walking the elephant through the mayor's flowerbed


I started working in libraries 4 years ago last month, so I still have nearly a year to call myself a 'new professional' (before I graduate to 'grizzled veteran' or whatever the next stage on is). Like a lot of New Professionals I'm interested in the marketing side of things - libraries got away it for ages, but nowadays they need to be run like a business (even the ones which aren't businesses) and that entails aggressively marketing a product. It's easy to get excited about marketing because to us New Profs it feels like we're the first people to really 'get' the need for it - in fact the grizzled veterans have been thinking about it for years, but it still doesn't happen in enough places to enough of an extent to ensure that the majority of the general public have the correct perceptions about what we can do.

As I mentioned in my Day in the Life post, I recently went to a Communications Workshop hosted by JISC and delivered by Rosemary Stamp. There was much to take from the day, but one thing in particular which stuck in my mind was an explanation of the differences between advertising, promotion, publicity and PR. To quote from the documentation directly:

If the circus is coming to town and you paint a sign saying "Circus Coming to the Fairground this Saturday," that's advertising.

If you put a sign on the back of an elephant and walk it into town, that's promotion.

If the elephant walks through the mayor's flower bed, that's publicity.

...and if you get the mayor to laugh about it, that's public relations.

When you put the whole lot together, and research your target audience, and your methods of communication, and if the people of the town go to the circus and you take them round the tents, that's marketing. I can't think of a library analogy off the top of my head (suggestions in a comment, please!) but I suspect in this industry we're not so hot on the parts about the flowerbed. So we're effectively practising an incomplete marketing model. Both in terms of marketing our  actual libraries (visit our building, use our stuff, don't let our funding be cut!) and our profession (we can help you, we're not like the stereotypes, have you considered entering this industry?).

Somebody found this blog the other day by googling 'narcissism' - so to take a narcissistic example, the Library Routes Project should be a positive marketing tool for libraries: if people read the entries, they see what the Information Profession is really like, why people were motivated to get into it, how you can end up doing something completely unexpected, and the breadth of jobs encompassed by this sector. I think we've done some advertising by simply telling people about it and asking them to contribute, and some promotion via a couple of articles we've written and soundbites we've given to others writing pieces about the Project. But we've not really got to the stage of walking the elephant through the flower bed yet, let alone spinning that event with some PR. And in order for more people to see Library Routes than just those already in the profession (in order, in other words, to escape the echo-chamber) we need to think about publicity and public relations.

So, how can we as an industry step up the PR?

- thewikiman

p.s I've just heard that Chris Rhodes has won the SLA Europe Early Career Conference Award! I am absolutely thrilled for him - I actually applied for this myself, but somehow Chris getting it makes me not mind losing out at all. As well as being CILIP's New Professionals Coordinator he is a wry and erudite commentator on all things library, and the females of New Orleans are probably going to go crazy for that accent... He's also just joined Twitter - finally! So, nice one Chris...