Welcome to the first episode of Library Figures. In each episode, we’ll interview a new guest and hear about one of their favorite marketing strategies. You’ll learn about the best practices, the things to avoid, the tools, and the impact each marketing campaign generated. It’s our goal that you leave each episode with enough information to implement the strategy for your library. In this debut episode, we’ll be speaking to one of our favorite library marketers, Angela Hursh. She’ll be sharing with us how she increased event attendance by almost 3,000 people per month.
“We had 32,000 attend programs this year in the month of June, and we had 29,348 last year.”
Angela left a career in the TV news business five years ago to accept her dream job as Content Team Leader for the Marketing Department at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. In a very short period, she’s made a major impact on the library industry. We know Angela as a thought-leader who’s continually finding new ways to engage her community. If you haven’t seen it, we encourage you to check out her blog, Super Library Marketing. It’s a fantastic resource for any librarian interested in marketing and engagement.
It’s with great pleasure that we that we introduce you to episode 001 of Library Figures with Angela Hursh.
Read the Episode Below
[00:00:32] Tyler Byrd:
Hey all, welcome to Library Figures episode one. I’m really excited to have you here today. And thank you for giving us your time and listening. For this first episode, I wanted to make sure that we brought on a guest and had an interview that I knew was going to drive a ton of value for all of our listeners, current and future. And so after a ton of research and a ton of thought, we invited Angela Hursh with Cincinnati Public Library to join us. Now, for those of you who have not met Angela, which there might still be a couple, Angela has 23 years of broadcast experiencing working for public television stations in marketing or in different roles.
In the last five years, she’s been working with the Cincinnati Public Library as the head of their content creation team within the marketing department. You might also recognize her name because outside of speaking at a number of library events, she also has founded and edits the Super Library Marketing blog, which most people in this space have seen or come across at some point.
I can you tell that I personally read a number of her blog posts over the years, and I think she’s doing a tremendous job when it comes to creating value, and getting outside the box, and pushing limits, and bringing new perspectives into the industry and the space. For that reason, we asked her to be our first guest, and I’m excited to introduce you to this first episode of Library Figures with Angela Hursh. So, thank you for joining us. And without further ado, let’s jump in. So, Angela, what is your primary marketing goal for this year?
[00:02:10] Angela Hursh:
Well, Tyler, our goal in terms of event marketing is of course to increase attendance at our programs. Our library and probably most public libraries around the country have…has really struggled to get bodies into the building for events and programs over the past couple years. It’s not a surprising thing, given that you can get a lot of items from our collection online, so you don’t actually have to come into a library anymore to check things out. And I think we were getting a lot of program and event traffic just from people who walked in to check out a book or browse the collection and noticed that we had an event or program happening in the library. So, they’re not doing that anymore. They’re checking things out online. We have a lot of convenience services.
And a lot of libraries around the country have those as well where you can come to a drive through and pick up your items. You can have your items delivered to your home. So, we’re just in general not getting people into the library as often as we did in the past. The other thing that I think we face…the struggle we face is that there are a lot of community groups out there doing the kinds of programs that libraries have traditionally done. There are a lot of cities and towns in the US that have great recreation centers and schools doing more community outreach.
And that’s great. That’s great for those communities, but it kind of cuts into the market that public libraries had previously had a corner on in terms of events. And then the third struggle that we faced is that people are just getting busier. Their lives are busier. So, we really are competing with a lot of things to get bodies into the door. And that was a thing that our director and our board of trustees really wanted to do to get people to remember to come back into the physical library.
[00:03:58] Tyler Byrd:
So, that’s interesting. I actually hear that same thing a lot from a lot of different organizations right now. And it seems like that also kind of takes affect when you look at registrations for programs and events, that those tend to be very last minute based on schedules and other information or someone deciding to attend. So, knowing that, how are you going to kind of approach that? What’s your thought process on how you’ve tackled that and dealt with it to get increased participation?
[00:04:25] Angela Hursh:
I would tell you that we’re still in the process of tackling it. But one of the things that we have been trying to do this year, in particular, is to change the mindset of the librarians in our system. And that’s an ongoing process. We have a great staff. Many of them have been here for years, and years, and years. And they’ve been doing things the same way for a long time. So, I think it takes a little while to reeducate people about changing demographics and changing schedules with our cardholders and our customers. But one of the things that we’ve been emphasizing is forgetting about this… We have this incessant need to do a certain number of programs every year or week. Some of these quotas at some library systems are implemented by administration.
And some of them are just implemented by staff where they just think if we’re not doing five programs a week, we’re doing something wrong. And so they are themselves implementing in their mind we have to do a certain number of programs. And our marketing department, and, for us, our regional managers, have been really great about trying to reeducate our staff about the kinds of programs. So, focusing more on the content rather than the number of programs, which means we’re doing less programs. But we’re seeing increases in attendance because the quality of those programs is improving. If you’re not doing as many programs, and you have a certain budget for programming, you’re going to be able to spend more money on those programs.
You’ll be able to do things that are of better quality. You’re going to be able to bring in presenters who cost a little bit more because you’re not spreading your budget out over a bunch of different programs. And that has really… We’re starting to see results from that kind of strategy in terms of programming. And then also just encouraging them to really pay attention to what it is that cardholders in their community need in terms of programs. A lot of times, librarians will put on a program because it’s something that they’re interested in, and it sounds cool and fun. It’s a craft. It’s a science experiment.
It’s an author that they bring in that they think is great. But they’re in a community in which that author, or craft, or event might not really resonate with the people who are living there. For our system in particular, we have 41 locations across Hamilton County, Ohio. And each of those locations, the demographics are completely different. And the neighborhood is different. The residents need things. So, we’ve just really tried to emphasize to the librarians to pay attention to the people in your community and what they need from you.
[00:07:09] Tyler Byrd:
That’s so interesting because also, I look at our local library here, and there are so many events and at every single branch. There’s just a ton of them. And I constantly can’t help but think, “How do you effectively market when you have that many different events?” So, shrinking them down… It seems like it’s more than just being able to pay for better speakers, you actually get more time to put into the planning, and the outreach, and the promotion of the event as well, which I would hope leads to better engagement. Is that something you’ve seen?
[00:07:40] Angela Hursh:
Yes, exactly. And the other thing that we started doing is we were almost like short order cooks here in the marketing department. So, any time a librarian or a department came to us and said, “We have a program. We want you to market it,” we always said, “Yes, of course. Okay.” And within the last 12 to 18 months, we’ve kind of been pushing back a little bit and evaluating each program based on, “Do we really think that this is something that is unique to this community? Is it something we really can market? Can we create great demographics? Can we say something in email or in an article for a local community paper or our own content marketing magazine…can we say something that’s interesting and engaging about this program?”
The only exception to this is story times. Storytimes are in demand across our county without fail at every branch. So, I don’t even really have to market story times anymore, which is something we were doing in the beginning. I stopped marketing them because I don’t really need to. And we haven’t seen any decrease in the amount of attendance at story times. But other programs, we’re being in our marketing…we’re being more picky about which ones we market and which ones we don’t. Which then, in turn, forces the librarians as they’re doing their planning for the year to pick things that they think we’re going to want to market.
[00:09:02] Tyler Byrd:
I love it. It kind of reinforces that mindset change you were talking about earlier. How long have you been actually using this strategy?
[00:09:09] Angela Hursh:
Honestly only about a year. For the first couple of years that I worked here at the library, our focus was on increasing circulation, which we were able to do. And once we reached that goal, and it… Honestly, we don’t really have to… We do collection marketing and circulation marketing, but it’s kind of on autopilot at this point. Then we turned our focus on how do we increase program attendance. We also about a year and a half ago started really seeing that dip in the attendance…in the numbers of people actually coming into the branch to do some things. So, as soon as our senior leadership identified that as a thing that they wanted to work on, we started to think about how we were going to make that goal a reality.
[00:09:52] Tyler Byrd:
Okay. So, is there a specific metric that you’re tracking then when it comes to determining what success looks like?
[00:09:58] Angela Hursh:
Well, that’s a fun question because I’m a little bit hampered. At least in my library system, because we don’t really have the ability to track who is coming to the program. And that is not the case for all libraries across the country. But in my system, we don’t require people to show us their card when they come into a program. Many libraries across the country do. And if you don’t have a card, they just mark you as a non cardholder guest, which is great.
But when you scan someone’s card as they come to a program, what that does is it allows you to be able to track what is it that this person is interested in, and then to be able to market to them programs of a similar nature that they might be interested in. Unfortunately, I don’t have that ability. So, I’m still stuck in an era of emailing the libraries after the program and just asking them for attendance numbers. Some of them are great about asking their attendees, “Where did you hear about this?” And so I get a little bit of subjective information about, “Did they see it on social media? Did they hear it in an email? Did they see it on a poster?” So, I can dig a little deeper into that, but it’s not anything that I would put into a report or point to in terms of real analyzable data, unfortunately. So, right now, I’m just tracking plain, old attendance numbers.
[00:11:20] Tyler Byrd:
So, how do the attendance numbers look now that you shrunk up the number of programs that you’re offering? Do you see that those are going up?
[00:11:50] Angela Hursh:
Yes. As a matter of fact. So, I was looking at our statistical report for June, which is the latest amount of data that we had. And we did about 1,300 programs in June, which is about a seven percent decrease over the same number last year. And we saw an increase in the number of attendees by about one percent, which doesn’t sound like a bunch. But if you look at the raw numbers… We had 32,000 attend programs this year in the month of June, and we had 29,348 last year. So, it’s just in the library world, fortunately, we don’t have to be held to the same standards as a company where we have private profit, and shareholders, and that kind of stuff. So, a 3,000-person increase over 41 branches in a month is great. I’m good with that.
[00:12:47] Tyler Byrd: Yeah. [Chuckles] I’m good with that, too.
[00:12:48] Angela Hursh:
And if that continues to… I know. If that continues through the year, we’re in real good shape. So, yeah. And it’s a slow process. Not every branch in our system has really latched onto the idea of having fewer programs and doing more quality. But I think as some of the branches begin to talk to each other about the success, then that message is going to spread, and we’re going to see even better results. Because everyone is going to adopt it eventually.
Nobody wants to be the branch that still has program attendance that’s falling. And they are all very competitive with each other. We have very specific statistical reports that everybody looks at every month. And I’ve been in manager meetings where they talk about which branch has the biggest attendance program and which branch has the largest circulation. And they’re very competitive. So, I don’t even have to really play that competitive off with each other, but they do. And it works for me. [Laughs]
[00:13:42] Tyler Byrd:
No, this is awesome. First, I think people get stuck a lot of times on percentages, and sometimes you have an organization that doesn’t have a really large cardholdership or large engagement numbers. And they’ll come out and say, “Hey, we’ve had 200% increase in the last month.” And in reality, they went from 20 to 60 people. And you’re like, “Okay, that’s good.” And then the flipside of that is the one percent, at first, you’re kind of like, “Oh, one percent isn’t a lot.” But 3,000 people is a ton of people to increase. That’s a big win in my book.
[00:14:15] Angela Hursh: Yeah, same here. I believe the same thing.
[00:14:17] Tyler Byrd:
And that, you think, is pretty much driven because of the lower number of events, and the fact that you’re able to bring in better speakers, and that you have more time to promote those fewer events. 1,300 events is still a ton of events. Did I hear that right? 1,300 in June?
[00:14:34] Angela Hursh:
Yes. And now that includes all of our story times. And we’re in the middle of summer reading, which is a time in which we also do things like… We have free camps at our branches, so those are included in our programming numbers. And the librarians do a little more in terms of programs during the months of June and July because the audience is there. Kids are not in school. Parents are looking for things to do with their kids. So, the numbers in June and July are a little elevated. So, in that instance, like you were talking about percentages, I do look at percentages for summer to try to compare them with the rest of the year.
But yeah, we’re still… I just remember last year, summer reading program, I felt like all I did every year was promote programs, and we didn’t see any increase in the number of attendance. Or if we did, it was so minute that I don’t even remember it. It didn’t stick in my brain. So, this year, cutting down on the number of programs… Even though 3,000 is a lot to do in a month, you’re talking 3,000 over 41 locations across the county. And that includes all of the story times. We probably have on any given day in the system five to ten story times happening at branches across our system.
[00:15:48] Tyler Byrd: Oh, wow.
[00:15:49] Angela Hursh: Yeah. But they’re popular, and that’s the most popular program.
[00:15:49] Tyler Byrd:
Yeah, that makes sense. Especially in summertime. So, when you’re looking at kind of your success so far, do you have thoughts on how you’re going to improve that further? Or do you continue to decrease the number of events? Or bring in better paid speakers even more so? What’s that look like?
[00:16:10] Angela Hursh:
Yeah, so part of the thing that we talked about when we started this push to increase the quality of programs and decrease the number is that as we began to see results, we might be able to start actually using those results to get more funding, to get more money, to bring in better speakers. It kind of snowballs on itself. And we think that we’ll be able to point to the branches that are not really following along with the decrease…the philosophy to decrease the number of programs, and we’ll be able to say to them, “Okay, we have some data. We know you were skeptical.
Here’s what’s happening at another branch of the same size or similar size to you. This is what they did. Here are the results.” And now we’ll be able to convince them to get on board with the thought process. And I just think it’s going to get better and better as we go along. Maybe next summer… We’ve had a really amazing summer actually. We have six days left in our summer adventure program. It’s a branded summer reading, so we call it summer adventure. And we’ve had a record number of registrations, a record number of check-in’s.
So, we have cardholders come in and check in every week that they’ve done their reading. They can also go to programs at the library to get credit to earn prices for summer adventure. And all of those things are just starting to build on one another for great success. And I just think once we have the data at the end of the summer, and we can show everybody, “This is what we did. And this is what happened,” we’ll have more people who are on board with that philosophy next year.
[00:17:48] Tyler Byrd:
Is there a target number of events in your mind that you’re kind of thinking, “Hey, if I get to a thousand events, I think that’s kind of the best place for us to be,” as far as time and resources spent versus engagement levels?
No. That might be one of the big differences between a profit company and a library. Public libraries tend to be more mindful of reaching the needs of cardholders and not so much on ROI. See, it’s kind of a holistic feel. So, we want people to come to programs, but we also want them to use their cards after they’re done with the program. So, we’re trying to form a relationship with them so that they come to the library for not just programs but for research, to get a passport, all of those things. It’s kind of an ongoing relationship.
So, for us, it’s great to get people in seats and a certain number of people in a certain number of programs. But at the end of the day, what it’s really about is, “Did we create a relationship with those cardholders where they come to us for all of their problems, and all of their questions, and all of their needs? Or are they just coming in on a one-off situation and then leaving?” I don’t want people to just come in once and then not ever return to the library. Or come back once every three months.
I want to create a situation where they feel welcome in the library that’s in their community, and they feel like they can come to us for a whole host of services. I don’t know if that makes any sense whatsoever. But it’s a more holistic approach, I think, than most companies have. So, we don’t really have any… We don’t have a number that we shoot for. We shoot for more of can we get people to be engaged with their neighborhood library.
[00:19:32] Tyler Byrd:
Okay, I totally get that. And I like that approach. If I could roll us back a little bit, I’m curious about something you said earlier when you were talking about changing the mindset. You said how a lot of times, they’re looking at what events they would like and what they would be interested in versus what is it that the community is going to be interested in. So, how do you get them to now pick events that they think the community is interested in? How do they make that decision?
[00:19:59] Angela Hursh:
So, we’ve been telling them honestly just to talk to their cardholders and to ask them. I think that also talking to each other and talking about…talking to other libraries of a similar size in the system, “What are you doing that is resonating with your cardholders?” And then replicating that. There might be a tendency… And I don’t think this is unique to libraries. But we don’t ever want to be seen as copying other people’s success. We all want to create our own success and have our own creative projects. And I think that in the library world, we would do better to copy the success of other branches and other libraries that are doing things that are clearly engaging the cardholder.
So, we’ve just been telling the librarians, “Hey, talk to your people. Look at what they’re checking out. Look at the areas of the branch where they congregate.” I can give you an example of this. For a while there, we were doing a ton of programs with people on intro to social media, intro to computer tech. Well, we’re now in 2018, and most people know how to use social media, and they know how to install Microsoft Office on their computer, and how to use Word, and how to use Excel even. We’ve kind of as a society gotten past the point of needing those introductory services. And on social media, we started talking to our cardholders like, “What are your favorite parts of our linda.com database?”
I don’t know if this is the case where all of your readers, and viewers, and listeners are, but where we live, you can use your card to get courses from linda.com. And we were asking the users of linda.com, “So what are your favorite courses on here?” And then showing those results to librarians and trying to create programs around those different courses that people were looking at and were really interested in. So, I think it’s just trying to keep librarians aware of the changes in society, the changes in technology, making sure they’re connected to pop culture, making sure that they’re talking to their cardholders as they come in about what it is that they want and then serving those needs.
[00:22:16] Tyler Byrd:
Makes total sense. So, then is there anything that you would do differently when you’re looking at what you’ve been able to accomplish so far and the path that you’ve taken to kind of get this increased engagement? Is there anything you would have tweaked if you could go back in time, that you would have done a little bit different?
[00:22:30] Angela Hursh:
I really wish we could scan people’s cards when they come into the branch. [Laughs] And the other thing I’d love to do is more surveys of cardholders. In the past, we’ve been hesitant to after a program…to ask cardholders in any formal way, even if it’s just a three-question survey, “What was it about this program that you liked? What would you want us to do differently? What kind of programs do you want to see at this library?” I would love to do that, and we’ve been kind of hesitant to do that as an industry. I don’t know if you’re aware, but there is a lot of protection by librarians for the privacy of the cardholders that come into the branch.
So, they don’t even want us to track… We actually don’t track what specific books people check out. When I look at metrics about what my cardholders are going with their cards, I can see if they like a certain format like eBooks or print books, or if they like to use our digital services, but I can’t actually see what they check out. And that kind of privacy has sort of translated into the programming world. So, librarians sometimes are hesitant to ask cardholders, “What is it that you liked about this program, and what more would you want out of a program at your branch,” on a survey that would have their name or their cardholder number on it because they don’t want anyone to track it.
So, I would love to be able to do that. I would like librarians to just kind of realize that most people are used to sharing information about themselves in order to get something back from marketers. Like better coupon offers or that kind of thing. And to just kind of relax a little bit about the privacy stuff. I get why they do it, and I respect that they are incredibly protective of their cardholders. But I just want to ask three questions, guys. Just three.
[00:24:22] Tyler Byrd:
It’d be interesting to see the data that comes from that and how you would be able to leverage that to kind of get better engagement over time and see better results from that. I do think it’s worth a try. Just see what happens, and then you can decide after the fact based on the data, right?
[00:24:38] Angela Hursh:
I think we’re moving in that direction slowly. The one thing I’ve learned from working in libraries is that things usually take five years to get done. We’re behind most other industries by a couple of years. So, it’s been a great test of patience for me. And the other lovely thing about being behind other industries is that you get to watch them fail, and then you don’t replicate their failures. You replicate their successes. So, we’re watching other industries doing more surveys of their customers and seeing where they have successes and failures in those surveys. And then we can replicate it as we move into that space.
[00:25:14] Tyler Byrd:
I love that philosophy. There’s a great book by the CEO of Umpqua Bank. And I talk about it all the time. That he looks at that when he basically built the bank. And he said, “Hey, when I decided to take over this bank and become CEO, I didn’t go to Bank of America. I didn’t go to Chase. I didn’t go to Washington Mutual to figure out how to design a bank branch and how to design a brand and experience. I went to Starbucks, and I went to Abercrombie and Fitch. And I went to the local retail store, the bakery. And I figured out how are they creating an experience people want to be in. And I look outside of my industry to figure out how to get better, not inside.” And it’s so interesting, because you look at his results, and they’re remarkable. It’s pretty cool.
[00:25:59] Angela Hursh:
Yeah. And a lot of libraries are getting into customer experience, too, so that makes sense to me. We have a new customer experience officer at our branch, and a lot of library departments around the…or library systems around the country are starting to hire customer experience. And I think that will end up also being apart of reshaping and looking at program and event stuff in a new way.
[00:26:24] Tyler Byrd:
Yeah. So, Angela, if people who are listening wanted to get ahold of you and ask you a couple more questions, how would they do that?
[00:26:30] Angela Hursh:
Sure. I have a blog, and it’s called superlibrarymarketing.com. And there’s a contact button on that if they want to do that. Or I’m on Twitter, and my handle is webmastergirl. And I’m on there most of the day. And I will respond to questions pretty quickly. [Laughs]
[00:26:50] Tyler Byrd:
Perfect. Perfect. That’s actually how I found you was your blog, which is totally awesome. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should check it out. There’s a lot of great information there. And a lot of stuff that you have there is about email marketing, to I’m looking forward to talking to you about that on a future podcast.
[00:27:04] Angela Hursh: Me, too. I love email marketing, so I’m looking forward to that, too. Thank you, Tyler.
[00:27:09] Tyler Byrd: Cool. Thank you. Well, all right. We’ll wrap it up with that, and we’ll talk to everyone next time. Thank you.
[00:27:16] Tyler Byrd
All right, before we head all, just a couple more quick things. If you know somebody that you think would be a great guest on this podcast, and you’d like to hear us interview them, I’d love the opportunity. Send me their name and their contact information at email@example.com. That’s firstname.lastname@example.org. And I’ll do the hard work of reaching out and getting them scheduled so that all of our listeners will have the opportunity to learn more from them about the great marketing strategies that they might be using. We’re constantly looking for new guests and great guests on the show, and I would really appreciate the opportunity to meet with your connections and get them up here to learn more.
Second, if you’re enjoying the podcast episodes and so far you like what you hear on Library Figures and the content, head over to iTunes. You can subscribe to the podcast to get future episodes. And while you’re there, if you could give us a five-start rating, that’d go a long way in letting us know that you like the content, and you like the show, and we should continue doing it. All right, until next time, all. I look forward to being on the air again and the next great interview we’ll have up. Take care. We’ll see you next time.