416,000 was raised through donations to support the participation of the private college system.
With this pool of financial resources, two negotiators chosen by the steering committee put out bids and selected vendors to provide the databases. The chosen vendors were EBSCO (EBSCOhost), UMI (ProQuest Direct), OCLC (FirstSearch), CARL (NoveList), and SilverPlatter (PsycInfo). The money and negotiation resulted in the purchase of a vast amount and variety of databases that few individual libraries, businesses, or research firms could have afforded on their own.
A public relations subcommittee of NC LIVE launched a marketing campaign. Choosing National Library Week 1998 as its goal for a statewide kickoff campaign, this Public Advisory Committee planned and coordinated materials in conjunction with Sally Johns of Sally Johns Design and graphic designer Michelle Conger. The materials included a proclamation issued by Governor James B. Hunt Jr.; brochures, bookmarks, and banners; as well as stickers that said “I use NC LIVE, your library link to the world,” and buttons for staff that said, “Ask me about NC LIVE.” Ten libraries representing each region of the state were chosen to kick off NC LIVE, and CCPL&IC were the chosen site for the Pleidmont region.
The Marketing campaign
“Introducing NC LIVE” was a statewide marketing effort. This means that many libraries simultaneously bombarded the press with information. To accomplish this, some of the libraries were provided with materials that they could never have afforded to produce with their own resources. However, this didn't take the burden off each individual library. While CCPL&IC wanted the public to know of this unprecedented service, we specifically wanted the residents of Cumberland county to know that NC LIVE is available in their hometown public, university, community college, and private college libraries, and not just in “libraries around the state.”
To achieve this, the Cumberland county libraries worked together. The library directors of Fayetteville State University, Fayetteville Technical Community College, Methodist College, and CCPL&IC decided on a strategy of invitation, information, event, and follow-up, and we chose April 21, 1998, to collaboratively kick off NC LIVE with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
You are cordially invited
Invitations tell their recipients that something out of the blue is happening. So we felt that they should be used sparingly, as in the case of an event like a ribbon-cutting ceremony, grand opening, or open house. To be successful at getting people to attend a special event, decide who you want to invite and, as a general rule, send out the invitations 2 to 4 weeks prior to your event. In the case of NC LIVE, CCPL&IC sent out invitations to all North Carolina legislators, library trustees, commissioners, guests identified by the three collaborating libraries, and the press.
Three weeks prior to the kickoff, the Community Relations department designed formal invitations with Aldus PageMaker. We went to the NC LIVE Web page and downloaded the logo into Adobe Photoshop as a TIFF file. Then we placed the logo in our invitation’s graphic layout. We sent camera-ready copy to the printer, and mailed the invitations 2 weeks prior to the event.
If specially designed and printed invitations exceed your budget, there are several alternatives you can consider. “Quick copy” places such as Kinko’s and Office Depot offer inexpensive design and typesetting services. Or you can use 4 x 6” postcards available at stationery stores, or design them in-house using a page layout program (like PageMaker or Microsoft Publisher), print them on index paper, and cut them down to size.
Fliers are another quick and inexpensive way to alert your target audience of your event or service. However, keep in mind the importance of graphics. Graphics are pictures that visually “hook” the receiver into reading your message, but all graphics are not created equal! The graphic must be relevant to the information you are trying to get across. For instance, to market CD-ROM products, a graphic of a computer may not be the most effective symbol, and may actually bring to the receiver’s mind the notion of the Internet instead.
The Computer Services Department created a wallpaper screen for all our computers. The screen had the NC LIVE logo as its focal point, and announced its impending arrival to all customers who used the computer terminals 2 weeks prior to the kickoff. This wallpaper screen stimulated interest and generated questions about the service. Staff members were able to explain the service and personally invite customers to the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Information is the key
The meat of any marketing campaign is the information you choose to present to your target audience and the format you choose to present it in. Press releases are a popular way to inform a wide network of “newsmakers” about services available at libraries. Since a press release is often your only communication with the media, you have to provide as much information as possible. In the case of CD-ROM products and the electronic databases of NC LIVE, the information may be technical and confusing to the general public. So your challenge is to explain clearly what the service is, who will benefit from it, why or how it is important to them, where and when they can access it, and who will assist them with it.
When writing for the general public and the media, it is important to keep the information free of jargon and technical details that can confuse readers and blur the focus of your message. Think of press releases as mini articles that are ready to print and convey the exact message you want. Often the product or service will be new to the reporters, so the more information you can provide that they can use to build a story, the better represented you are and the better the chances of your press release being picked up for promotion. If you have pictures, by all means have copies made and include them with your press release, and be sure to provide captions and photo credits.
Here at CCPL&IC, we have a database of 118 area media representatives that we regularly use for press releases. If you don’t have such a list for your library, you can easily create one by looking in the phone book for the names and addresses of area radio and television stations, newspapers, and publications. If you are creating a list (or even updating an old one), be sure to contact each media rep and ask about their guidelines, contact person, and deadlines. The better you can cooperate with their tight schedules, the better you can plan your release and the better your relationship will be.
Don’t limit your exposure to one area or one type of media. We send press releases to media as far away as four counties over, because our users are a part of their audience. We also release news to a biweekly arts and entertainment magazine, the local cablevision community channel, and professional journals across the nation.
In the case of NC LIVE, the Community Relations department wrote the press release with emphasis on what NC LIVE is (a vast collection of databases unavailable via Internet), who benefits (everyone from students to homemakers to business owners to researchers), why it’s important to the lives of all North Carolinians (because it gives equal access to information to all residents whether they live in a small town or metropolis), and where they can access it (public library, community college, university, or private college).
The one area of NC LIVE we couldn’t cover in a press release was how it works. Because there are hundreds of databases provided by five different vendors, and because search methods vary from vendor to vendor, search methods could not be the focus of the press release. The priority of this press release was to announce the existence of NC LIVE and to invite everyone to the ribbon-cutting ceremony where they could learn for themselves through hands-on demonstrations. Consequently, in the press release we provided a short list of the content of a few databases to highlight the variety of information we were offering.
Other forms of information used to market and promote NC LIVE were brochures, banners, bookmarks, stickers, and buttons. A consultant for the Public Advisory Committee designed these materials and generously provided them to all 186 participating libraries for no or very little cost.
While this luxury doesn’t often come around, you can design promotional pieces yourself, or have them designed at low cost. But before you invest in pieces like bookmarks and brochures, assess your need for them and decide exactly what type of information you want them to convey.
If you plan to use any of these items to promote your CD-ROM products, consider the space available with each one. For instance, much less information can fit on a bookmark than in a brochure, so if you could only afford a bookmark you’d have to condense your information while retaining its clarity. At a minimum, you’ll want to include a special section on the availability and importance of your CD-ROMs or electronic databases.
Staging the main event
If you choose to stage an event, good planning and coordination are vital to its success. For NC LIVE, the big event was a ribbon-cutting ceremony during National Library Week. (All photographs were taken during this event.)
With any event, it is important to have a program mapped out well in advance. Decide who will speak, how long they’ll speak, what topic they’ll speak on, etc. Make sure that they are aware of exactly what will happen and what their role will be. Always call to confirm their participation about 2 days prior to the event—and always have a “Plan B”! Speakers can get sick, have family emergencies, or simply fail to show up, so be sure you have a backup plan.
Since we had blitzed the press with invitations and press releases, Community Relations briefed our staff well ahead of time of the possibility that the press would attend (although none actually confirmed they were coming). Since not all staff members are comfortable with the idea of giving interviews, we designated certain staff members to handle any press questions.
The start time for the ribbon-cutting was 10 am. Earlier in the morning, volunteer staff hung banners and a local florist donated balloons for each end of the carrels. Community Relations strung the ribbon and positioned the podium in front of the banners, ribbon, and balloons for maximum visual effect (known as a photo opportunity).
After a brief welcoming statement from Jerry Thrasher, director of CCPL&IC, the four directors from the Cumberland county library system each had 5 minutes to explain how NC LIVE affected their users. All four directors stressed that without the funding and collaborative efforts of all the library systems, none of the libraries would have been able to individually offer even a small percentage of the NC LIVE databases to their users. After the speeches, librarians were on hand to give demonstrations and, more importantly, to encourage and assist guests in using NC LIVE for themselves.
As it turned out, the press did show up! Three television stations covered the arrival of NC LIVE in their 5:30 p.m. newscasts. Coverage ranged from 35 seconds to 2 minutes and 35 seconds—all presenting NC LIVE in a positive and informational light. Interestingly enough, snatches of phrases from the press release were used throughout the TV reporters’ commentaries, driving home the importance of writing exactly what you mean to say in any press release! It’s exciting for libraries to be covered positively in the news since they rarely receive much broadcast attention.
If a ribbon-cutting ceremony is not an appropriate event to introduce your CD-ROM products, there are other ways to bring special attention to them. In the NC LIVE Promotion Idea Book, there are suggestions for holding special “open houses.” Designate specific times (like lunch hours) for Chamber of Commerce or community organizations or senior groups, hold general after-work demonstrations, or have a student/faculty/staff “Get-to-Know Demo.”
The Importance of Follow-Up
In the case of NC LIVE, the marketing campaign was large-scale and state-supported, and the service differed somewhat from our CD-ROM products. However, you can use any or all of the marketing strategies to promote CD-ROMs in your library.
For us, NC LIVE is a complement, not replacement, for our existing CD-ROM products and Internet access. CD-ROMs and databases like those offered through NC LIVE provide better-organized, better-quality information that is easier and faster to access than what can be found on the Internet. So if customers come in knowing only that they want health information, or commentaries on world literature, or encyclopedia articles, then CD-ROM products are a natural resource for them to consider. People today expect easier access to information, and electronic resources allow for this. However, if people don’t know your library has CD-ROMs, or they don’t understand the type of information that the products offer and the ease with which they can access it, then it’s time to market CD-ROMs a little more aggressively.
Monday, April 10, 2017
Anatomy of a marketing campaign
Jarvis, Margo. Anatomy of a Marketing Campaign. Computers in Libraries, September 1998, Vol. 18, Issue 8.