What Outreach Tools Will Work @ Your Library? Your Tactics

The tactics in this guide can be selected alone or in concert to help you develop a plan of action for your campaign that will help you meet your goals, audience, and timeline within the limits of your financial, staff, and volunteer resources. We have included communications tactics that may also be useful in developing your advocacy work as you design synergistic activities to effectively reach and generate support for your library activities and issues. NOTE: You might also consider developing a crisis communications plan that can go into effect should you ever be faced with a crisis situation.

Some sample activities

Below are five types of events or activities that you might consider planning to gain media attention or other visibility. They may be selected for various audiences you’ve already defined. For each sample, we’ve included sample tactics, tips, and ideas for you to pick and choose from as you plan and implement your outreach campaign:

  1. Opening a new wing, a new facility or embarking on a capital campaign.
  2. Announcing a new president, executive director or board chair.
  3. Celebrating the milestone of a longstanding volunteer or staff member.
  4. Announcing a new program, an event, town hall or other activity for children, teens, adults, seniors, or others.
  5. Releasing a report or study conducted by your library about library usage trends.

Using stories to help communicate your message

For all of the sample activities below, what will be essential to develop for media is a compelling story. This is because not only the story, but the ‘story-telling’ is an essential art for media. As you develop and think about these stories, remember you need to be able to talk about “Why your donors, or the spokespeople care about the library.” As will be mentioned in sample activity #3, stories can be found in many places in your library. Consider developing a bank of these stories so they are at your fingertips when you have the opportunity to sell the stories to the media.

 The ALA's Campaign for America's Libraries has a library story collection database to help encourage public awareness about the value of libraries. Ask your patrons to share their library stories! The collection includes over 60 video library stories from authors and celebrities that are available for download to use in your library's public awareness campaign.

Opening of a new wing, a new facility or a capital campaign

  • Consider a formal invitation or letter of invitation to outlined audiences.
  • If you want the public to attend, in addition to sending out an invitation to your constituents and the general public, send advance media listings to radio, TV, print and Internet outlets;
  • If it is a groundbreaking, plan to invite and include local decision-makers and board members in the program. In fact, check with key individuals offices to coordinate a compatible date;
  • If you want the media to write and run a feature piece on the day of your event, work well in advance to research and create possible feature story angles that you can pitch to the media. The stories could be about the architect, a committed funder or the people who will benefit from the building or space.
  • If you want the media to attend and then do a story about the event, make sure you are prepared with spokespeople, sound equipment if appropriate and a place them to hold interviews if there is not a speaking platform. Follow-up with press that has shown interest to ensure they attend.
  • Think of the props you will need for such an announcement: shovels, construction hats, floor plans, renderings of the new space, appropriate signage.

Announcing a new president, executive director or board chair

In planning, first determine if this is news or not.

  • If your current leader has left abruptly or is leaving after a short time at the library, there’s a chance that this will be considered news. Consider this a crisis situation and handle it very strategically. You might want to consult a communications professional to create a strategy to roll out the announcement. See also: Tips on Handling Bad News.
  •  If this announcement is due to the retirement or leaving of a long-term staff member or board chair, then it may be an opportunity to plan several events – first to celebrate the contribution of the person leaving and second to introduce the new leadership – which may be better planned over the course of a month or two, depending on the new leadership.
  • Here you have the opportunity to generate stories both about the dedicated service of the person leaving as well as to pique interest about new leadership. Either may be a good time to schedule one-on-one interviews or media meetings. Always try to have a media professional or other experienced staff member attend any meetings set up, not only to take follow-up notes, but also to provide details.
  • With an incoming person, the first step will be to determine if they are already comfortable talking about library issues in general and key local issues. If it is determined that the person is well prepared, then try to schedule a short refresher media training and start outreach calls. If they aren’t, consider a phased in media campaign where after more extensive media training they can start off speaking to smaller outlets before building up to the larger and more important outlets.
  • Plan your events: a few possible events might be a press conference [find details in the Appendix,] a media breakfast or briefing at your library café, a tour of the library following or instead of a press conference.

Celebrating the milestone of a long-standing volunteer or staff member

  • This may be a perfect opportunity not to plan a press event. It is, however, a chance to spend time doing a phone or Internet campaign and build your relationships with media sources.
  • Your first step is to uncover potentially compelling stories by spending time visiting the stacks, the help desk, the computer room, the children’s room, the afterschool program and others. Talk to as many people as you can to identify interesting and unique stories about library members, staff or volunteers who are making a big difference. Try to always have many stories tucked away in your short-term memory. The more you practice, the better you’ll become at it.
  • Once you have about 10, try to narrow your pool down to three to five different personal stories and draft a bio or story about each person’s involvement.
  • Create a general pitch letter that includes snippets about each of the stories you are pitching with general information about what a great time it is for libraries.
  • Develop your media list, including both people you know and people you think might be interested. Cover all types of outlets: radio, print, TV and bloggers. 
  • Practice your verbal pitch, then get on the phone. Pitching a feature story is something that often times gets pushed to the back burner, but if you carve out 30 minutes or more a day to contact media, you can run your feature ideas by them, ask about stories they are working on and see how the library might fit into their plans. If one person commits to doing a specific story, you will still have several special library stories to pitch to another contact.
  • Keeping in constant touch with reporters can always help your case.

 Announcing a new program, event, town hall or other activity for children, teens, adults, seniors, others

This is a time to reach out to your community at large as well as targeted lists. It would be best if they could hear or read about the announcement more than once from many different types of media over a period of time. Here are some tactics you may try in reaching them:

  • Pass out flyers or postcards about the program at all library events starting well in advance. Place these items at the checkout counter, at the information desk, on your website.
  • Send out public service announcements for print, radio and news websites [depending on the audience and the announcement.] For example, if you are targeting young toddlers and their mothers/caregiver, don’t target popular websites for parenting and youth.  Business people rarely catch daytime TV talk shows, so try not to target these TV stations when targeting legislators. For teens, try pitching some hip websites or local stations they watch after school. If you are promoting an event or activity whose potential attendees will be high-school students, then it would not make sense to buy an ad in a local paper where the average reader is considerably older.
  • Let your local and state legislators and their staffs know about what’s happening. They read both their hometown papers and state or national dailies and weeklies. Local weeklies may have small circulations, but they often end up on legislators’ desks.
  • Consider broad outreach for events such as a town hall or fundraiser, a pep rally, or a workshop. It can include simple written correspondence, such as a postcard or more detailed pleas for involvement, such as a volunteer or fundraising letter. Once you’ve determined your end product, you may want to distribute your materials in various forms and to different audiences. Some of these materials can be produced for a very small budget. This is especially true if your board members and advocates agree to approach their contacts for free services or printing. This is a way they can do their part to encourage library support.

Releasing a report or study conducted by your library about library-usage trends

Releasing this type of tool can be a fabulous news maker, but takes extreme forethought and organization and is best coordinated by a team of internal staff and consultants. Here are some tactical tips:

  • If you would like to do a report, study or survey, try to start planning at least a year in advance.
  • Begin by asking such questions as what type of research could you do that would be of interest and when you would like to release the results. This could be hooked to National Library Week, Women’s History Month, the first day of spring or during Banned Books Week. Once you decide, then put together your time line backwards, starting from your release date.
  • Put together a team that might include staff from development, event, program, management and appropriate consultants who could work on the research, the analysis, the writing, the production of the publication if you are planning to create a formal piece, the media outreach, and a release event, if desired.
  • One way to shape ongoing interest in your report is to follow a trend. Not the Uggs your teenager is wearing, but a statistical or factual trend that is happening to libraries over time. Trends influence what gets covered and what doesn’t. Local journalists like trends because they show facts that aren’t isolated. National journalists love trends because they show national dimension with demographic variation. The American Library Association Public Information Office frequently uses trends to pitch national articles. Here’s a sample trend message:

“Our library is facing a $200,000 budget cut this year, part of nationwide cutbacks that are impacting libraries in many parts of the U.S.”

Conversely, if you see that a national paper has covered a story that you see relating to a newsworthy local example, take the time the next morning to reach out to some reporters to generate interest in your activities. For example, if USA Today reports that libraries are building coffee shops to lure people back from retail booksellers, you can say that since opening four years ago, your coffee shop has seen a 10 percent increase in revenues. The newspaper likes the story because they can say, “Yesterday, USA Today reported an increase in coffee shops in libraries across the nation and here in our town, the local library has seen a 10 percent increase in revenues over the past four years.” Suddenly, your old-news coffee shop is new news!

  • Consider distributing an embargoed copy of the results to a few key media well enough in advance so that they have time to write or produce a piece about the study on the day you want it published. Don’t send the results to the journalists until they have agreed not to break the embargo. Once you’ve sent the embargoed report, identify those with extreme interest and that might publish and invite the journalists to meet with your executive director or researcher to discuss the details. If you meet with TV producers in advance, you can offer advance interviews to be released on the agreed-upon date. If a TV interview comes through, make sure that your spokespeople have had specific media-training sessions to plan for the release of this report.
  • Consider drafting and trying to place an op-ed piece authored by your board chair and/or executive director that will run the morning your report is no longer embargoed.
  • Depending on your media market, having a release in key news organizations on the morning of an event will help your chances of attracting additional media. If you have done your homework and advance media outreach, this will be a major key of your success.