How to win a John Cotton Dana Award in seven strategic steps

We just learned that our library was one of eight libraries to win a $10,000 John Cotton Dana Award. We are thrilled! Thanks American Library Association and EBSCO!

Our winning entry was for our Banned Books Week 2012 campaign; Lawrence Public Library in Kansas also won for their beautiful and inspired Banned Books Week 2012 campaign. We’re in great company together with the other winners.

Packaging the pitch

I wrote and packaged the winning entry together with the help of our design team. Recently, I was re-reading and reflecting on the process. Since we all like to share, here are some tips for libraries who may consider entering their marketing, public relations or other communications work next year.

Seven strategic steps to winning the John Cotton Dana Award

1.  Staff your library with creative people who get excited about stuff.

These strategic steps aren’t just about marketing, they’re about organizational cooperation. Our banned books week campaign began when two coworkers and friends, Kristen Thorp and Michele Wyngard, decided to go for the Judith F. Krug Memorial Fund Grant via the Freedom to Read Foundation. When they were awarded the $1,000 grant they got stuff started.

How? By contacting the design team, led by web designer Conny Liegl.

2. Hire students who have ideas.

Conny works with a team of four to five students at a time. They are amazing designers and developers and they know what’s up. If you’re working at a university library, your students keep you clued in big time. Which isn’t to say that as staff and faculty we’re clueless, it’s just to say that we need them. They need us, too. Through projects like these, students build impressive portfolios and real-world work experience. Big bonus: being a mentor.

3. Manage, don’t micromanage.

This is especially true for the design process, but really, everyone needs some latitude to shine. If people have ownership of their ideas and vision, lovely things happen.

4. Be empathetic.

So, you want to get the word out? To who? Where are they? What are they doing? I’ve written about empathy for the busy before. Think not of yourselves, but of your audience. We came up with so many ways to reach people: in the library and online, on campus, in print, in person, via podcast and video… ways that were visually and thematically related (including killer interactive infographics).

5. Focus your vision.

1980s glam rock held this campaign together. “I’m with the banned” was a play on words that inspired, as just one example, the back of the popular t-shirt. One hundred banned books were listed like cities on a band’s tour.

At one meeting, a gorgeous but unrelated design was presented for the print campaign. It was a departure from our established vision so although it was great, it was scrapped.

6. Execute beautifully.

I can’t say enough about how you deliver your message – in terms of design, beauty, ease – it says so much about you. It also captures people’s hearts and interest, as the success of the Lawrence Public Library’s Banned Books Trading Card project shows.

7. Frame your thinking.

In the heat of planning programs and communication, it’s easy to let the details take over. The details are what gets it done. But in the planning stages and then at the reflection (or award application) stages, it’s important to get galactic.

What was the thinking behind the big idea? What was tough about implementing it? What did you accomplish without even realizing it? How do you measure success? Successful programs are a combination of vision and execution. Successful writing is a combination of clarity and clarity.

And an honorary 8) Celebrate! It’s too easy to move on to the next thing before taking some time to bask in an accomplishment.

So much to show and tell

To learn more about I’m with the Banned and how we framed it (“eight integrated features of the celebration”) for the John Cotton Dana Award, visit Kennedy Library. You can also read Kennedy Library Out Loud, where I wrote a celebratory and summarizing post for our community.

If you have specific questions, let me know and I’m happy to address them. See you in Chicago!

Image by Fiona Fung (Cal Poly, graphic communication, 2013).


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