Today’s writeup comes to us from Kristy Bowen from Columbia College Chicago Library. Kristy has some great ideas and tips for marketing your arts programming (hint: use lots of visuals!) and is applicable to public, academic, and school libraries alike! Enjoy! Laura

by Kristy Bowen

Planning a reading series or open-mic night among the stacks?  Hosting a Maker Lab workshop? Looking to promote your library’s art exhibit?  Hoping to spread the word on upcoming music performances or storytelling times?  While planning any sort of creative or art-related programming in your academic library is a rewarding and fun way to engage your patrons and promote the library as a place for art-making, one of the biggest challenges, as with any other library event, is marketing your amazing programming to your target audience.   Target audiences can vary depending on your programming and library type—the general public, other artists, students, faculty, college alumni.  There are, however, a few easy but high impact strategies to reach any and all of the above in an effective and enthusiastic manner.

Old School Print

marketing1With the web and social media working for you 24/7, there is still something to be said for the tactile pleasure of print materials.  Dynamic posters, brochures, flyers, postcards, table tents, bookmarks, newsletters, etc, are excellent takeaways that can be slid into a book or notebook and a very tangible reminder of what’s happening in the library.  Since arts events are usually rife with beautiful images for the picking, it’s fairly simple to make your print materials stand out visually.  Even better, you can make them something that patrons want to collect and keep, either as souvenirs or decorative items.  Even on a shoestring budget, nice paper and graphics go a long way, and items that look handmade or one of a kind (letterpress, hand sewn booklets) have a big impact.   Even Xeroxed flyers can be dynamically designed to attract the eye. Related tangible items like pin-back buttons, keychains, and customized pencils, if you have the budget to allow them, can be great additions to any library’s marketing arsenal.

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Distribution of print materials can be determined based on your needs.  Hang posters and leave materials in obvious places like library bulletin boards, information racks, and service desks.  Often local businesses (think coffee shops, bookstores, art stores, restaurants or bars)  will allow you to hang materials in their establishments or leave flyers or postcards behind.  Other libraries and college campuses, while sometimes requiring permissions to post in their spaces, are excellent venues as well.  You can also engage in a little guerilla distribution–leaving materials inside books, on trains or buses, inside newspaper boxes and magazine racks (be cautious, however, sometimes this is considered littering, so be conscientious).

The Electronic Age

An attractive and easy-to-navigate web presence is a must.   Your library’s website is a perfect place to begin, both in the general calendar of upcoming events and as banner or splash ads, which place the programming directly in front of its audience every time they visit the site.   Social media platforms are your second line of engagement (and in the absence of webpages, sometimes your first.)  Facebook and Twitter are perfect ways to both attract, engage, and enter into conversations with potential attendees. Both allow the audience to easily follow current and future programming.   Since visual arts programming tends to come with endless options for dynamic graphics, Instagram is a perfect fit, allowing photos to be shared and re-shared.   Instagram is also perfect for sharing in-progress shots and teasers of what’s to come. (particuarly a plus for visual art, but similar teasers can be posted on all platforms for all genres–music clips for performances, artist websites, interviews and reviews.  You can also use social media to share related information and pieces of interest to attendees.

Facebook invites are particularly an effective way to spread the word and keep it fresh in people’s calendars and minds. Post early and often on your event pages—teasers, related info, dialogue—to keep them appearing and reappearing in user’s feeds.  Another way to engage your audience directly and consistently is to maintain and utilize a mailing list.  Have your current attendees sign up with their email address to keep them in the loop of future happenings. Offer an option to join your mailing list on your website.  Place a mailing list sign up at your service desks next to a stack of brochures or postcards for patrons who might be interested in learning more.

Get creative.  Host a countdown to your exhibit, reading, or performance with related links or photos.   Interview your artists and performers before the event.  Platforms like Tumblr and Blogger are excellent for longer content and also allow users to easily follow what interests them.  Take lot of pictures before, during and after and poste them to Twitter and Instagram.  Live Tweet your event with relevant hashtags. Engage your artists’ existing audiences on their own social media landing pages and encourage them to spread the word to their fans.

Media Blitz

Local print and online media is your friend. While it’s not always feasible to front for paid advertising, you can get just as much bang for no bucks by reaching out to arts & feature writers working for various outlets, who are always on the lookout for interesting stories to cover.  Press releases, which give all of the relevant details, are a must-have for this, as well as excellent graphics/photos to accompany them. Many newspapers, blogs, etc have arts listings/calendars that accept info on upcoming events, either via email or a form on their website. Outside of the obvious venues, think about the sort of media that appeals to your target audience.  Approach a music reporter for an upcoming performance; a books section editor to help spread the word of your reading;   arts critics for your gallery opening.  Most publications/media include all the relevant contact information for everyone on their masthead.  Similarly, if you are an academic library, contact your campus newspaper staff or other college media (television departments, radio, etc.)  all of whom are dedicated to promoting interesting events on campus (and usually have to assign students to cover them.)

The staff of many publications are insanely busy and overburdened, so be polite and succinct.  Send the press release with a succinct FOR RELEASE:  DETAILS OF YOUR EVENT.   Many staffers do not like to have to open attachments, so always send the relevant info in the body of the email as well.   You can attach a word doc or pdf version of the release, as well as posters, graphics, and such.  Include detailed contact information should they wish to pursue your programming further.  Depending on your timeline, a single follow-up email is permissible if you are waiting on a response, but be gracious and understanding if you can’t quite get their attention (many publications have an onslaught of things coming their way and they can’t always pursue everything in their inbox.).  While coverage in major media outlets are a boost, don’t forget the tiny publications, both online and traditional print, as those are often some of the effective and  open to content places you can send your info to.

A writer and visual artist, Kristy Bowen is an Access Services Assistant at Columbia College Chicago Library and Co-Curator of The Aesthetics of Research,  an ongoing project dedicated to exploring the role that libraries and their collections play in artistic process, creative community building, and resource-sharing in the arts.

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