Building a Network of Support

Maximize relationships to push your marketing plan

March 2, 2020

Illustration: Figures pushing colored puzzle pieces together

When I was charged with managing my public library’s marketing needs, I balked at first. I was a librarian, not a marketer. I had no idea where to start. I didn’t understand the size of the task. It was hidden by its scattered nature: When it came to marketing, each department in my library did its own thing. Fortunately, I knew who could help get the job done: my coworkers, whose different skills and knowledge sets lightened my load and provided fresh ideas and perspectives.

If you’re in a similar situation and feel overwhelmed by unexpected marketing work, don’t be afraid to turn to colleagues. They’ll prove invaluable as you transition to your new role. But before reaching out, get up to speed on who does what at the library and how coworkers can best help. You may already know exactly who to turn to: It may be department heads or most likely those already doing marketing tasks. Look for creative types who compose event notices for the library’s website, design bookmarks, and post on social media. They have a wealth of knowledge to share. They can also support your initiatives.

This is an excerpt from Marketing Plans in Action: A Step-by-Step Guide for Libraries, Archives, and Cultural Organizations by Amanda L. Goodman (ALA Editions, 2019).
This is an excerpt from Marketing Plans in Action: A Step-by-Step Guide for Libraries, Archives, and Cultural Organizations by Amanda L. Goodman (ALA Editions, 2019).

Touching base

To get acquainted with the disparate marketing ideas and collateral at work in your library, meet face-to-face with coworkers to learn what they’re doing, how you can support them, and how they can support you.

Working with individuals. Schedule informal meetings with creative coworkers to ask about their projects. Offer ways to assist. If possible, meet on a semiregular basis to stay aware of events throughout the organization. As you would with any relationship, try to pick up tidbits about them and be friendly. You want them to perceive you as an understanding person to work with who appreciates their skills.

If you have the time and budget, take key department heads out for coffee and ask how they work. You may uncover someone with a background in marketing or a related field. If so, lucky you. This person is now your best friend.

You should empower as many colleagues as possible to create their own marketing materials and designs. If they are competent, they can take a great burden off you. The best people to encourage are those willing to listen to feedback. In an ideal situation, you will need only to spot-check their work and provide input on how to improve.

Let go of having full control. Recognize that others will not do things exactly the way you would. If your library has established branding guidelines, those will define the creative canvas. For example, if your organization has decided against using 1990s clip art, that will help eliminate the worst designs from the outset.

Working with groups. Periodically schedule meetings with other departments to educate each other on publicity needs. Likewise, if there are big, organization-wide status update meetings, try to attend one. Use it as an opportunity to refresh everyone on the major marketing pushes coming up, and ask if there’s anything you need to know. After group meetings, go over your notes, digest them, and take steps toward enacting them.

Much can be learned by simply talking with coworkers. Email, instant messenging, and other faceless means of communication can often stifle the serendipitous discovery of ideas that happen only in a group dynamic. Meeting face-to-face lets you brainstorm without boundaries

Pace yourself. Attending to these relationships can take up a lot of time, but they are beneficial. They will be your first line of support and backup if needed. Limit your meetings to 30 to 60 minutes. If you are part of a larger organization-wide meeting, your speaking portion may be less than five minutes. Stick to highlights and need-to-know information.

Keep staffers involved

Part of the art of marketing is making sure the right people know the right thing at the right time—including colleagues. They’re busy people, so do the legwork to keep them informed and involved.

Share information. First thing, create opportunities for staff to learn new marketing trends, what other departments are doing, and how they can be more collaborative in the organization’s outreach. Remind them to share information not only with you but also with one another.

Encourage photos. Have staffers take photos and save them in a shared location. You can use these for annual reports, social media posts, and email marketing. If a photo policy isn’t in place, push for one, and make sure everyone is aware of the rules. You may also need to arrange training to teach staffers how to take usable photos with proper lighting, a clear focus, and engaging subject matter. If your library has a semiformal staffer-education process, use it to train multiple people at once.

Cross departments. When reviewing publicity requests and upcoming programs and events, look for complementary programs and services being offered in different departments at the same time that can be promoted together. Summer reading provides perfect examples of events whose marketing can be coordinated.

In public libraries, summer reading may be a library-wide effort with programs for children, teens, and adults. Because it’s such a busy time, the departments may not be aware of every program scheduled across the organization. You can help by doing the following:

  • Before the start of the development process for next summer’s programs, contact each department. Ask about their plans. What are their themes?
  • Look for opportunities to promote similar programming themes together.
  • Establish deadlines that allow plenty of time for everyone to publicize their events.
  • If the library contracts an outside designer, be the point person to keep everything streamlined. To prevent confusion, you want the designer hearing only from you.
  • Create publicity plans for each department, and use them for planning purposes. When scheduling a publicity timeline for a cross-departmental program like summer reading, give each department time to be the solo star. This helps prevent perceptions that one program is being promoted more than another.

Attend staff meetings. You’re a busy person. As such, you may not get much face time with colleagues who don’t send publicity requests. One way to connect with entire departments: Attend their staff meetings. It’ll give you an opportunity to learn about problems that might not come up in conversation otherwise, and you’ll hear about projects they forgot to mention earlier. Go to quarterly meetings at which several months of future programming will be planned. Note: If you’re first on their agenda, it may prevent you from hearing valuable, off-the-cuff ideas that are shared as upcoming work is discussed—especially if you are pushed out of the room after saying your piece. If this happens, get a rundown of the agenda ahead of time so you can ask specifically about items of interest.

Training now and in the future

To maximize your marketing impact, you need procedures to train staffers now and in the future.

Establish point people. To help meet some of the demands and expectations placed on you, find a point person in each department. This is ideally a colleague who has a vested or personal interest in the organization’s marketing and branding. These colleagues truly care about how the community sees and interacts with the library. If they have marketing chops, all the better. If not, work with them to ensure they know branding guidelines, basic design concepts, and information about the community that their department serves.

The point person’s job is to take pressure off you and hold their immediate colleagues accountable. Whenever new publicity items (photos, fliers, emails, social media posts) are created for public viewing, the point person should give them a quick review. For non–point people who are confident in their medium—excellent writers, for example—the point person may not need to carefully scrutinize everything they produce. But the point person is the one to look for typos and give feedback. A point person will also ensure colleagues deliver items to you on a timely basis.

Help the point person by providing templates and examples of what good publicity items look like, and encourage them to contact you if another pair of eyes is needed. Don’t forget: Without them, you will be responsible for reviewing every item created. You don’t have that kind of time. So always show gratitude for the point person’s help. Send them thank-you cards or give them a bar of their favorite chocolate every now and then. They are doing you an enormous favor and should feel appreciated.

Quick feedback. Be available for quick review and feedback sessions. Your designers and writers may get stuck on how to convey something, or they may run out of ideas. Create a communication channel that lets them get a quick response from you between scheduled meetings. Most of the time, these reviews will take only a couple minutes.

Remove obstacles. As a manager, part of your job is to eliminate obstacles to your work. Keep in mind that a communication gap may exist because someone who is responsible for giving you information doesn’t know they are the point person: Their supervisor may have forgotten to tell them. Likewise, colleagues may be away from the workplace unexpectedly. Keep your tone cheerful but firm, and remind them that you can’t share their work with the public if you don’t know what that work is.

Smooth sailing

The late Carla Gray, former executive director of marketing for adult books at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, would use a ship metaphor to describe her role in the workplace: “I’ve always thought of the marketing role as the cruise director, involved in the whole book’s life and responsible for coordinating with all departments to ensure smooth sailing.”

In that spirit, as cruise director of the library’s marketing efforts, you’re responsible for setting the course and reading the map as your library and its crew navigate the high seas of marketing and publicity. With luck, it’ll be a successful trip you’ll enjoy taking together over and over. Bon voyage.


April Aultman Becker, dean of library and research technologies at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas, used Microsoft Publisher to design this series of bookmarks in her previous role as education coordinator at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center Research Medical Library.

Cutting Out the Clip Art

Simple ways for librarians to up their design game

Robbie Barber

Marketing Your Library

Design, targeting audiences, and outreach are key