July 11, 2019

5 lessons learned after winning a levy campaign

Written by:
Mary Altman

Tags: , ,

Running a levy information campaign for a library can be a nerve-wracking learning experience even for the most seasoned marketer. After the ballots are cast and the dust has cleared, you will hopefully find yourself relieved that the public have cast their votes in favor of continued support or (hallelujah!) increased funding.

So, you think it’s safe to turn your attention to everything else that has been sitting on the sidelines for the past several months (queue cynical chuckle here). I am sorry to tell you, but the real work is just beginning. 

When Mid-Continent Public Library won a ten-cent increase in its levy in 2016 for the first time in over 30 years, we knew that communicating how the library was going to spend the public’s money wisely to increase operating hours, grow its collection, expand services, and launch into a multi-year building renovation and construction cycle, was going to be daunting. What we didn’t know was that it was going to become a major project that would call on the resources of the Marketing and Communications team at a much greater level than anyone could have predicted. 

These are the five most important things we have learned over the last year as MCPL renovated the first 14 of 31 buildings:

  1. External communication is important, but internal communication is even more important.
    We learned that the relationships and the flow of communication between the project managers who are communicating with the construction team and our department were of paramount importance. Building trust, and at times demanding information—even if it means texting at odd hours or lurking outside the door of an important meeting—is very important to make sure you are sharing accurate information about building closings and reopenings with your customers.
  2. If there is one thing you can depend on, it is that construction schedules can’t be depended on.
    There is nothing you (or anyone else) can do about the weather, the discovery of dry rot or a compromised roof. Staying flexible and double-checking closing and reopening dates before hitting “print,” “post,” or “send” can be the difference between keeping and losing the trust of customers.
  3. Create a checklist and a template for everything.
    After a couple of trials and errors, we created a standing list of communications tactics, developed formatted language, and designed print and digital materials that we replicate whenever we close or reopen a branch, or plan a rededication ceremony. It can get a little hairy if you are faced with multiple projects happening in different phases at the same time, but these checklists will save your life.
  4. Email is not a thing of the past.
    Prior to our levy campaign, our library didn’t communicate with customers via email except under the most extenuating circumstances. During our levy campaign, we realized that we couldn’t have done without it. Being able to set an email schedule for each branch to inform those specific customers when their branch was closing, where their holds were going to be redirected, when and where their storytimes, book groups, and programs were going to be held, and what branches we recommended they should plan to use instead, was incredibly helpful. In this day and age, we know not everyone is walking into our buildings and seeing the signs we have dutifully made. If your library system doesn’t use email to communicate with customers regularly, have your director call my director.
  5. It is all going to be worth it in the end.
    Seeing the delighted looks on the faces of customers and hearing the glowing compliments made by local officials on the day of our rededication events not just about the improvements to our library buildings but what its staff and services mean to our communities makes it all worthwhile.

We still have several years to go in our renovation process and yet we still have to keep up with Summer Learning Program plans, the launch of a new app, and everything else it takes to effectively market a large library system. Sometimes I wonder—what will we do when we have all of that time back in 2022?

Mary Altman is the Manager of Marketing and Communications at Mid-Continent Public Library. 


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