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Magazines > Marketing Library Services > July/August 2023

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MLS - Marketing Library Services
Vol. 37 No. 4 — Jul/Aug 2023
Christina Sacco’s Spending = Growth at Chattanooga PL
by Judith Gibbons
Christina Sacco
Name: Christina Sacco
Current Title: Director of Marketing and Communications
Library: Chattanooga Public Library
Location: Chattanooga, Tenn.
Type: Public
Population Served: 182,110
Email: cpsacco@chattanooga.gov
Website: chattlibrary.org
Facebook: facebook.com/chattlibrary
Twitter: @chattlibrary

The Chattanooga Public Library (CPL) had an idea so big that it garnered both of the biggest awards in our field—a John Cotton Dana Library Public Relations Award and an IFLA/PressReader International Marketing Award. As in the Ben Affleck/Matt Damon film Air, CPL’s then public relations director, Christina Sacco, jumped at the chance to spend everything on one major marketing push. She went all in with targeted TV ads, online messages, and billboards to bring Chattanoogans into their libraries.

Christina, tell us about your educational background.

I grew up in Pensacola, Fla., and my education began at the West Florida Public Library. In fact, my first interaction with publicity started there: At the age of 6, I was leaving a Friends of the Library sale with a stack of books on my head, and a newspaper photographer asked me to pose for a photo and tell him why I loved the library. Of course, as many of us storytellers do, I asked my mom about this moment to see if she remembered and possibly had a clipping from that paper. Turns out, my mom said the photo was never printed, even though “the photographer promised!” I guess I was always meant to take over library marketing. If you want your story told, you have to do it yourself!

Being a writer was one of my earliest aspirations, so when college time came, I majored in English at the University of Florida and completed my B.A. at the University of West Florida (UWF). I fell in love with that English department, so I remained there for my M.A. I had aspirations of going on to my Ph.D. and becoming a professor, but life does not always go as planned. Sometimes, you just have to see where it leads.

What is your marketing background? Do you have formal training, or are you an accidental marketer?

I entered the marketing field with some intention but no formal training. After completing my master’s, I moved to Atlanta. There, I found a job in publishing, thanks to experience I’d gained editing UWF’s creative writing journals in exchange for an hourly wage and tuition stipends.

I enjoyed working in publishing, and I loved the company, Strafford Publications. Management even allowed me to continue working remotely after I relocated to Chattanooga, Tenn., a nearby city that I had fallen in love with. When Strafford began phasing out publications, I decided to take my chances freelancing. I wanted to keep working as a writer and editor, so I took on contract work in just about every area you can think of: nonprofit blog posts, SEO content, satire articles, press kits for musicians, press releases, advertising copy, music reviews, and more.

If you have ever freelanced, you know that the lean times can be very lean. Eventually, I took a full-time position as a marketing coordinator for an environmentally friendly construction materials company. In less than a year, I became its content manager, overseeing copywriting on all web, print, and internal materials. After a couple of years, I accepted a position as senior communications specialist for one of the biggest trucking companies in the country. In that role, I found what I truly love to do: develop and launch strategic campaigns using multiple advertising platforms.

When the Chattanooga Public Library came calling, I jumped at the opportunity to become its public relations coordinator, even at a significant pay cut. In less than 4 years, I have found success, job satisfaction, and a true family among these librarians. And I am proud to say that, as of July 1, 2023, I will take on the title of director of library marketing and communications.

How large is your department?

Our public relations department is made up of two people: a multimedia assistant and me. Until recently, I oversaw all strategy, communications, press, and social media; the assistant managed our branding, art design, and website design.

My recent title change to director of library marketing and communications came about in a slightly unique way. After exceeding my yearly benchmarks for 4 years and having no position above me to get promoted to, I decided to petition the city for a job title change due to my role being outside the scope of my current job description. It took nearly a year, but it finally happened. With the title change, my department will be able to add another person to our team. While the budget is not there at this time, I think the move was worth making so that we can plan to expand and further develop our marketing strategies.

How many staffers are at your library?

We currently have 74 employees throughout our five-branch system.

What percentage of the total organizational budget is dedicated to marketing?

Our marketing budget is less than 1% of our total organizational budget. Out of roughly $7.6 million, we receive $25,000. The first year the library was able to designate this money was 2019, and we invested the entire amount in high-quality creative that we could use over a series of years.

What was your most successful library campaign?

Our most successful campaign was the first one we ever did—Here We Grow. The campaign launched in February 2021 with cable and network commercials, billboards, and digital ads. After running for a 5-month period, we saw the following year-over-year results: new library cards increased by 143%, unique website visitors increased by 31%, and expired-account renewals increased by 202.5%. The success of this campaign led to CPL winning a 2022 John Cotton Dana Award and taking third place in the IFLA/PressReader International Marketing Awards.

Furthermore, we got a lot of mileage out of this campaign. When we started working with the creative agency Humanaut, I insisted that we receive the master files as part of our contract. This was key to running an updated version of the Here We Grow campaign in May 2022. The second campaign built upon the success of our first one, gaining us an additional 39% increase in website visitors, 21% increase in new cards, and 37% increase in expired-account renewals.

This year, we are exploring radio more in depth and are focusing on some unique print campaigns with building banners and custom coasters. Once we have explored these options, our department will be in good shape to create an ongoing marketing strategy that can be employed year after year.

What was your biggest challenge? What did you learn from it?

The biggest challenge was obviously our budget. I wanted to spend the entirety of our July 2019–June 2020 budget on the services of creative agency Humanaut, and it took a lot to convince our board of directors that we needed to spend all of our marketing budget without doing any advertising that year.

We were successful, however, because of the time and effort put into our research and marketing pitch, which pointed out that high-quality creative can be used more than once. Thus, we were able to spend the money over 2019–2020 for creative and then launch our campaign the following fiscal year, over 2020–2021. We followed that year with another campaign over 2021–2022 that led to the Here We Grow 2022 campaign previously mentioned.

In addition to the two commercials we were able to create from the initial spend with Humanaut, we also received a number of high-resolution photos and video stills that we are using now and can continue using for years.

What technology has helped you reach new audiences?

When it comes to people who never use libraries, you really have to employ non-library advertising outlets. Commercials on free streaming apps and traditional radio have been the most impactful for us in terms of bringing in new patrons. I have also enjoyed the advanced reporting that mainstream advertising outlets are offering now, such as custom APIs that can tell you how many hits your website gets during the first 5–10 minutes after your ad airs.

I also have found library-specific email marketing to be extremely effective at reaching existing audiences with longer messaging than a traditional commercial. We use Patron Point, which helps us create detailed, segmented lists for emailing general monthly newsletters, targeting specific users based on reading preferences or geographic locations, and for sending out surveys to get feedback. Using these newsletters on a monthly basis has increased programming attendance, website traffic, community feedback, and calls and emails asking for more information.

How do you think library marketing will be affected long-term by COVID-19?

I think you can see similar impacts from COVID-19 in many areas of a library. Whether you moved to an online library card application, created video programming for YouTube, or used digital marketing to advertise a new program, we all began meeting today’s consumers where they are. We got outside our buildings and found new ways to deliver services and messaging directly to our patrons, in a way very similar to how retailers market themselves.

Discuss some of your productive partnerships.

The best partnerships are always mutually beneficial. Community partners reap just as many benefits as you from doing effective and frequent messaging. And if you each have your own unique customers, the more benefits both organizations will see.

While you can certainly find partners that completely align with your library’s mission—educational or child care partners, for example—you get much more out of partnering with nontraditional groups. Our programs are sponsored by organizations like Thompson Engineering and CHI Memorial Hospital. We sometimes bring in experts from organizations like Rhyme N Chatt spoken word poetry and the Hunter Museum of American Art, and we even take programs to local bars. When we interact with these partners on social media, we are not just doubling our overall audience reach, we are also engaging with non-users who were not aware of our services and programs before the partnership enabled us to reach them.

What guidance would you give a fledgling marketer?

Whether you have been in marketing for 40 years or 4 days, there are two things I believe everyone should do on a regular basis: research and test. The worst thing you can do for yourself and your career is to never learn new things. Find marketers who inspire you, and keep up with their work. Pay attention to who is winning awards, and not just in your field, but everywhere. Campaigns are successful not because of what they are selling but because the design and message resonate. Then, you have to test it all out, all the time. An easy way to start testing is to set up an A/B campaign for your email newsletter. Try different email subject lines, different colored headers, or even different messaging. Find out whether you have better results running a commercial on local networks or cable channels. There are so many things to explore and try.

Finally, the most important thing a fledging marketer can do above all else: Be confident in yourself. The most important brand you will ever represent is yourself.

Judith Gibbons is a librarian 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 School of Information Science and has won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Kentucky Library Association and the Mary Utopia Rothrock Award from the Southeastern Library Association. Her email address is judithanngibbons@gmail.com.
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