Basic Promotion Guide

“Johns Adams Unbound” Online Site Support Notebook


To draw the audience you seek and create awareness about your exhibition-related events, your library needs to plan and implement an effective promotional campaign. The following guidelines are intended to help you launch a successful campaign. Included are general suggestions for promotional activities and sample media materials.

Please note: All promotional materials should feature the “John Adams Unbound” credit line acknowledging the National Endowment for the Humanities, American Library Association, and Boston Public Library. Please use the organizational logos whenever possible.

Getting Started

To meet media and other deadlines, you will need to start promoting the exhibition and events at least six weeks to two months in advance.

First, you will need to determine your target audience, goals for audience size and the best communication methods for this program. Involving your fellow staff members in program planning can be a great way to start determining these things and foster new ideas and additional support and enthusiasm. Try holding a mini-workshop or brainstorming session for staff. During this session:

  • Emphasize the potential for recruiting new users and building support for the library.
  • Communicate the goals for your program—what audiences you wish to reach, what you wish to accomplish.
  • Assign staff with various interests/talents to work in small groups to carry out the goals.

Additionally, share your program plans with the library director, board, Friends and other library support groups and invite their ideas and cooperation.

Defining Your Target Audience

Your general promotional materials such as flyers, press releases, and advertisements are great vehicles for reaching a general audience of mixed ages and backgrounds. However, there are probably many other groups in your community that will be very interested in the exhibition. These groups can provide support through passing the information on to members of their organization who may be interested in attending or providing financial and other support. Following is a list of organizations in your community that may be interested in the exhibition:

  • Historical societies
  • Museums, arts and humanities councils
  • Book discussion groups (history, biography, general, etc.)
  • Minority group associations, educational and professional organizations
  • Kiwanis and other civic and service organizations
  • College and university departments (English, history, political science, geography, art, humanities)
  • Film study organizations
  • High school classes
  • Elementary and high school teachers, college and university professors/staff
  • Professional associations and societies (interested in history, literature, political science, etc.)
  • Councils on aging
  • Senior centers
  • AARP groups
  • Lifelong learning societies and educational centers

Developing an Audience Profile

Ask yourself the following questions when you are developing an idea of the audiences you want to reach with exhibit publicity:

  • Where do they work?
  • What newspapers do they read?
  • What radio programs do they listen to?
  • What TV stations do they watch?
  • What restaurants do they eat in?
  • Where do they spend their leisure time?
  • What other community activities do they take part in?
  • What social, religious, professional, civic organizations do they belong to?
  • What educational institutions do they or their children attend?
  • What special arrangements do they require?
  • Is a particular time of day best for programs?
  • Need child care?
  • Need transportation?
  • Need access/space for wheelchairs?
  • Need signing for deaf/hard of hearing?
  • If your program is outside the library, is parking available, public transportation?
  • Other physical/space/time considerations?

Choosing Your Communication Methods

Once you’ve determined “who” you would like to participate in your program, you need to focus on “how” you’re going to let them know about the event. Most communication methods fall into these four categories:

  • Public Relations/Publicity: newspaper and magazine articles, announcements on television and radio programs, Web sites, Web publicity, public service announcements (PSAs), letters to the editor
  • Direct Marketing: direct mailings, mass e-mail messages, Web marketing
  • Personal Contact: word-of-mouth, public speaking engagements, telephone, letters, e-mails
  • Advertising: print ads, TV and radio spots, banners, flyers, bookmarks, posters, buttons, displays

Public Relations/Publicity

NOTE: Several sample promotional materials have been developed for this exhibition. Feel free to use these materials as they are or adapt them for your particular needs. You will find these materials in previous pages of this notebook section:

  • Press Release
  • Media Alert
  • Public Service Announcements
  • Letter to Community Groups

Contacting the media and using the Web to publicize your event is key to getting your message out to a mass audience. Here are a few methods you can use to contact your local media and use the Web:

Press and Media

  • Send a
    press release announcing the event to your local newspapers, radio stations and television stations at least two to four weeks before the event. If you have regional magazines or talk shows that list upcoming events, you may want to send a release to them as well. Since these media outlets often have longer lead times, send these press releases out at least four to eight weeks before the event.

    If possible, address press releases to a specific reporter. Call your local media outlets to find out who covers community, arts or literary events, and send your release to his/her attention. If that information is not available, address press releases to the “News Desk” for larger publications or “Editor” for smaller publications. Most media outlets prefer to receive press releases via fax. However, if you wish to send additional materials, such as a brochure or bookmark advertising the event with the release, mail is acceptable. Also, if any of these publications also have a “Calendar of Events” section, be sure to send a press release to the contact for this section. Quite often, publications will run an article about an upcoming event and include information about it in their community calendar sections.

  • About a week before your event, follow up the press release by sending a
    media alert via fax to key contacts. The alert provides specific information about the date, time and location for reporters and photographers who may be interested in attending the event or including the information in an “Upcoming Events” section. If possible, call each contact a day or two later to confirm that they received the media alert, find out if they have any questions and see if they are interested in attending or getting more information about the program.

    If you find that media professionals are interested in attending the event or in getting more information, you will need to have additional materials available in a
    press kit. The press kit should contain one copy of the press release, media alert, photos and biographies of your speakers and other key participants, and copies of all promotional materials—flyers, bookmarks, etc. If you do get an opportunity to discuss the event with a reporter, suggest story ideas and offer to schedule an interview with your speakers and partner organizations. (First make sure your scholar and partner organization representatives are willing to be interviewed.)

  • Since television and radio stations are required to use a percentage of their airtime for non-profit and public announcements, your local stations may be willing to air a free
    public service announcement (PSA) about your program or event.

The Web

  • In today’s world, using the
    Web to promote your events is very important. If your library’s Web site doesn’t have a “Coming Events” section, talk to your Webmaster about creating one. This is the perfect place for library patrons to find out details about your programs. Make sure you include as much information as possible on your Web site. Some of your current library patrons may use your Web site to find other information or find out about upcoming events, but very few new or potential patrons are likely to visit your site. The Web is a key way to provide details to patrons and community members who may have heard about the event, but need details about the date, time, location, topics discussed, etc.

  • Also include links from your site to your partners’ sites. When the Web site is up, send an e-mail with the address of the site to the ALA Public Programs Office to include on their project Web site ( The ALA Public Programs Office e-mail address is

    If you post information about the series on your library’s Web site, be sure to include the Web address on all promotional materials. Using just your library’s short address (e.g., is acceptable and usually easier to read. While some promotional materials still carry the long version (e.g.,, this is not necessary since most browsers are configured to automatically place the http:// before an address. However, if your library has an address with a different hyper tag, such as https://, you will need to include this in the address.

  • The Web can also be useful for getting the word out about your event through other organizations’ Web sites. Your city, community centers, local media outlets and Chamber of Commerce may post information about community events on their Web sites. Additionally, many major cities also have Web-based entertainment and event guides, like, which provides information about events in several cities. Find out if these Web sites exist in your area and contact the site’s staff about posting your event and information. Many of these sites will post information about non-profit organizations’ events free of charge.

Direct Marketing

Using the list of community organizations and other groups you identified as your target audience, you can use direct marketing to contact these groups and individual members of these groups:

  • When contacting community and other organizations, use a personalized letter or phone call. You can also use a copy of your program flyer as an informal letter, if needed, but be sure to include a personal note soliciting support, especially if you are asking for financial or other support.

    In addition to contacting organizations, you may want to target individuals in your community. If you keep a list of patrons’ e-mail addresses, sending a mass e-mail message about the upcoming event can be an effective and inexpensive way to get the word out to a number of people. If e-mail addresses are not available, you may want to consider creating a postcard to mail to library patrons, community members or others. Additionally, you may want to send an e-mail message about the program to community group leaders to post to their electronic discussion groups or forward on to their own address lists.

Personal Contact

One-on-one personal contact can be one of your most effective ways of communicating with key individuals and groups. It can create a better understanding of programs and more enthusiasm than any other communication method. Some tips:

  • Create a list of influential individuals in your community—the mayor, city council members, business leaders, etc.—who may be interested in your event. Send them a letter and program flyer about the event and ask to meet with them to discuss further. If a meeting is not possible, mention in your letter that you will call them within a week to follow-up. Even if these individuals cannot participate in the series, letting them know about the program could help the library in other ways.

  • When contacting community groups, you may want to ask to speak for five to 10 minutes at one of their upcoming meetings or events. This is inexpensive and effective since it allows you to both deliver your message and gauge responses. At the meeting, outline your overall series plan and present convincing reasons why the series may be of interest to them. Bring flyers, bookmarks and other materials along to handout after your speech. If possible, speak at the end of the meeting or offer to stay until the end of the meeting to answer questions.

  • If speaking at a meeting is not possible, solicit support from these groups to help promote the program themselves. Ask the group leaders to pass out flyers or mention the program to their members and staff.


Often the most expensive promotional method, advertising can also be one of the most effective vehicles for promoting your program. Here are a few advertising methods:

  • Promotional flyers and posters should be simple and include: the basic title or theme for the series, an identifying graphic, times, place, speakers' names and brief biographical information, acknowledgement of funders and program partners, and if applicable, your library’s Web address. Flyers and/or posters can be posted at your library, other libraries and museums, and community centers (e.g., city hall, the post office and schools, local college student centers), restaurants, grocery stores, dry cleaners, bookstores, cafes, health clubs, etc. Ask Friends and trustees to post flyers and posters at their local grocery store, dry cleaners, hair salon, etc.

  • Paid advertising in local newspapers and on local radio or television stations can be another effective, but costly method. Before considering paid advertising, approach your local newspapers, radio and television stations regarding free public service announcements. Some newspapers and broadcast stations may be willing to donate or offer discounted airtime or ad space for non-profit groups. If you do receive free advertising, acknowledge the media outlet as a sponsor on program materials. If you consider paid advertising, also look to your Friends or other groups to underwrite costs.

  • Developing simple, cost effective
    buttons or other promotional items is another effective way to promote your event. These promotional items can also double as a “freebie” for patrons who attend the programs. Hand out promotional items at schools, community group meetings or other locations. Ask Friends and trustees to hand out bookmarks to their friends and others.

Putting It All Together

After reviewing this list, spend a little time thinking about which of these methods will work best for your event, your community and your library. Consider your budget and time available. Consider your planning team—is this effort a one-person production or committee-based? And, consider past successes and failures by looking at which communication methods you’ve used to promote past events. For this exhibition, you may want to combine some successful methods you’ve used before with some new ideas.

Also, keep in mind your goals for the size and type of audience you wish to attract. If your library can only hold a group of 50, you don't need to spend hundreds of dollars on publicity. Instead, use your resources wisely. Use cost-effective methods and spend most of your time contacting individuals and groups you think will be most interested instead of contacting everybody in town. It is important to make sure that public is aware of your event, but this can be done with flyers and a few press releases to key media outlets. The rest of your time can be spent on letters and phone calls.

On the other hand, if you are want to attract a group of 200 people who have never set foot in the library, you will need to be more creative in your promotional activities. Most likely, you will need to spend a little more time contacting new people and developing promotional materials for new outlets and locations. However, this time and effort could pay off. Bringing new faces into the library for a program will undoubtedly result in issuing more library cards and finding new life-long library patrons.