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Magazines > Marketing Library Services > July/August 2017

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MLS - Marketing Library Services
Vol. 31 No. 4 — July/August 2017
BPL’s Nicole Paterson Puts Strategy Before Tactics
by Judith Gibbons
Nicole Paterson
Name: Nicole Paterson
Title: Manager, Marketing Communications
Library: Burlington Public Library
Location: Burlington, Ontario, Canada
Type: Public system, seven branches
Population Served: 183,314
Twitter: @NPMarcom
Nicole Paterson keeps challenging herself at the Burlington Public Library. She is responsible for coordinating the marketing and communications efforts of the seven-branch library system. Burlington, a suburban Toronto community, was ranked the second-best place to live in Canada by MoneySense magazine in 2016. Far from being an accidental marketer, Paterson continually builds on her formal education and experience to keep the library focused on its core audiences. Tasked with such responsibilities as branding and project management, Paterson concentrates on results using basic marketing principles and innovative tools to propel the library forward.

Nicole, tell us about your educational background.
I’m a broadcasting and journalism graduate from Fanshawe College and have Certificates from the University of Toronto (corporate communications) and Carleton University (public sector & non-profit marketing). I am constantly learning and seeking out opportunities to advance my skills. I try to attend at least one conference each year and take at least one professional-development-focused training course.

What is your marketing background?
Do you have formal training, or are you an accidental marketer?
When I graduated from college, I knew that I wanted to go into marketing communications, and from that day forward I have been working in the field. I started out as a marketing assistant for an insurance company. I am always learning (and still humbled by the skills, passion, and expertise of the people I work with every day). I have been working as a marketing communications professional for more than 15 years, taking on progressively responsible leadership roles in a variety of industries. I’ve also been consulting for small businesses and nonprofit organizations through my own business, NP Communications.

About 10 years ago, I took on a maternity-leave contract role as the marketing, communications, and development manager at Oakville Public Library. I was

always passionate about libraries and literacy, and it seemed a good fit. Since then, there has been no turning back. I’ve been the manager of marketing communications at the Burlington Public Library for almost 9 years.

In addition, I’m one of the founding members of the Marketing Libraries Think Tank annual event and LinkedIn Group, which has more than 7,800 members from all over the world:

Marketers need to stay connected with other marketers. It can sometimes be a lonely existence as a marketing professional in libraries, and having connections both local and online has not only helped and supported me, but has created opportunities for mentoring others, which is so rewarding!  

How large is your department?
I am the manager of a department of five: communications coordinator, marketing coordinator, digital marketing coordinator, and events coordinator. We also regularly have students or volunteers supporting our efforts.

How many staffers are at your library?
220 full- and part-time staff, including library pages.

What percentage of the total organization’s budget is dedicated to marketing?
3.5% of the organization’s budget is dedicated to marketing, and that includes staff costs.

What was your most successful library campaign?

This is a difficult question. After 9 years here at Burlington Public Library, highlights include introducing email marketing, overseeing campaigns for opening new locations, and introducing digital screens to share messages in our buildings.

Most recently, however, I have been most proud of our development, marketing plan, and launch of a report on the economic impact of the library. Many libraries both locally and internationally have presented similar reports. What we did differently in Burlington was to truly consider who the target audience was for this information. We developed our communications and selected channels that were most appropriate for that audience. We crafted our messages to speak to that audience. By doing this, we developed a laser-focused marketing plan that was tremendously effective.

We started out as most libraries do, thinking that everyone in the community would certainly want to know about the economic value the library contributes. But we realized that wasn’t going to work, so we strategized. We decided our municipal council (our main funder) was the primary target for our message, and our secondary target was business leaders and members of our local Chamber of Commerce.

Once we had chosen our audience, it was easier to design our information brochure (, which looks very different than typical library materials. In addition to the print product, we developed a special section of our website to fully explain the process we went through and the formula we used to calculate economic impact ( ic-impact#2016).

We presented our findings to staff members, walked them through the process, and asked them to review the webpage to ensure they were up-to-speed and familiar with the content. We also prepared staffers for customer and community feedback with FAQs and scripts. Finally, we strategically planned and delivered a presentation to our municipal council, and we hosted a cocktail and networking event in the library for the Chamber of Commerce. We received amazing feedback from both presentations. People said things such as, “You’re speaking our language” and “This really means something—the library is making a tremendous impact!”

What was your biggest challenge?
What did you learn from it?
Not every marketing plan, promotion, or communication is meant for everyone. This is hard sometimes for libraries (and management teams) to grasp. We have our best successes when we spend time to consider who our audience is. It’s marketing 101, but it’s also easy to forget when you are overwhelmed with multiple requests for marketing support that are all supposed to target “everyone.” There is no such thing as “marketing to all.” That’s not what marketing is to me—it’s more like spam!

We try to make it easy by sticking to the same process, whether the initiative is a small-scale, branch-specific story time or a systemwide launch of a new service.

1. Set goals/objectives

2. Determine target audience

3. Determine message

4. Select tools and develop creative

5. Implement

6. Measure/evaluate

What technology has helped you reach new audiences?
Email marketing has been incredibly effective. It also allows for targeted marketing, and we’re just digging in deeper and exploring those possibilities now. We’re also testing text program registration. Social media has been developing and growing for us over the last 2 years. We’ve been using Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube since 2009, but when we hired a digital marketing coordinator, we developed more of a strategy, introduced and tested other channels like Instagram, and have really built up our online audience.

What’s unique about the way we use social media at Burlington Public Library may be different than in other organizations. Although our social media is led, managed, monitored, and measured by the marketing communications department, there is a large group of staff that are members of the “social media team.” With representatives from all locations and all library departments, this allows the opportunity for systemwide participation. We empower our staff to post, engage, and connect with our online community. Our marketing plan provides direction, helps us to set themes, and creates guidelines for staff, but they still have the opportunity to share content that is responsive, relevant, and timely.

One other area where technology is helping our department is in customer research and data collection—beyond the typical library statistics. We are fortunate to have partnered with our local municipality, and for the last couple of years we have had access to a community research and analytics tool. This tool uses hundreds of up-to-date data sources to assess households by age, ethnicity, education, and net worth, and create profiles. These profiles reflect many of the big demographic trends shaping the country, such as the rise of the Millennial generation, the aging of the Baby Boomers, and the arrival of new immigrant populations. The group profiles are also linked to values surveys and lifestyle and consumer data to give a more complete picture of what shapes their views, from recreation habits such as yoga, jogging, or watching football to hobbies such as fishing or going to art galleries.

We can gather statistics and create branch profiles about the communities surrounding each of our locations. This will help us better understand the needs of our community and help us better align our program and service offering at each location. We’re integrating information gathered by our community librarians as well, so we’re really getting to know our community so much better. This is a new area of development for us, so we are just starting out. We’ve just hired a new marketing coordinator to focus on this, and we are excited to move forward with more strategic customer segmentation and targeted marketing.  

Discuss some of your productive partnerships.
Our library embraced the “Community-Led” approach about 4 or 5 years ago. The marketing department is now a part of the larger Community Engagement, Marketing and Programming umbrella of our organization. That brings us closer to the community than ever before. That also means stronger relationship-building and partnerships. We have a list of more than 100 community partner organizations. Our strongest partners help us to cooperatively develop programs and services, and most recently, they have helped us design communications. Just this month, we had a wonderful meeting with three different community groups (multicultural/newcomers, mental health, LGTB+ youth) to consult on our library registration form and the registration process. The meeting was extremely productive, and we learned so much—not only about the potential barriers we may have created for those particular audiences, but also how to better communicate with them on an ongoing basis.

What guidance would you give a fledgling marketer?
Reach out: Get connected and ask for help, support, and advice. Even if you are the only person wearing the marketing “hat” in your organization, that doesn’t mean you have to be alone. What I love about working in the library world is that we really don’t compete with each other. It’s not like other industries. Sharing resources and collaborating can really be beneficial.

Stick to the basics: My marketing mantra is “Strategy Before Tactics.” Keep focused using the basic marketing principles. Don’t be afraid to bring it back to asking questions and getting clarification. My favorite question to ask someone who comes to me with a marketing request is this: “What are your goals/objectives for this? What would success look like?”

Judith Gibbons is a library consultant and freelance writer based in Versailles, Ky. She is retired from the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, where she coordinated the public library program. She holds an M.L.S. from the University of Kentucky and a master’s in public administration from Kentucky State University. She has won a John Cotton Dana Library Public Relations Award. Gibbons is now an adjunct faculty member at the University of Kentucky and at Bluegrass Community and Technical College. Her email address is

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