PRESS, PROFIT AND PROVOCATION: Library Promotion for the Over-Educated, Part 8
by Tia Dobi
I see it differently. I think the library should be the most important building in a community in our information age." - 62-year-old entrepreneur, New York Times best-selling author, and multi-millionaire Matthew Lesko, responding to a press allegation that in today's world, libraries are becoming obsolete.
I'm a copywriter. And this is my confession:
Your image is up for grabs.
For instance, every time you go clothes shopping, isn't your self-esteem on the rack?
Take Matthew Lesko. He brought his message above-and his trademark blue suit covered with yellow question marks-addressing a number of residents in Maryland. Lesko spent his own dime campaigning to save a library district there.
"I never leave home without it," he said of the colorful outfit he uses to hawk his books on how to take advantage of government programs.
He's made a career with garish clothing, a frenetic speaking style and information that can be obtained free from libraries.
Isn't that some image?
And he's not afraid libraries will undercut sales of his books.
"Actually, people steal them from libraries," he joked. "I speak at libraries all the time. I'd rather do that than give speeches where people pay me $5,000. People have more fun, and I have more fun."
And that's not all. Lesko's image + efforts helped get attention, and the district voted not to dissolve.
DO YOU HAVE AN IMAGE PROBLEM?
Marketeurs worry about how others will see them and they take action; they take control of how they're going to be seen. Donning outlandish Riddler-type suits and jumping up and down may not be your style.
But then again, it might be.
Today, I present to you an audacious act of rebranding, done by a group of people who are not usually thought of as being, well, audacious. Who are these people? Public librarians. In this case, teen librarians.
But first, let's settle into agreement. Do you think teenagers see the library as boring, the equivalent of summer school? Good. Now we're on the same page.
Except maybe in the state of Michigan. If you hang with teen librarians in that state, you'll hear them recite a mysterious phrase. The term is "lock-in." Like, "Did you hear about how the lock-in went the other night in Kalamazoo?" A lock-in is when the library re-opens its doors after closing time, lets a bunch of teenagers in and then, once they're all snuggled inside, locks the doors. And the kids can't get out. Until the next morning. Does this sound like it could be a barrel of monkeys for the adolescents?
Apparently so. They love it. The lock-in is the state-of-the-art customer-and image-grabbing technique in today's teen librarian's arsenal.
"Every time I've done it, we've had at least 50 teens or more camped out between the stacks," says Bill Hummer. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Bill hosts late-night car tournaments, and stocks the shelves with the latest Japanese comics. Or that he's assembled the largest DVD collection in the entire state. Including video stores.
But last fall, Bill planned to take teenage library programming to a place where it had never gone before. To leave lock-in in the dust.
WELCOME TO THE GRAND ILLUSION
The plan was this: to stage a series of summer 2005 concerts, all over Michigan. But not the type of music normally associated with libraries: acoustic instruments, singing puppets, songs about B-I-N-G-O. This would be rock music. Screaming electric guitar licks. Needle-in-the-red drum poundings. Libraries. Notoriously quiet. Rock n'roll. Notoriously loud. Making something appealing by being the very opposite.
Card catalogs. Keyboard clacking. Harry Potter movie stardom. And this. A live, indie band from Detroit that calls itself The High Strung.
The band agreed to a 34-show library tour and didn't think much about it. Living on $10 a day for the past 4 years, their usual gig meant playing in smoky bars and long-haired listener rock clubs. (Sometimes appearing in "Mo Townish" white uniforms. "I feel like a superhero when we wear those outfits," says one band member.) But now they had promised to play every other day, all summer long. In an institution.
Two days before their tour started, they were more than a little freaked out. Maybe playing libraries didn't exactly fit their image.
"I went to the library yesterday and the man showing me around said 'This is your stage.' It was like, the reference desk."
"I feel like we're almost going to be tamed beasts. Watch my language… get the liquor off the breadth. We should be in a cage."
Perhaps The High Strung is the perfect band for the tour. They've all been to college. And like some touring U.S. bands, they're huge library patrons. The truth is bands nowadays are in libraries all the time. Because the internet's there and when you're on the road it's a valuable place to go. It's their field office.
ARE YOU READY TO ROCK? OR?
Picture this. A gray carpeted conference room, florescent lights beaming overhead. Expenditures on the board. Nine to fourteen-year-old kids are swinging their legs over a metal stack of old library chairs. Parents and grandparents peering on.
Three young men in street clothes take the floor. The noise definitely catches the audience off guard. Nerves are full-tilt. Nobody knows what's going to happen here. You've just put one of the loudest things known to man in a county library.
Most of the kids look puzzled. "Everything everyone's been telling me to this point has been a lie," their faces say.
No one in the audience moves, attentively passive. Just like watching somebody reading aloud during story hour. Between songs, the band throws in some library public service messages.
So here it is. The image of rock 'n roll meets the image of the library. Head to head.
"Basically you're being retained to make this institution that's not seen as cool, cooler. That's a big responsibility." - The High Strung
As the show progresses, it seems less and less like a show in the library and more like just a rock show. At some of the library gigs, middle and high-school kids adorn the front rows, flirting with the rockers and getting autographs after the show.
By the time the head children's librarian comes out, giving her version of, "let's give it up for the band," one thing's for sure. This county library room has been rocked harder than it's ever been rocked before. But the question is, was it rocked hard enough to actually change the image of the library?
Scores of kids were talked to in 3 different towns. Some were teen library card-carrying members. The rest just saw ads in the paper, or their parents did. Adjectives about the library before the show? A place for quiet activities. Afterwards? Two quotes that echo 100% of the surveyed results:
"Before it was just ole ladies and now it's young people. It's a lot of fun."
"Yes it did, it made me think that if librarians could make a library not very much a library, basically anyone could do anything," said one ten-year old.
The High Strung enjoyed the library tour as well. Not surprisingly, they say, librarians are better at organizing and promoting rock shows than most rock promoters. And have better pay etiquette. Of course, on a regular tour, they don't have to stick around for a Q&A after every show.
"I think that a lot of kids, this is their first rock show. And I didn't think about that angle when this whole thing started. So we've built a memory, their first memory of watching a bunch of men playing together, that's an experience. Now the delivery of it all has a different meaning to me, it's more weighted. This move here, or when I turn to Derek, we can do funny things… that's an image in that child's mind… so it's not weighted with pressure but weighted with more meaning."
Of course, if this is how you're selling teens on libraries, then you're going to have to keep booking rock shows.
IMAGE MARKETING USING ROCK & ROLL
Want to harness the power of rock to get your brand message out?
Darin Wolf, VP Clear Channel, who spent 11 years as a brand marketer at Kraft and Rolling Rock, reveals his dos and don'ts for marketing via rock concerts:
A. Set your objective (and be prepared to measure results)
For a branded entertainment project to work, both parties must understand the objective, which takes a fair amount of thought. "I've worked with a lot of partners who weren't sure what they wanted," he goes on. Is the partnership a volume-driving goal or equity driving goal and how are you going to measure it?
For example, at a concert in Central Park, Bank One invited anyone who applied for a Sony Card to watch the concert from a special viewing area close to the stage. "They had over 5,000 people sign up over the course of 24 hours," Wolf says. That's measurable data.
On the other hand, if you want to become associated with something "cool" or unique, measurement comes from quantitative analysis.
"Add a question to your quarterly questionnaire," Wolf says. "If your goal is to associate your brand with hip, cool music, make sure that question gets into a survey before any events take place, and then again after the event."
B. Existing property or original property?
Creating original content tends to be more expensive than aligning yourself with something that already exists. But it also gives you more control over the property.
T-Mobile wanted to create proprietary music property and sponsored five different concerts in five cities and produced them simultaneously in one night. Here's how the T-Mobile product took center stage:
- Brand ambassadors walked the concerts taking pictures with T-Mobile phones then featured the pix from all five shows live on giant video screens. Other screens featured text from people using the phones for text messaging.
- The artist Ashanti waved a T-Mobile phone in the air (rather than the traditional lighter).
- Focusing the message platform on "with T-Mobile, you get more," T-Mobile tied in another concert, announced that night. Tickets could be won in a sweepstakes while submitting text messages.
- Existing property usually already has a following.
C. Expand content beyond one experience
Repurpose content, Wolf suggests. "Put it on a DVD, CD, Webcast, or infuse it into an advertising campaign. You've made the investment to get a live audience there; for people who can't go, how else can you let people experience it?"
D. Gut instincts have merit. The most analytic among us may disagree, but Wolf believes that some of the best decisions come from the gut. "You have to be confident enough to know what your brand is all about so you can make decisions and attach yourself to properties that make sense," he says. "It's not that different from attaching yourself to a radio or TV spot. Ultimately, it's got to be a gut decision."
No doubt the kid who can't be more than four years old, holding a deck of Pokeman cards in one hand and stuffed bunny in the other, elbows covering his ears, bouncing up and down widely in his chair with a huge smile on his face as he listens to The High Strung at a library central reading room rock concert agrees.
CREATING YOUR ROCK STAR IMAGE
This month readers, a modern-day Brighton librarian shows us how to promote her library's rock concert with this write-up:
The High Strung Library Tour
Free all ages show! No pre-registration required.
The High Strung (drummer Derek Berk, guitarist/vocalist Josh Malerman, bassist Chad Stocker) are all about creating noise. They write heart-on-your-sleeve rock songs. Their music is downright catchy, with obvious roots in classic rock bands like the Beatles and the Stones. But, hey, this isn't any retrofit. The band wins positive reviews everywhere they play, have been featured in local press nationwide, as well as national magazines like Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly, and has received accolades from critics like NPR's Ken Tucker, who included their album These Are Good Times in his top ten of 2003. And now their on a library tour. Josh Malerman sums up the library tour best: "You don't need a big ol' stage. You don't need the bar and lights. What you need is a room full of people who want to hear good music and a band that wants to make that and play it for them. Why can't that happen at a library?"
Exactly. Why not?
ENCORE! [Thunderous applause here.]
Let me know how it grows.
Tia Dobi is a copywriter and library fanatic living in Los Angeles. Reach her now at email@example.com
Previous Articles in the Series:
Part 1 http://marylaine.com/exlibris/xlib229.html
Part 2 http://marylaine.com/exlibris/xlib234.html
Part 3 http://marylaine.com/exlibris/xlib236.html
Part 4 http://marylaine.com/exlibris/xlib241.html
Part 5 http://marylaine.com/exlibris/xlib244.html
Part 6 http://marylaine.com/exlibris/xlib249.html
Part 7 http://marylaine.com/exlibris/xlib253.html
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Teens are huge users of the web. Duh! While it shouldn't need to be stated, it's important to remember that when we are developing our 5 and 10 year plans and visions:
1. All the high school age users of our libraries are teens. 2. Within five years they will be just about all of our undergraduate student users. 3. In 10-15 years they will be the majority of the parents of the kids in our school programs.
If you're going to focus on someone to influence and have a positive view of libraries, just about every one of them is already born already.
Stephen Abram. Stephen's Lighthouse, August 15, 2005 http://stephenslighthouse.sirsi.com/
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