In this episode in our series entitled Advocacy Stories, we discuss messaging, communications plans, and marketing for libraries with the MBLC's Communications Team: Celeste Bruno and Matthew Perry. While we touch upon issues related to library building projects, the tips and tricks our in-house experts share are scalable to any subject pertaining to libraries. It is important to note that when we use the term library in this episode, we mean it as a sum of parts, including the Administration, Staff, Trustees, Friends, and Foundation. It is equally important to know in which advocacy efforts and activities each entity can be involved and to what capacity. If you have questions about advocacy activities and what is allowed and forbidden by the law, we suggest you reach out to the State Ethics Commission and/or the Office of Campaign and Political Finance. If you are outside of Massachusetts, contact your equivalent State agencies.
Andrea Bunker 00:00
Welcome to Building Literacy: Public Library Construction, a podcast for librarians, trustees, and local officials who are exploring or undertaking a renovation, expansion, or new construction project for their library. My name is Andrea Bunker.
Lauren Stara 00:15
And my name is Lauren Stara. And we are the library building specialists who administer the Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program, a multi million dollar grant program run by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, which is the state agency for libraries.
Andrea Bunker 00:34
While this podcast is Massachusetts-focused, stakeholders in library building projects everywhere may find helpful information within these episodes. From fundraising and advocacy campaigns to sustainability and resilience to the planning, design, and construction process, there is something for everyone. If there is a public library building project topic we have not covered but that is of interest to you, please email me at email@example.com
Lauren Stara 01:01
or me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andrea Bunker 01:06
We are tackling the subject of advocacy in a series of short episodes entitled Advocacy Stories. In Massachusetts, our 501(c)(3) organizations such as Friends, Trustees, Foundations, or another entity like a "Yes to our Library" group that files with the state are the advocacy arms of our libraries. Library employees must be very careful not to cross the line between providing nonpartisan information and advocating for their library. If you have questions about advocacy activities and what is allowed and forbidden by the law, we suggest you reach out to the State Ethics Commission and/or the Office of Campaign and Political Finance. If you are outside of Massachusetts, contact your equivalent State agencies. In this episode, we focus on communications and messaging with MBLC's very own Celeste Bruno and Matthew Perry, who form our communications team. We are grateful both for all they do in promoting our programs and projects, such as this podcast, and for their willingness to share their knowledge and expertise with a wider audience. It is important to note that when we use the term library in this episode, we mean it as a sum of parts, including the administration, staff, Trustees, Friends, and Foundation. As mentioned before, it is important to know in which advocacy efforts and activities each entity can be involved and to what capacity. With those disclaimers, let's dive right in.
Matthew Perry 02:31
I'm Matthew Perry. I'm the communication specialist at the Board of Library Commissioners. I've been with the Board for about five years now. And before coming to the Board of Library Commissioners, I worked at the Massachusetts State House as a legislative aide for Representative David Linsky. He represents the fifth Middlesex District, which is Natick, Millis, and Sherborn. So I've experience working with legislators and I know about the legislative process. And I've interacted with a lot of legislators, so I have experience talking to them and knowing what to do when you're approaching them on subjects, especially with libraries now.
Celeste Bruno 03:09
And I'm Celeste Bruno. I'm the communications director at the MBLC. And prior to the MBLC, I did a short stint in international marketing. But I also worked in the state of Florida Department of Health and dealt with issues- everything from SARS to the smallpox vaccine to hurricane recovery. So I did a lot of crisis communication, which surprisingly enough came in handy when I moved back to Massachusetts and started working in libraries.
Andrea Bunker 03:41
So you both have a lot of experience in terms of communication in different settings and settings that are related to what our libraries deal with on a daily basis. And this podcast obviously focuses on library building projects, which messaging and communications are a huge piece of that in terms of getting a local match and having the community understand what's involved in the process, why this process may be needed to help improve their library' physical building, and what these constituents need to know when they're getting ready to vote or contact their legislators and their local officials about their particular project. So that's obviously our wheelhouse here, but I think this podcast episode could not only relate to building projects, but it could have a further reach. So it could be something that any library regardless of whether or not they're undertaking a building project could use to formulate their own communications plan and roadmap. So could we started off talking about what the foundational elements of a communication plan and an advocacy roadmap and/or campaign are? And how do these initiatives and efforts work as parts? And how do they work together as a whole?
Celeste Bruno 05:09
Sure, it's probably best to think about it this way: If someone asked you why we need this new library, what would you say? I mean, there's lots of reasons why a new library will benefit a community, you may not say the same thing to a parent, as you would to a senior or to a young professional or business owner. So essentially, you're targeting your message to who you're speaking with. And you're providing them with the information that they find interesting, and what's valuable to them. And so a campaign is simply doing that on a broader scale. I like to say that any good campaign, anything that you're starting with should start off with a SWOT. Matt and I do them all the time with different initiatives that we're undertaking. Basically, a SWOT is a way that you analyze your strengths, right, your weaknesses, your opportunities, and your threats. And strengths and weaknesses are internal. And opportunities and threats are what we face publicly. So taking some time and going through that is going to help you right out of the gate. So I like to think of campaigns as if they're four big building blocks. Right? So you have monitoring, which is what you do before you do anything else. You have creating messages and materials. You have outreach or launching. And then you have evaluating. And these things are happening constantly. In terms of monitoring building, I like to think of it as sort of the gathering phase. Your SWOT comes into play in this first phase. You're taking a look at what's already out there about the project. You take the temperature in your community. I would say you do this, even before, you're making a public announcement about any kind of attempt at a grant or an application, take the temperature in your community. Look at what you have thinking about what you need, and you're building a team. And I'm gonna say this, right? On your team, there's some key players that you want to have. This is your communications team. Everybody's got full time jobs, so having a team that can help with this process is going to make it easier for everyone. You need someone who can be your spokesperson. And a lot of times, that's the director or the chair of the trustees. Sometimes it's both of them. You need someone who's a really good writer. You need someone who can do graphics. You need someone who can handle your website, and certainly someone who's a social media or blogger. And then you know, I always say you need someone who is a connector. This is someone who knows everything that's going on in your community. So those are some key folks. Then just in terms of the other building blocks. So you're monitoring building, you're gathering your team together, you're seeing what's out there in your community, what the temperature is, what people are saying, and then you are forming your identity and your message. And then you're releasing it to the community, and you're evaluating it. And like I said, you're doing that on a constant basis. And doing that on a constant basis allows you to replace misconception with accurate information. So it's four basic steps, and you continually do them. I do want to say a little bit more about monitoring, because I think it's one of the most important things, it happens constantly. When you're monitoring, you can see who's saying what, where. And that's really important. It allows you to be proactive, rather than reactive. It allows you to help form your message, and choose the best delivery for it. You know, if you're seeing articles in the local press, then you want to make sure you get something in the local press. If you're seeing things on social media, which is you know, where most of, a lot of, the information is these days, then you want to be responding on social media. So it also helps you look at who you might want to have on your team. You know, if you're monitoring your social media, you're gonna see people who are actively talking great about the project or about the library. Those are people you might want to recruit on your team. It also lets you know you can see ahead of time, who is maybe not going to be a big fan of your project. So it's this idea of being proactive rather than reactive.
Andrea Bunker 09:30
In terms of that monitoring and really ensuring that you have your finger on the pulse of what's happening, can you talk a little bit more about how you form a message, and then how you stay on that message?
Celeste Bruno 09:46
There's identity and then there's your message, right? So, identity comes first. You want your project to have an identity. You'll often hear people refer to this as sort of the brand, right? It comes first It's an easy way for people to identify anything they see, whether it's a brochure or a social media post a lawn sign, as belonging to the library project. It keeps consistency across everything. That's important because it lends credibility to what you're putting out there. You are the authority on the project, you're the one who has the authority to speak on this project. In terms of creating identity, there's a few things to think about. And I always think this is really fun to do. Matt and I talk about this all the time. We all know what identity is, right? We all see ads on TV that stick in our head. There's certain things that stick with us, right? And there's what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Nike, what was it 30 years ago, they did just do it? And it's still something that people recognize. And what we like about it is pretty clear. I would say is a few things, right? So when you're creating identity, it's all about them. It's everything that's a benefit to them. I always use this phrase, enough about me, what do you think of me? When you're creating identity, it's all about your audience. It's not about you. And I always say if you get someone's heart, you're gonna get the rest of them. It's why people use puppies, and babies in car commercials, you know, they have a kid sleeping in the back, right? They get our heart, the rest of us will follow. It's an emotional response that we're looking for. We need to make it simple. It needs to be an easy connection for people, like what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas; that's a super easy connection for people to make. You've got to make it quick. Otherwise, you're gonna lose people, and you have to make it yours. It's this idea of what you can own or create around something. Right? So if you think about Volvo, you know, Volvo didn't invent safety, yet. they own it, right? If someone says what's a safe car? It's Volvo, right? I mean, among other cars, but Matt and I were joking the other day, because I said, you know, it's kind of like the Cheetos, that orange stuff that gets on your fingers when you eat the Cheetos. I mean, they made a whole ad campaign about that; they owned it, right? So it's things like that. And that said, it's about all your senses. It's not just a flat identity you're looking for you're looking for what obviously what your brand looks like the colors, the fonts, but it's also you know what it sounds like what it feels like, and you want to repeat it and repeat it and repeat it. And of course you want to test it, see what people think of it before you releasing it in a broader sense.
Andrea Bunker 12:40
Would you say that you shouldn't form your message in a vacuum when you're saying test it out?
Celeste Bruno 12:46
Your identity comes first, right? So you have this identity for your project. And then you can create messaging that supports that. We did it a few years ago with the Legislative Agenda. Every year, the board creates a Legislative Agenda. A few years back, we identified 12 different issues we wanted to address in the Legislative Agenda. Every single one of them had the same look, started with a because statement, there was no mistaking that they belonged to the MBLC Legislative Agenda. They had our logo, they were crystal clear. And they dealt with everything from resource sharing, you know, because he shouldn't be limited by the street he lives on, which was resource sharing. And then we talked about broadband access, high speed internet, because Peru and Florida are in Massachusetts. So they were different messages that all formed part of the Legislative Agenda. And essentially, without the identity to connect them together, there would have been no way that people could have said, "Oh, this is the board's Legislative Agenda." So the identity connects everything together. And you can form different messages with that identity. Take a look at what JetBlue does. I think JetBlue is a really good example of this. The main identity is JetBlue: You Above All, that's their main identity. But then they break it down into more targeted messaging. They do messaging about leg room, they do messaging about traveling with pets, they do messaging about bringing your suitcase, they do messaging about food. So create your identity, and then you have messaging that is connected through that identity.
Andrea Bunker 14:24
When you're testing, are you saying test your identity or test the messages?
Celeste Bruno 14:28
Test both. Your identity, yes. When you're creating your brand, you want to make sure it's something people are going to connect with, so absolutely test that out. And then yes, test your messaging out as well. Even if it's just with a few people in that target, test it out. key things when you are forming your message, key things to keep in mind, are you've got to understand your audiences, and you've got to develop clear, concise, consistent messaging geared to those audiences. Right? So like in the JetBlue example, wow, I'm a pet owner, I really light up when I hear an airline talking to me about traveling with pets. I'm not a huge tall person, so I don't really care about leg room. But when you're talking to me about traveling with pets, yeah, you're talking my language. That's the kind of thing that you want to do with your public as well. As I said, you're providing them with interesting, accurate, and timely information that they find valuable. You should have a call to action in it. And that can be a little tricky with advocacy, but have a call to action. I think a lot of times librarians are reluctant to put that call to action in there. And here's what I'll say about that, if you're reluctant to put the call to action, just leave the verb out. If you're saying learn more, just use "more information, click here," you know, something like that. But part of your responsibility is to provide information about this project. We at the board, I can't do advocacy, Matt can't do advocacy, yet we have responsibility to provide information about our services, about what we do, about how we're funded. And I think, you know, it's the same thing with these library projects. A call to action, your allies can do that, your supporters can do that, if a library can't. And then I think, as you're forming your messages, you're determining what forms of communication are most effective in reaching your audiences. And you need to keep in mind that people are getting information from a lot of different sources. So you've got to meet them where they are. And as I said, just test even if it's a small group, you know, you get some input, and you can readjust.
Andrea Bunker 16:40
How do you figure out which channels to use to share that message? And how do you make sure that that message stands out, and it remains newsworthy in some respect? You know, with advertising for library programs and for projects, there are so many different channels through- we've even heard of some libraries now using tik tok to connect with younger generations- so it seems like there are channels that meet the needs of generational audiences. And some of them still do get the newspapers. How do you do a full on campaign where you are embedded in every single channel that there is available?
Matthew Perry 17:24
I think when you're thinking about your audiences, you need to kind of look at them and determine what's the best place that you can reach them. You need to go to where the audience is, like you were saying. We've heard of libraries using Tik Tok as well. Before that it was Snapchat. Almost every library is on Twitter, and Facebook, but a lot of them are still in the local newspaper. And with all of those different channels, you're hitting different audiences. So you need to break it down by audience. You need to tailor your message to each audience. But then you also don't want to be running different campaigns, we call it an integrated campaign. So you're getting your message across to all these different channels, but you're doing it at the same time. So if you're having a message in the newspaper, you're modifying that message a little bit and putting it on your social media outlets as well, and you're putting it in the pamphlet that's available at the checkout desk. You're trying to create the same kind of message that's going to hit the different audiences and using it at the same time. I think that framing the message is really important.
Andrea Bunker 18:31
There may be a difference in the way that you present your campaign on Instagram, and your messaging on Instagram, then the way that you present it on Facebook or Twitter because of the mode of transmitting information.
Matthew Perry 18:47
That's true. But Instagram is obviously image focused. But if you're using Twitter and Facebook at this point, you need to be using images as well, because that's what stands out to people on those platforms as well. So even though Instagram has some differences, where you can't easily link to things through it, but you're still going to be using the same graphics you're probably going to be using on Twitter and Facebook. Just the caption might be a little bit different to talk to young adults and teens that are using Instagram as opposed to the parents and older crowd that is using Facebook or the millennials that are using Twitter. So that's kind of where the integrated idea comes in. You're tailoring the message, but you're using the same tools to get that message across. So each platform that you use is the tool. What we like to say is that it's this and that and not either or. You're using both Instagram and Twitter, you're not using Instagram or Twitter.
Celeste Bruno 19:49
I couldn't agree more Matt, and, you know, I always joke it's the right tool for the job. And I say this all the time. If I call a plumber and he shows up with a lawnmower. I'm going to be like, what do You're doing right. So it's the right tool for the job. But these days, as Matt is saying, you know, when we're developing any campaign, we know we're going to need social media, we know we're gonna need something that is more print focused- it can be a press release, or something that's more traditional, sometimes it's a blog post- often, perhaps less these days with the pandemic, but you want something that is what we consider like point of contact, right? So something in the library or something for the event that you might be attending. So it's hitting all of those areas. And if you approach it that way from the beginning and have your team assembled, you've got your writer there, you've got your social media person, you have the graphics person who you're looking at to help you develop some of this, then it's going to be an easier lift for you. But you do have to hit all of those areas when you're releasing information, when you're being proactive about what you're putting out to the library community. So you do have to hit all areas. I mean, that's just the nature of how it is these days. And a lot of times people think it makes it harder. We think it makes it easier, right? I mean, because before when you relied on newspapers to publish your story, what if they didn't publish it? Like, what if they didn't find it newsworthy. You know, social media gives you the opportunity to get it out there. And yes, it's different depending on what channel it is, but it gives you the opportunity to get it out there. It does need to go across all channels.
Matthew Perry 21:35
I think there's also different levels to it. You'll catch people with a tweet, and then they'll know about the library project. But from that tweet, you can link to a blog post that gives them even more information about how they might be able to get involved. And from that blog post, you can link to your construction website that has all of the information about the project with the details. So people can decide how much information they want to get now and what their attention span is at that moment. Because if they see the tweet, you're still getting them to know about the project, but then you might be able to get them to click through to this blog post that might get them involved. And from there, it kind of goes on. But you can't expect everybody to want to read all of the different nitty gritty facts about the construction project. I think we're talking specifically about construction projects. And like Celeste said, it's all about the identity and getting the message down to something that's memorable. And then from there, you expand upon it.
Celeste Bruno 22:30
I would say this, too, you also need to think about when we're talking about getting messages to different audiences, a lot of that comes from monitoring, a lot of it comes from, you know, sort of taking a look at your community. But I think you also need to think about who you're not hearing from. Right? So when we're developing messages from different audiences, who's not being included, who are we not hearing from? And how can we bring those people in? I think we need to think about that as well.
Andrea Bunker 22:58
And I do think that oftentimes with our projects, especially through the social media channels, there are groups that are closed, that have sharing of information about the project. I wonder how you suggest libraries and their allies work toward informing that public and correcting inaccuracy isn't the information that they're sharing? Because oftentimes, we do see library building projects fail, because they've been unable to reach these audiences and correct that misinformation that's perpetuated through just people sharing things and people becoming upset about them, but not having the detail and information behind it.
Matthew Perry 23:45
I think that's a really good question. And it's a big concern, not just with libraries and construction projects. I think there's a lot of problems with misinformation, especially on social media and the way that it can run rampant. If that's what people see first, that's what they're going to believe, and they're going to share it, and it's hard to get ahead of it. And so like Celeste said, you really have to monitor, monitor, monitor, monitor what's going on. And there's a couple of tools that you can do this with. Hootsuite is something that we use. It has a free version that you can attach all your social media accounts to and you can specify by topic what you want to look at. So you can see every time you're mentioned on Twitter every time you're mentioned on Facebook and Instagram, and you can organize it by hashtag as well for Twitter, and really get an idea of what people are talking about. You can't see private groups, things like that on Facebook, but it still gives kind of a general idea of what's being talked about in terms of the project. If you don't like Hootsuite, there's also something called TweetDeck. And that's just for Twitter. But same thing you can look at mentions, you can look at hashtags, keywords and watch what the conversation is to try to get out ahead of it. I think that if it happens, and there is incorrect information going around, I think the important thing to know is to not engage directly with the person or group that is putting out the incorrect information. You don't want to turn this into a public argument. You don't want it to be mudslinging. I think that you just need to keep repeating the correct information to your audience and spread it that way. You really want to just push your message, make sure that your message is correct. And I'm trying to think of an example of what has happened with some incorrect information out there. Do you have any that you can think of right now?
Celeste Bruno 25:42
I think one of the things that we know can help mitigate some of this negativity is just arming your allies, you've got to give them the information that they need to help you. And we haven't talked about these, but ideally, you, with your team have created message sheets. So I'm going to say this, you know, this is kind of going out on a limb a little bit. But none of the issues that library construction projects are facing, none of the negative issues are new. We've been doing this for a while, right. So we know there are people who are not going to like the new building, because they think of their taxes, they think it's going to cost too much money. They think it's too big. They're connected to the old library, to the historic library, and they don't want to lose that historic feeling. I mean, those are three biggies that we know are going to be issues for some projects, and there's no reason to be caught flat-footed with those issues, especially if you've done what we talked about in the beginning. If you've done a SWOT, if you've done some monitoring, you're going to get the rumbles of that- it's out there. And even if you haven't, assume that it is out there, because, guess what, it is. In every single community that I think has had a construction project, those have been some major issues. So a way to make sure you're not caught flat-footed, is we create message sheets around big issues. When the issue emerges, it's just a simple matter of saying, okay, here's the talking points on these and distributing them to your allies, to your supporters, so that everybody's saying the same consistent thing about these issues. And, like I said, you do that ahead of time, you get with your team, you say what are the issues that we want to talk about? What are the issues that we don't want to talk about? And what are those talking points that we may need in the event that we start seeing some negativity around these? You've got to be prepared ahead of time. What happens on social media is immediate. And so lag time on your social media is your enemy. You've got to be able to respond quickly and accurately. And having the messaging, having your talking points developed ahead of time around these issues is going to allow you to do that.
Andrea Bunker 27:59
And I think not only when you're talking about the renovation of a historic building, or whatever it might be, also the funding structure. That is one that comes up a lot. How is this being funded, how is that going to impact us in terms of taxes and tax burden, and debt service. And I may have done something wrong with my project because I didn't have anybody who was willing to monitor social media, so I was that person as the director. But I was very careful to not cross the line and only provide facts and information. I remember one person was really upset because they saw an aerial photo of the library and they said, "They put solar panels on top of this historic library!" And I had to correct them and say, "No, those are actually skylights that have been there since 1879." One thing that has stuck with me in reading about elections and campaigns and the 24 hour news cycle, is that people get hooked when the emotion of anger is stirred up within them. And oftentimes I think on these closed groups, that shared anger or that outrage about how could they allow this to happen? Or how could they raise our taxes this way? It seems to hook people in, and then they seem less likely to hear the actual facts. And maybe I'm getting way off topic here. But how do you stay on message and try to get that message across to those who are just outraged or incensed or engaging in this way?
Matthew Perry 29:41
I think that's a good point. I think people do feed off of anger and do that. But I think that the other thing is people on social media will also get really excited about things. And when there's really good news, I think that you also have that same kind of effect. And I think that construction projects have the opportunity to do this. I think that one of the big things is the tools that I mentioned before, especially Hootsuite, the other thing you can do with them to schedule tweets and Facebook posts and Instagram posts. You can schedule your social media through this. But one of the best things you can do is decide on, out ahead of time, what you want to be saying on all of these channels and schedule it ahead. So you know that you're going to be having consistent posts with your information and your message going out. And you can go in and adjust or add more posts as needed. But you're going to make sure that once a day, people are going to be seeing, or you hope they're going to be seeing, a post that is about this project that has correct information that's positive, that will get people excited about the project. I think that's really helpful to look at a calendar and you can even theme different weeks, like this week, we're going to be talking about the new children's room because our library doesn't currently have enough space for a children's room. So we're gonna do that this week. And next week, we'll talk about the teen space, and the next week, you know, the new makerspace is going to be in. So kind of taking a calendar, looking at it, writing on it, and determining what your different messages for different weeks is going to be. You just want to be posting consistently and adding to it when you need to to kind of combat the negative and incorrect information posts that are going to be going on. You need to kind of expect them, but you can't let it rattle you, I think is the biggest thing.
Celeste Bruno 31:27
Absolutely. I think the biggest lesson is don't get defensive. And as Matt saying having a posting schedule, a consistent posting schedule where you're constantly releasing information. I mean, it's like the ABCs- always be creating content, getting it out there. When there's an information vacuum, people are gonna say whatever they want to say, You're the authority. Consistency, scheduling, that's all gonna help be proactive. But I will say this, you have to make it super easy for people to find you online. I mean sometimes with building projects, finding out information about what's happening with the library outside of social media can be difficult. So make sure it's easy for people to find out information about your project online. They shouldn't have to search for it. Remember to put hashtags on all of your promotional items, and don't make it a mystery hashtag. Make it one that makes sense for your project. Maybe it's the library's name and construction at the end. When it comes to a negative comment on social media, and negativity on social media, the first thing you have to do I mean, I think Indra, you used a great example, right? It's emotional when you see it, you just have to make sure you understand what the person is saying. And remember that a negative comment is an opportunity, right? It's an opportunity just like you did to answer a question and to give them accurate information about the project. But as Matt said, you've got to be monitoring your social media. If it's negativity, if it's a negative news article, or something of that nature, get in touch and correct those factual errors. That's important to do. And I think a lot of librarians have good relationships with their local media. It's even more important to have a good relationship with local reporters when you have a project. You want to make sure that they know that you are a good source for whatever they're covering about the library project. So if there's been maybe an article that was factually incorrect, contact them and let them know, in a nice way. If there was an article that was, perhaps you viewed it as overly biased, I don't think reporters are necessarily going to do a correction for that. But it gives you the opportunity to help them see perhaps a different point of view about the project. And it positions you as someone who they're going to want to get in touch with the next time they're doing a story on the project. You can always issue a statement, issue a public response, if it's something that necessitates that, and you can put that out on your social media. You don't have to wait for the news cycle. But however you're responding, just make sure you're not being defensive. You can use it as an opportunity to highlight some of the positives of the project. Those are things to think about.
Lauren Stara 34:18
Can I go back to something that was said a little while ago? Celeste, you said something about deciding what you want to talk about and deciding what you don't want to talk about. Can you clarify? You know, we as librarians just want to give everything. We want to provide all the information. So how would you decide what aspects of a project you don't want to talk about and how to frame that, so it doesn't prompt people to ask questions you don't want to answer?
Celeste Bruno 34:49
They're going to ask questions you don't want to answer. That's why you create message sheets. When I worked in Florida, I did a lot of crisis communication around hurricanes, around the small pox vaccine, SARS, it was a lot of issues. And so one of the tools we used were message sheets. And it's, here's the topic, both good and bad topics, and here's the key things we want to make sure people understand about this. So as we said, before, you know that there's going to be certain issues come up for almost every project, right? So know that. If you've been monitoring, you're already going to hear some rumblings about what people may not like about your project. It's easy to talk about the fun stuff and the great stuff. Still make message sheets for those, because you want everyone who is a library supporter, everyone who's talking about the library to be saying consistent messages across the board. It's even more important when it's a topic you don't want to talk about. So creating those talking points, like I said, and when that negative article or comment appears, you can arm your allies, you can say, okay, guys, here's what we need to be saying. Your allies are on social media, too. Your allies are out in the community as well. So if you're able to arm them quickly and accurately, you're mitigating the situation. And that's exactly what you want to be able to do. People are going to ask questions that you don't necessarily want to answer. And having a message sheet gives you a way to answer those questions. But let's say if you're talking to a reporter, or you know somebody in your community, just because they're asking you something about a topic that you don't want to talk about, doesn't mean you have to just talk about that, right? People use it all the time, they're bridging back to the message, bridging back to something that they want to speak about. All you have to do is turn on the news these days, you see it all the time. It's everything from a phrase that brings you back around to what you want to talk about, like, "Hey, this is what's really important here is that there's going to be more computers for the public to use." I can remember when our state aid programs back in, I think the 2009 2010 right around there, when there was huge budget cuts happening, and libraries were having a really hard time staying in the state aid program. And it was not my favorite thing to talk about. And yet I was getting calls from reporters left and right about library funding. How can we do this when it's such a crisis for libraries, and- not my favorite thing to talk about. And I just made sure that I had specific things that I was talking about. I would talk about the strengths of the state aid program, and why it's important for people to stay certified. But what I really wanted to showcase was, yes, we're in an economic downturn, people are turning to libraries in record numbers. We're seeing double digits in usage and visits. And it was huge what we were seeing in libraries. I responded with what I had to say about state aid, but then talked about what I wanted to talk about in terms of library usage. And I worked with a really good reporter from the Globe, and it turned into a front page story for us, which was great. But that's the kind of thing that librarians can do. Yes, you're going to be asked about things you don't want to be talking about. Be prepared, and then know things that you do want to talk about, and bridge back to those.
Andrea Bunker 38:25
And that helps keep the message positive, too. From that example, es[ecially. I was wondering if we could focus in on the allies for a second. So in my building project, we had decided to undertake a new strategic plan while the library building project was moving forward, so it was before we were going to actually be housed within the new building. And from that strategic planning process, we were able to cultivate a group of residents who became known as our library ambassadors. And their role was to reach communities within the community that they were a part of.- it was a very diverse group, diverse ages, diverse backgrounds, diverse professions- and help amplify whatever message there was coming from the library within those communities that we might not be able to reach. So I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about the key steps in building allies, because there is so much to monitor, and it is so difficult to do if you're one person. So you really do need those allies helping you with that messaging.
Celeste Bruno 39:38
Yeah, I mean, I think Andrea, the example you gave is perfect. Right? Every project needs its supporters needs its allies, people who are willing to go to bat and, as you said, amplify your message. I think it helps to think about who you need as an ally. And again, I mean, I keep kind of going back to this, but monitoring helps you know who you need as an ally. It may help you even bring in someone who is maybe someone who's going to be an obstacle to a project. You may be able to bring them in, if you're doing monitoring. But you need to think about who you need as an ally, it is in the initial planning stages. I would say you need to think about who you need as an ally, it can be a person, it can be a community group, a company. And one thing to think about, libraries all have these initial planning stages and are doing some sort of needs assessment. And I would say this, whose voices are you listening to? Are their people the library isn't reaching and why? And that can be the start of building an ally group that truly represents the entire community, when people see that the library is going to address some of their needs, that they are actually included in the project and that they've been listened to, they'll be an ally. It's all about relationships. So thinking about how you build and maintain good relationships. We all know, you can ignore a friend for months on end, and then ask them for a favor. With legislators or local officials, don't just get in touch with them when you need funding.
Matthew Perry 41:10
Well, that's what you said about listening to communities and seeing who the library isn't getting to. I think that an important tool to use, which is hard right now, is to have community meetings before and to explain the project to people. And I think people who might be on the fence will learn more about it, and I think that you can have people sign up to help at the end of it. That's been used for years for different types of projects. But I think just getting out into the community, going to different parts of your community, different neighborhoods, to hold different meetings and talk to people is a great way to recruit people in as well. It's hitting the ground and seeing who's out there. You might be able to reach people who have never used the library before, but they hear about this new building, and they're excited and they want to help you out. I guess you can do it with zoom right now, so it's not as hard as I, yeah, it's not as hard. It might be easier now.
Celeste Bruno 42:03
I think it could be. Having those zoom sessions- if you are able to do zoom session- having those with your community like scheduling those. Like you were talking about with social media is, you know, this week, we're going to talk about the children's programming, this week, we're going to talk about technology. Scheduling those or just having it be just informational sessions that you hold can be a great way to reach the community, reach a lot of community members. And sort of, or you have a town meeting, get a sense of what people, what your community is feeling. With legislators, though, it's important to have them as your allies, whether they be your state legislators or your local officials, it's really important to bring them in as allies and reach out to them. That's something that you should be doing all along. It's not something you should wait for a library project to happen to get them to be involved. You should be building a relationship with them all along, just like you should be building relationships with your local media as well. So legislators, invite them in. When we can safely return, invite them in, give them a role in an event, provide them with updates and information that they'll find useful about the project. We do it with our legislators, we give them information about what's happening with state aid, what's happening with construction, and what's happening with our statewide Wi Fi, and it's information they find helpful, and then they release it a lot of times to local media. So it's important to cultivate relationships with them and have them be your allies. They're a little bit different, obviously, than what you were talking about Andrea, with your supporters, but still keep them in your loop. And I would say part of working with allies is making them feel a little bit special, too, right? Are there insider moments for your allies, right? Do they get to see something before someone else does? Did they get to participate in something? So it's kind of the small gestures that help keep them plugged in to the project and make them feel valued, too.
Andrea Bunker 43:59
I think you touched upon one of the other questions that we have, which is what do you wish library building project stakeholders knew about working with state and municipal officials, and I don't know if you want to add anything to that.
Matthew Perry 44:10
I'll talk about state officials because that's where my experience is, but I think the biggest thing is to not be afraid of them, not be intimidated by them, because they are representing you and representing your community. And, ultimately, this is something that makes them look good. If they have a construction project and can bring a new library to their community, that is something that they're going to want to talk and talk and talk about. So they're going to be on your side. The funding for the MPLCP is approved by the legislature so they're already supporting it because they've already voted to approve it. The biggest thing though, like for instance, I grew up in Northbridge, Massachusetts, which is a small town on the Rhode Island border. And the state senate district that I grew up in stretches from Southbridge and Webster on the west all the way to Bellingham and Milford on the east side of it. And so most of the legislators in the state have big districts, and they might not know the particularities about your community. And so you need to educate them on it. You need to tell them, what's going on with the project, what the rumblings of negativity are, what the politics of the town are, because they might not have their finger on the pulse of your community, even though they represent it at the statehouse. Bring them up to speed, count them in and treat them like they're an ally before you even meet with them. And don't be intimidated by them. Call their office, look for meeting with them. I know when I worked for Rep. Linsky, that was the beginning of the Sherborn Library project, and I sat in on a meeting they asked him, can you please come to the Sherborn town meeting and speak on behalf of the project, because people are going to recognize you as the state rep, they're going to trust you, and if we can get your support, we think that will really put this project over the top. So make asks like that. If you need someone to go and speak at the town meeting or speak at a town event, ask them to do that, and give them the information that they need to do that. And they'll, of course, always go to the groundbreakings and the openings, because that's their time to shine. So make them work for that time when they're going to be in the spotlight.
Andrea Bunker 46:20
I think that's valuable information. And I think it can be intimidating when you haven't interacted with officials on that level. I think it's a little bit different with municipal officials, because they're part of your every day when you're working in a library. But at the state level, it feels different, for whatever reason. And I know that Celeste what you had mentioned before about making sure that you're constantly giving them information on the municipal and state level, not only when times are bad,and you need something, but when times are good, and you want to share the positive aspects of what the library is doing within the community. And so I've heard you mention before that advocacy is not a linear process. And I didn't know if you wanted to add anything more to that statement, and discuss what it actually looks like in reality.
Celeste Bruno 47:18
Matt and I say this all the time, you're not one and done, right? It's not like, Oh, we wrote this press release, or we did some social media, so now we're done. It's cyclical, it is happening all the time. You know, you'll hear people say you're never not marketing. You're never not marketing. It is happening all the time. And I think part of what you need to think about is librarians know when they're going to be working up toward putting in an application toward a building project. And you've got to think about what you're doing even before that, right? So your construction project is newsworthy. It is going to make news. So even before that, think about ways that you are showing the library in a positive light. Tthink about ways that you're connecting to things that are beyond the library to show the value of the library, even leading up to this. I always say it's going to make your lift a lot lighter, right? You're not going to have to convince someone of the value of the library, because you've been doing it all along. Now, you've just got to say to them, okay, I need you to support the project. It's gonna be a lot easier. If they already see the value in the library. For library supporters? Sure, they're gonna see that. But you need to connect to something outside of the library in order for some others to see it. When we're talking about news things and things like that, I always say it's what I call breaking out of the library silo, right? So you want to connect to something that's outside of the library. And libraries are uniquely positioned because they can connect to anything. But what libraries do touches just about every aspect of life, right? So it should be pretty easy for us to do. And it can be anything from something that's happening in the current news, like, for example, people are talking a lot about the digital divide now and the the education gap. I mean, we can address those. Libraries can address those. And we're not talking about the construction project there, we're talking about the value that libraries bring to helping to solve those issues and the support that libraries can give for a community. You can connect to an anniversary, you can connect to killer facts about, for example, early literacy. You know, we were talking a lot about how heavily libraries are used, and we decided we needed to switch it up a little bit, because it can sound like a bunch of big numbers that you know, people will tune out. So we took a little bit of a different approach, and we compared our statewide library visits to the busiest tourist destinations on Earth, right? We did Disney Vegas, the Eiffel Tower, and, of course, our yearly visits were more. We posted it on social media, and it just spread like wildfire. I mean, we had I think it was 30,000 shares like that. I mean, it was really fun. And then people asked for it in poster form, and it was great. And it was a really simple thing for us to do. And it was easy for people to understand. We get more people in the library than you get in Vegas, that's pretty amazing. Connecting to something like that. It doesn't have to be a long drawn out thing. It's easy for people to understand that. And I still laugh because a few years actually, it's been probably a decade now, we compared our annual visits. It was when all of our sports teams like the Celtics, the Patriots, everybody was winning their championships. So we were like, okay, let's compare, let's see who's got more. And again, we compared our annual visitors to libraries with game attendance of our major sports teams. I came up with the line that more people visit Massachusetts libraries each year than attend entire seasons of the Patriots, Celtics, Bruins, Red Sox combined. Now it cracks me up, because that was probably a decade ago, and I still hear that line. It was clearly something people were amazed by it. I mean, I gotta say, when I put it together, I thought it was pretty good, too. But here it is something that connects outside of what is typically library, people identify with it, even non library users. Yeah, it cracks me up, I'll be in an event, and I'll hear that, and I'll think, "Wow!" So making sure that you're doing that sort of thing ahead of time, you know, well ahead of time. And I think libraries are used to using social media as a way to announce events. And they can use social media as a way to educate. I mean, if your local paper isn't really publishing a lot about the value of your library, start creating a blog. Blogs are searchable online, so that you are getting information out well ahead of time about the value of the library apart from the construction project. It really helps break out of that library silo that we can find ourselves in. We know that we can connect to so many things in our community. And they're simple, easy connections, right? So just start making them, and start putting it out there. And start well ahead of your construction project raising the value of your library. I mean, we try to do that on a statewide level We just created our legislative agenda, and we looked at it through the eyes of local and state officials who are trying to solve a lot of problems now. And we recognized we can help with that- we can help with the access to digital resources, we can help with closing an education gap, we can help with some of the isolation and loneliness that people are feeling. It's just important to be able to take a look even well ahead of your project and start raising the value of the library in the eyes of your community. It's going to make- when your project hits the ground and is ready to go and you're ready to launch that campaign- it's going to make your work a lot easier.
Andrea Bunker 52:56
We've gone through our entire list of questions, but I didn't know if there was anything else that you think is important for library directors, trustees, friends groups, foundations, administration, stakeholders, if there's anything else that they should know about communications and marketing and advocacy.
Matthew Perry 53:17
One thing I had written down, which we didn't talk about and kind of fits in- back when we were talking about messaging and social media- is library construction projects are a great opportunity to check your library's social media policy and getting staff on the same page as far as social media posts go. Because that's really important that nobody's going rogue and doing their own messaging or going after people who are saying negative things about the project. You want to make sure everybody's on the same page and having a social media policy where you can write down the expectations of people's personal social media as part of your organization, which is very common. There's examples of them online, it's a great way to set expectations and keep not only your allies but also the staff members of the library who have a stake in the project and should also be on message with everything that's going on.
Celeste Bruno 54:16
And I would say this, it's all about connecting people to accurate information, to your information, right? So our goal is to make sure that everyone, or as many people as possible, have accurate information about the project. You want informed voters. That doesn't mean everyone will vote in your favor, but your job is to make sure that everyone has the accurate information. And I think that's what librarians are good at. That's what they're really good at. I always think of few projects that I think did it really well. And you know, West Tisbury comes to mind. I mean, every step of the way they were providing information in as many people as possible and bringing people in and answering questions. And it sounds like a lot. But it's a lot easier than trying to stem the tide of inaccurate information, negativity. You know, being consistent, being proactive monitoring, bringing people in, that's all of what you're going to be doing, and it's all what librarians are really good at.
Matthew Perry 55:25
One of my favorite things that a library has done to get their message out is Salisbury did a billboard on 95. And I think that's a great way to hit a lot of different people- some of them not necessarily from your town, some of them might be from New Hampshire. But you're getting your message across in a really big way, and I think a really unexpected way. People don't expect to see billboards from libraries. And a lot of companies like that that own billboards have to do so many public service announcements a year. So that's a fun opportunity. Same with radio stations and TV stations, they have a quota for how many public service announcements that they have to do. So if there's a local radio station, there's ways to get to people through those kinds of channels, local access. Think of all the different media out there and try to use it if you can, really get creative. I get really excited, and I think that stuff is really fun, so I hope that other people will, too. No bad ideas and brainstorming.
Andrea Bunker 56:21
I think that's an important messagee, because we know that our libraries have had to be creative in terms of offering services to patrons during the pandemic. And that just should not be for services and programs, it should really be about all aspects of the library, including their messaging and communications and advocacy.
Celeste Bruno 56:39
And I would say, too, you have to have a good team around you. It's not the library director going it alone. You need a good team around you, so make sure you're building that team, make sure you have a great communications team. Communication is going to be the key to the success of your project, getting information out, accurate information out. So make sure you build that communications team and understand that nobody's perfect, right? I mean, I think sometimes we worry so much about is this going to be the right thing? Do the best you can. The worst thing you can do is not to be active, not to be getting out there. I think if you follow some of the things that we've talked about today, you're going to be fine. And certainly folks can always reach out to me and Matt if they have questions about things or just need to run something by us. We're here. We've been through a few of these projects, and we see how they roll and you know, anything we can do to help, we will certainly help.
Andrea Bunker 57:37
And I like that idea of trying whatever you think may work. And even if it fails, that's a learning opportunity for you and your communications team. These projects are often years in the making, and so it's lots of opportunities for successes and failures and retooling your approach in communicating with and advocating for the building project within your community.
Celeste Bruno 58:02
I think that's a really good point, Andrea. That's why I always say it's not a linear process, right? You're not just monitoring once, you're doing it all the time. You're not just creating a single set of, you know, materials and outreach, you're you're constantly doing that. You're constantly evaluating and readjusting. Nobody hits the home run. I mean, it would be great if we did, right? But nobody hits the home run and runs the bases and is done in one of these. You're on the long haul here, and you're going to be going through these steps over and over again. And there's plenty of time, plenty of things that we've tried that haven't worked, and you readjust, and you move on. And that's really important for people to do. And again, if you have a really good team around you, you support each other and you're communicating back and forth on a regular consistent basis, you'll be alright.
Matthew Perry 58:56
I think that's a really important point that it's going to be a longterm project and to really plan for that. Plan out as far ahead as you can with different aspects of what you want to do within the communications plan. And once you find a message that works, don't be afraid to keep using it over and over again, because even if it was on social media, and you got a lot of shares, a lot of people still didn't see it. So once you find that message, don't be afraid to use it a lot, kind of exhaust it before you move on to a new message.
Celeste Bruno 59:27
I think that's such an important point, Matt. We talked about before now about library usage. I mean, we put that everywhere, everywhere. And we repeated it and repeated it. I mean, you know, we had the article in the Globe. We were putting it into our legislative agenda. We were putting it into our press releases. We were putting it out on social media. We just kept doing it in different ways. I mean we actually did a video about it right and then we did the poster. You can repeat it and repeat it on different platforms in different ways. And I don't think you can say it enough. I think that's a really good point.
Andrea Bunker 1:00:00
I think you've provided so much food for thought f or our libraries' building project stakeholders. And we cannot thank you enough for your time and your expertise. And we're just so fortunate at the Board of Library Commissioners that we have both Celeste and Matt as our communications team, because we always know whatever is going to come out from our agency is going to be top notch. And so we're really fortunate. We hope that you're able to use these tips and tricks and best practices within your own advocacy campaigns. And if you do have questions, please feel free to reach out to us. You will see our email addresses in the transcript for any questions or comments or suggestions for future topics for podcast episodes. Thank you both, Celeste and Matt! This has been wonderful.
Matthew Perry 1:00:54
Thank you so much for having us on. This was a great conversation. And please do not hesitate to contact us.
Celeste Bruno 1:01:00
Agreed. This has been a lot of fun. Matt and I love talking about this. So if you get in touch, don't hesitate, because this is what we do, and we love to talk about it.
Andrea Bunker 1:01:09
Thank you both, again, so much. And thank you to our listeners for tuning in. Join us next time as we explore another facet of public library building projects. Until then, we hope you all remain safe and well.