Q&A with 2017 John Cotton Dana Award Winner Whatcom County Library Systems

News | Lizz Roberts & Sherri Huleatt| March 08, 2018

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We interviewed Whatcom County Library System’s Community Relations Coordinator Lizz Roberts and Red Rokk Marketing Director Sherri Huleatt about how their “My Modern Library” campaign led to taking home one of the eight grants provided by H.W. Wilson and the John Cotton Dana Awards.

What was your “My Modern Library” campaign? What was the campaign’s goal? How did you approach the challenges? Any big surprises/lessons learned?

We launched the “My Modern Library” campaign in 2016 with the goal of increasing library cardholders and circulation (particularly digital circulation) among millennials.

Each month, we highlighted a different digital service, including e-books, music streaming, Audiobooks, etc. We crafted friendly, consumer-focused messaging and paired it with bright and modern imagery, to give the library a modern and positive brand.

We also created an automated email onboarding campaign that educates new patrons on library services. Once someone signs up for a library card, they automatically get a series of 11 emails designed to educate and engage them when they’re most interested in learning about the library (e.g., right after they register).

We capped off the campaign with a unique promotion for National Library Card Sign-Up Month, called the “Book Brain Challenge.”

The promotion asked patrons to film themselves doing something fun with a book on their head, post it to social media, tag three friends to do the same, and then ask people to sign-up for library cards.

The campaign was easy to do (almost everyone has at least one book lying around the house), was appropriate for all ages, had a clear call to action (e.g., “Sign up for a library card”), was trackable, and allowed patrons to get creative and have fun — all for the sake of supporting the local library system.

The campaign engaged hundreds of people, including local business leaders and elected officials, who did everything from Tai Chi, to riding horses, to dancing, to  meditating, and more — there was an incredible amount of creativity and library pride! You can view some of the videos on WCLS’s YouTube channel.

The campaign was successful from an engagement standpoint (during the campaign, Facebook reported more than 86,000 people were searching for #BookBrainChallenge), and from a card sign-up stand-point; in fact, the campaign broke the record for most card sign-ups ever in one month by 26%.

How has implementing public relations at your library improved the community involvement at WCLS?

Implementing public relations has made a measurable (and significant) impact on circulation, cardholders and online engagement. Not only have we received greater patron engagement (a 4% increase in cardholders and 12% increase in circulation in the last two years), we’ve also increased our community partners, including local businesses and non-profits.

For example, since increasing our marketing efforts, we’ve kicked off a successful partnership with the local transportation authority (WTA), in which we cross-promoted the library’s digital services and WTA’s offerings with the “Read and Ride” campaign.

Likewise, we launched an online giveaway in partnership with 13 local businesses that helped increase awareness of library services and online patron engagement. Each business donated a prize to the giveaway and promoted the giveaway across their social media networks, which helped expand the library’s reach.

What are some tips that you would give to other librarians that would like to learn more about marketing their library?

  • Research library marketing! There are now plenty of books, articles, and online resources available. If you see a successful library campaign, ask for more information — libraries are generally happy to share.
  • Research marketing in general — not just library marketing. You’d be surprised how many business marketing strategies are effective for libraries, too. Good resources are HubSpot (digital marketing), CopyBlogger (content marketing), Social Media Examiner (social media), and Kissmetrics (digital marketing and conversion rate optimization).
  • Attend conferences, such as the Library Marketing and Communications Conference, to connect with and learn from other library marketers.
  • Use free tools, like MailChimp (free up to 2,000 subscribers), HootSuite, and ActionSprout to organize your digital marketing efforts and track your campaign’s success. These platforms also have a ton of learning resources, so you can explore how to get the most out of your digital marketing.
  • Whether you start big or start small, the important step is to start marketing your library!

Not only have we received greater patron engagement (a 4% increase in cardholders and 12% increase in circulation in the last two years), we’ve also increased our community partners, including local businesses and non-profits.

How did you use the John Cotton Dana grant money at your library?

We used the JCD money to custom design and print van wraps for four library vehicles. The wraps are colorful, whimsical, attract attention, and play off the emotional connection patrons have with the library by using famous library quotes.

What piece of advice would you give libraries that are considering applying for the John Cotton Dana Awards?

First off, don’t be afraid to apply! JCD judges are looking for results and creativity — so even if your campaign is small, you still have a shot at winning. For example, one JCD winner won for a small, but creative, campaign aimed at collecting and reusing power cords.

Secondly, include metrics and visuals with your submission. Any data that showcases how your campaign positively impacted your library is helpful, so be sure to benchmark and track key metrics, like social media engagement, cardholders, and circulation before and after your campaign.

But don’t just stop at data . . . spice up your submission with engaging visuals that showcase your campaign’s creativity! If you don’t have an in-house designer, check out helpful online tools, like Canva and Pablo, that allow you to easily create professional-level graphics.

In the end, the campaign:

  • Increased electronic circulation by 86.5% compared to the previous year
  • Increased total circulation by 4.3% — more than twice our annual goal
  • Increased active cardholders by 4.6% — more than twice our annual goal
  • Broke the record for most new card sign-ups in one month ever (broke the record by 26%)
  • Increased the patrons most likely to recommend the library (e.g., patrons who ranked as a seven on the Net Promoter Scale) by 20%
  • Increased Freegal circulation (e.g., music streaming/downloads) by 380% and Freegal accounts by 69.5%
  • Increased Facebook likes by 82%, Twitter followers by 56%, and Instagram followers by 160%

Apply for the John Cotton Dana Awards

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Lizz Roberts & Sherri Huleatt
Community Relations Coordinator, WCLS, & Marketing Director, Red Rokk

Lizz Roberts has worked as Community Relations Coordinator for Whatcom County Library System since 2007. Helping others get excited about libraries and information has been her passion for more than 30 years.

Sherri Huleatt has her master's degree in Integrated Marketing Communications and is the Marketing Director at Red Rokk, a digital marketing agency. Sherri loves working with organizations that positively impact their community (especially libraries!) and specializes in copywriting, digital marketing, and puns.

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