New Marketing Trends

Marketing Ideas for Non-Profits and Libraries

The M Word helps librarians learn about marketing trends and ideas.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

50 reasons not to give away pens when you are marketing your library

Awhile back I promised you that I would share some thoughts about setting up your outreach tables and after spending the last month at three major conferences, I'll speak while the thoughts are still fresh. The picture of the 50 pens represents to me exactly what is wrong with ou. too confusing let me start at the beginning....

Pens are one of many type of small give-a-ways that are used at conferences to attract people to tables. The theory is that if you put something like a pen or candy on the table, people will be drawn to it and when they take the goodie, you will have an opportunity to talk with the person about your product. It has long been my belief that that theory fails miserably and is often just a waste of money because more than not, you end up giving without getting any information in return.

As a test I set out to see how many pens I could take without ever speaking to a person. As you can see... my experiment netted me 50 pens. I could have taken lots more but I got tired and thought 50 pens proved my point well enough. Basically all I did was walk up to the table, smiled and said, "May I take one?" The person said yes and before he or she could say anything else, I was onto the next table. Some people set their tables up so you didn't even have to speak with them and one guy actually had a bin of them. He told me that people were just coming up and grabbing a handful and leaving. When I asked him why he left them on the table he just gave me a blank look. That blank look told me he probably had no idea of why he was there.

Libraries are getting out into their communities more and more because it is an excellent way to connect with the community to let them know about our services and to find out about their needs. It is so easy to want to use the outreach as an opportunity to tell everything that you have to offer them, but I plead with you to resist that temptation!!! My mantra is “baby steps... baby steps…” As a matter of fact the first time out to a community or conference, I like to set up my table as an information-gathering center rather than information giving. That way I get better feel for what they will be interested in the next time out.

A good way to do this is to set up a gift basket for a free raffle. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a firm believer in gift baskets over small give-a-ways. I buy those big wicker laundry baskets, pad the bottom with shredded paper and then fill in the top with some neat logo items, big boxes of yummy cookies and pretty ribbon and it is usually a hit wherever we go. Don’t forget the cookies. For teachers and librarians we usually include bundles of bookmarks and some neat books. Our logo items are a padfolio, coffee cup and umbrella. Costs under $50 and “feeds up to 4,000”.

The free raffle ticket has a space for a name and email address and a place for people to check if the do NOT want to receive information about the library. We will type the names into a word file and will use as a mail list. On large conferences we wait quite awhile before contacting the people because they are usually fending off tons of other businesses contacting them.

Bring your literature and put them in a couple of plastic holders from Staples. Just make sure you have brought the information appropriate for your audience. We’ll keep a small supply of all our materials under the table just in case someone we met wants that information but to keep our table clean and neat- we keep the brochure to the basics. We also buy a box of gold pencils for a few dollars- we used to have pens but people thought they were give-ways and started taking them. Keep plenty of room for people to write their names. See how people have room to get to the table in the picture? That's what you want.

The idea of this table is to draw people in with a free drawing. Once they are in you can ask them a question about themselves. Please, please, please do NOT ask them if they use your library. If they don’t, you have just scared them off or made them feel bad or guilty or whatever else their personalities feel when they are confronted with having to admit they aren’t doing something. That question to a nonuser automatically turns your inviting booth into a “hard sell area”. The idea is to chat- you are gathering information. You can start slow with small chitchat and after a minute or so if the conversation doesn’t click then say it was nice to meet them and let them go. By the end of the day you will have a pretty good idea about this audience AND you will have a mailing list. One of the common mistakes we make when conducting an outreach is to think our job is to connect with every visitor. A more effective method is to look for what the sales profession calls qualified leads. [I’ll talk more about that in another post.]

Finally make sure your table is pushed back and that you stand in front of it. Actually try to be off to the side a bit so you don’t block the table and position yourself so you can welcome people to sign up for the raffle. Do NOT sit behind the table…. It creates a visual wall between you and the visitor… not good!

Okay that’s plenty to think about for now. I’ll write more next time….

library marketing


Jill said...

Hi, Nancy!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on working the table. When I came onboard at VCU, I hadn't prepared for the fact that I'd be doing a lot of these kinds of things and it's difficult to find just the right approach that will grab people's attention. I agree with your raffle idea. I tried this last year at our new student orientation and had a raffle for one of five flash drives if students signed up for our listserv. Most were interested, and we got hundreds of sign-ups. The listserv has proven to be an important communication tool between me and students who opt-in as wanting to know more about the library, so this raffle had lasting value for both parties (unlike those pens!). I'm taking a personal sales course next semester, so I'm hoping to pick up some more techniques on how to do this right. Thanks again for the tips! I look forward to your future thoughts on this.

Nancy Dowd said...

I think you are right on target with the course, outreach is sales; it is just that our products are free. I’ve seen colleges give away ipods, but the flash drive is a neat idea and affordable.

As public libraries we conduct so many outreach events large and small that the big challenge is to find something that is cheap enough to bring every time we go out. I was talking to a woman from a small town and they have their local businesses provide a small gift basket. It works as a nice cross promotion- but the difficulty for them is to make sure the target audience is one that works for the business so that they see it as a business partnership rather than a donation.

Do you have the students sign up for your listserv at the table? We are playing with the idea of just bringing a laptop and let them sign up directly so we don't have to enter the data ourselves.

Engraved Pens said...

great post! So now that drug companies won’t be handing out those ubiquitous pens and other trinkets to doctors any more, what are they going to do with the leftovers? Turns out getting rid of this stuff is a delicate matter, as we learned from talking with AstraZeneca today.


This “doesn’t mean we’re dumping stuff out there, or filling closets of favorite customers, or selling stuff on eBay,” says AstraZeneca spokeswoman Leslie Pott. “We’re very sensitive to the public perception of these items, and are not looking to flood the market.”


Pott rattled off a list of inventory AstraZeneca has on hand: pens, mugs, notepads, tissue boxes, hand sanitizer, clipboards, exam-room paper, clocks. Many of the items the company handed out “were of practical use,” she explains.

AstraZeneca’s sales reps, who number about 5,200 in the U.S., are not being told to throw away the freebies, Pott says. But they’re not supposed to pile them up in doctors’ supply closets, either. A governance team will meet in a couple of weeks to hash out a trinket-reduction action plan.

It’s not always so easy to give these things away: AstraZeneca recently offered some of its logo-laden clothing and blankets to the Red Cross to help out victims of the floods in the Midwest, Pott says, but the Red Cross didn’t accept the offer. She says the company got the impression the Red Cross just didn’t need the stuff — not that it was turned off by the concept of accepting items that advertised AstraZeneca products.