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Advertising and Sponsorship

Marketing for Libraries: Part 11: Advertising and Sponsorship from Annette Lamb on Vimeo.

Advertising draws attention to the products and services through persuasive messages aimed at a specific market segment.

"Advertising is the nonpersonal communication of information usually paid for and usually persuasive in nature about products, services or ideas by identified sponsors through the various media." - Bovee & Arens (1992)

Usually fee-based, advertising through media sources like radio, television, print, and the web can be expensive. Many libraries restrict their advertising to free public service announcements and sponsored advertisements. Or, rely on grants and other types of support to fund advertising.

In this section, we'll explore the role of advertising in a marketing campaign.

Key Questions

Each of the following questions will be addressed on this page. For quick access, click on the question of interest.

What's the role of advertising in a marketing campaign?

When possible, use free and inexpensive forms of marketing your products. However when funds are available, advertising can be a useful tool in marketing.

Example: Watch a commercial from the Indianapolis Public Library Foundation. Notice that a number of organizations contributed to the production.

Because advertising can be expensive, it's important to weigh the costs against the benefits. Materials like t-shirts, hats, pens, cups, and calendars may be part of a specific promotion or a more generic library. However according to the Ohio Library Council,

"it's important to get the library's message out to users about specific programs or events, or perhaps increase awareness of the library's purpose, but consider the cost. What will be your "return on investment"? If most of your response comes from those who already use the library, it may be cheaper and easier just to provide reminders in the form of displays, newsletters, bookmarks, or a news item on your web site."

Example: Shawnee State University Clark Memorial Library created post-it notes to remind users about their hours, website, and their offer of help.

Go to AdsoftheWorld for lots of advertising examples.

bridgeRead A Philosophy of Bold Promotion in Arkansas by Benjamen A. Bizzle. Think about the value of a library purchasing billboard space. In what situations does this make sense?

How can library services be advertised?

If funds are available, it may be worthwhile to invest in paid advertising. Many choices are available.

Consider each of the following 4 Cs as you think about advertising in the library.

Media advertising can be expensive. However, sponsors and grants can help defray the costs of a newspaper advertisement or web page banner in the newspaper's website. However before jumping into costly options, be sure to check for free or inexpensive alternatives.

Social Media Advertising. Facebook is well-known for it's ads. It's also possible to advertise in search engines like Google.

bridgeRead Hellman, Eric (2018). Digital advertising in libraries: Or… How libraries are assisting the ecosystem that pays for fake news. In Fernandez & Tilton (eds.), Applying library values to emerging technology: Decision-making in the age of open access, makerspaces, and the ever-changing library. ALA Editions.

Read Using Facebook Ads to Reach a Wider Audience by Kim Terry.
What are the pros and cons of Facebook advertising?

It's easy to get caught up with social networks as the way to market the library. However a Facebook advertisement may not be the best choice. Examine the infographic from Prestige Marketing on the right.

Radio. Both public and commercial radio often provide free airtime for public service announcements.

Television. Like radio, some local television stations may provide free advertising or public service announcements.

Website. Web banners are an interesting way to advertise. In some cases, they appear on each page. In other cases, they are rotated with other advertisements.

Example: The banner below is for National Library Week.

web banner

What are free or inexpensive forms of advertising?

While advertising is generally fee-based, some costs are defrayed through contributions.

Public Service Announcements (PSAs) are unpaid announcements promoting nonprofit and government organizations. These are actually paid-for by the radio or television stations as a public service.

PSAs are generally ten, fifteen, or thirty seconds. Free software such as Audacity works well for producing short audio PSAs. For video editing, iMovies on the Mac and MovieMaker on Windows are both available for free.

You're more likely to get a PSA broadcast if you establish a professional relationship with the local radio or television station. Get to know their policies.

Example: Watch the Using the Music Listening Center in the Music Library at BGSU. This PSA is a little longer than most, but since it's at YouTube rather than being broadcast length isn't can issue.

vestsIn-Library Advertising is an inexpensive form of advertising. From sandwich boards outside the library to special colored vests inside the library, think about how you can attract users. It's sometimes difficult to find a person who can answer questions. Use people power. Of course, you'll need to pay the staff member and create the sandwich sign or vests, but it's an effective and inexpensive approach to advertising.

Make library staff more recognizable with special vests. This is particularly important with student workers. Small name tags are difficult to see.

Example: The University of California Santa Cruz University Library have identified a "very special group of roving student information assistants". These people weave bright yellow vests so they are easy to identify.

The photo on the right courtesy of the University of California Santa Cruz University Library website features one of these roving students.

How can coupons be used?

Coupons are a fun way to bring in library users. Solicit area businesses to provide a free cup of coffee, ice cream cone, or key chain. It doesn't need to be expensive. Work with the local utility company to distribute the coupons in bill mailings or send them out with PTA flyers or through local organizations. Be creative. Think of new partners that could be tapped.


Special offers connected with local restaurants can be effective (see the coupon above posted by the Ohio Library Council).

"The Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County opened a library branch in Tiltonsville, Ohio in May 2001. Prior to its opening, flyers were mailed to the surrounding areas. The brochure listed services offered. The local pizza shop offered a special promotion the first month of operation. Anyone who registered (for the first time) would get a free slice of pizza.

From May-June 2001, there were 281 new registrations. November 2001 records showed that circulation was 42.2 % higher than in 2000. Just goes to show that a little direct marketing (and pizza) goes a long way." [From email and telephone interviews with Jennifer Faccinto, Public Relations Coordinator, Public Library of Steubenville & Jefferson County, January 2003. Excerpt from Ohio Library Council website]

Example: Old Dominican University gave away Starbucks Coffee coupons to anyone who spent more than $10 at their National Library Week book sale.

Look for opportunities with existing mailings. What do you get in the mail? Think of ways to make connections with these groups such as billing statements and advertising fliers.

Example: The Massillon Public Library was able to work with the local bank to put a bookmobile schedule in with the monthly bank statement.

park and readCross promotions are a great way to share markets.

Example: The Department of Natural Resources and the Library of Michigan teamed up for the Park & Read program with more than 400 participating libraries across the state.

Example: San Mateo Public Library Card holders get free museum passes.

How is sponsorship used in advertising?

Sponsorship can provide mutual benefits, but they can also cause controversy. Before jumping into a relationship weigh the pros and cons carefully. It's important to ensure that the sponsor's mission is complementary with the library's goals. Check the company's website and reputation looking for possible problems such as relationships with political organizations or social stances that might cause alarm.

Example: The bookstore would like to sponsor your reading club and the bakery wants to provide free donuts. Is this a good thing or are you "selling out"? Corporate sponsorship can provide an influx of funding, but it can also lead to other concerns.

From single event support to ongoing support of a program such as a writer-in-residence, sponsorship can take many forms. Although the sponsorship may involve the exchange of money, it can also take the form of providing a service such as printing a brochure or housing an author.

Grants are a great way to get funding for both small and large projects.

bridgeExplore the IMLS Blog. Read Eureka! Job Fair in Georgetown County, SC, a Big Success by Dwight McInvaill. This project involved grants from the IMLS Grants to States Program and from the Smart Investing@yourlibrary grant from ALA.

A request for sponsorship should state the specifics of the relationship including the purpose of the commitment and reasons for the needed support.

Dowd, Evangeliste, and Silberman (2010, 129) suggest five steps in corporate sponsorship:

  1. Define the type of sponsor you want.
  2. Write up a sample sponsor letter.
  3. Be tenacious.
  4. Ask the sponsor for a printer-ready logo.
  5. Followup with a thank-you card.

Virtual bookplateConsider new ways to reach beyond your library for sponsors. Whitney Curtis and Robert Brammer (2012) identified an inexpensive and easy way to replace traditional bookplates with virtual bookplates.

Explore virtual bookplates at the Stetson Law Library. In their article The Hidden Virtues of Being Cheap and Easy, Curtis and Brammer (2012) note that

"Virtual bookplates are a great way to market your library externally and internally. They allow you to honor donors, graduates, faculty, and administration in a way that is much more accessible and visible than with traditional bookplates. The accessibility of virtual bookplates encourages donations and strengthens honorees’ connection to your institution.

Virtual bookplates are also a novelty that honorees will be happy to show off to friends and family, allowing them to showcase their connection to your academic institution."

Many other libraries have also begun using virtual bookplates as a way to honor book donations. The University of Nevada, Las Vegas Library has a Honor with Books program.


How can you advertise through partnership communications?

Partners play an important role in communication. There are many individuals and group that are directly or indirectly connected to our libraries. These affiliates are some of our best promoters. They use the library as their mobile headquarters or community showcase. Individuals in each of these categories can help you spread the word about new products, services, and opportunities. They just need to hear it from their point of view.

Library as Mobile Headquarters. Some affiliates have direct connections to our libraries. They're tutors, writers, research associates, teaching assistants, day care teachers, and others who spend lots of time in the library. The library may even be their mobile office.

Example: Higher speed wifi is going to be useful to everyone who considers the library their mobile headquarters.

Library as Showcase. Some people use the library to showcase what the school or community has to offer. Campus tour guides bring new students to the library for orientations. The Chamber of Commerce proudly walks potential business owners and new residents through the facility.

Example: Those that see the library as a showcase are going to be thrilled to hear about the new virtual tour of the library available online.

Besides affiliates, there are other partners that help share communications and build relationships. The key is matching services and communications with the specific needs of their audience.

Small Information Outlets. When we talk about advertising, we'll talk about working with the big media outlets. However some of the best connections are with individuals who blogs, the webmaster of departmental websites, campus newspapers, organization newsletters and friends on Facebook.

Example: The newsletter editor for the local historical society will be excited to share the new genealogy database available in the library.

Example: The webmaster for the engineering department will be happy to share information on their website about the new 3D printer that's available for students and faculty.

Local Leaders. Board members, business leaders, and student council members are all looking for platforms and causes to support that everyone will support. Libraries are a great choice. Feed these leaders examples of how the library is working for their group.

Example: Develop a relationship with the local Chamber of Commerce or other local business association. Hold meetings in your library to bring in local members of the community. The images below show a "Business Before Hours" event held at the Norman Public Library in the Pioneer Library System. It shows a partnership between the Chamber of Commerce and the Public Library. Participants learn about business services.

Business meetingChamber of Commerce Meeting

Example. The Fort Wayne Area Artists have partnered with the local library. The Allen County Public Library website houses a Featured Artists section showcasing artists and galleries in the local area. In turn, the artists participate in local events at the library.

How can general events advertise library services?

From fall festivals to art walks, exciting events happen year-around in most communities. Think of ways to tie into existing events or establish your own new event.

Create your own special events and seek out partners to join the fun.

Example: The Lunch Hour NYC summer program is sponsored by the New York Public Library and the NUC Food Truck Association. Among the many program is an exhibition featuring the history of food trucks. Read the press release.

drill teamExample: The Allen County Public Library's TekVenture program connects public art and a technology laboratory.

Create a list of your local organizations. Connect with them about potential partnerships:

Library Book Cart Drill Teams are a popular way that libraries can increase public awareness. These teams perform during parades and on other special occasions.

The image on the right shows the Half Moon Bay Library Drill Team from the San Mateo County Library courtesy of Flickr.

For ideas, read The Library Book Cart Precision Drill Team Manual by Linda D. McCracken and Lynne Zeiher.

Watch Book Cart Drill Teams in action on YouTube.

How can tables and exhibits at tradeshows, tradefairs and conferences be used?

boothFrom education fairs to industry trade shows, there are many situations where libraries could benefit by setting up an exhibit. However a professional exhibit involves much more than simply "showing up".

The image on the right shows a booth set up by the Homer Township Public Library.

The table or booth should be professional prepared and the workers well-trained. The exhibit should reflect a positive professional image. It's a good idea to establish a set of materials that are ready to go including a banner, promotional materials, signup sheets, and other informational materials. Consider a link to your library brand or a promotional theme. Include eye catching elements to attract the crowd.

The photo below from the San Jose Library shows a table filled with brochures.

booth flliers

Example: To feature a leisure reading program, bring in plastic palm trees and beach balls. Include a couple lawn chairs and examples of summer titles. Feature a Kindle in a display highlighting the latest ebook downloads. Invite people to a game involving the lawn chair and beach balls.

Dowd, Evangeliste, and Silberman (2010) suggest five steps to a successful show:

  1. Set Goals. what do you want people to know or do as a result of visiting your table? Are you focusing on general awareness, something new, motivating people to come to the library, gathering information? Make it measurable by counting the number of people who sign up for the mailing list, take a bookmark, or provide their email address. Create a couple short messages that will focus interactions.
  2. Design the Booth. Booths are generally ten feet by ten feet. Sometimes you'll be provided a six or eight foot table. However you may also need to provide this table. If you have room, set up stations highlighting different services. Another approach is a tall table with bar stools. It provides a more inviting atmosphere.
  3. Create Simple and Cheap Promotional Materials. Your table should have clear signage, interactive elements such as a game or quiz with prizes, giveaways, and handouts.
  4. Train Staff. Be sure staff is comfortable talking with the crowd. Provide props or examples they can use to illustrate their service or product.
  5. Follow Up. Distribute a press release based on the event. Post photos showing the event success. Followup with a print mailing or email message. Ask people for comments or suggestions.

Dowd, Evangeliste, and Silberman (2010) suggest that it's not always necessary to exhibit at a show. Sometimes the best contacts are made talking with the various local vendors and interacting with participants. A pocket full of cards, mini-fliers, and coupons may be as effective as sitting at a booth all day.

Example: David Lee King suggests creating business cards to promote your collections. In Using Business Cards to Promote eContent, King recommends making individual cards for resources such as Freegal, OneClick Digital, Hoopla, OverDrive, Zinio, Treehouse, and Mango Languages. View lots of examples at Flickr and below by David Lee King.

music cardsmusic card


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