Reverse the public perception that libraries are dinosaurs in a rapidly evolving information society;
Attract kids to a cool new Web portal;
Convince parents that it’s a safe place for kids to surf; and
Successfully compete for news coverage in the wake of September 11.
With these objectives in mind, Capital Strategies developed a plan to launch StartSquad.org, a kids’ Web portal developed by NC school and public librarians. A limited budget ruled out TV or radio ads, so we concentrated on equipping librarians with skills and promotional tools, and coordinated a statewide media event. From October 31 to December 31, StartSquad.org attracted 117,849 page views. Both the site and the Library have received national attention.
Based on research, the State Library of North Carolina determined that NC libraries needed to reposition themselves to compete in today’s new technology environment. Capital Strategies was engaged to develop libraries’ space in the marketplace.
Growing out of an ongoing campaign that libraries are the very best place to start, our strategy was to arm librarians with the powerful tools and know-how to publicize their services locally.
In 2001, we embarked on a new facet of the campaign, and the strategy was aimed at emphasizing librarians’ expertise not only with books but also with online resources through the promotion of StartSquad.org. This is a kids’ Web portal with more than 200 links to Web sites approved by North Carolina librarians. Two key components of our strategy were: 1) to persuade kids that StartSquad.org is a cool and preferred Web portal to use when they need expert help; and 2) to encourage librarians to promote the Web portal and their own local libraries.
The StartSquad.org launch date originally set for late September proved problematic in the aftershock of September 11. Capital Strategies coordinated a new launch set for November 1.
Prior research (focus groups with kids done as part of positioning) uncovered a valuable point of view: Most parents assume that Internet access at libraries is probably safe. They welcome guidance from librarians about good Web choices for their children. This research among parents supported earlier findings that validated our positioning with kids and teens.
Armed with this research and information gained by our two years working with the State Library, Capital Strategies and the State Library portal team developed four objectives for the launch of StartSquad.org:
Encourage children from preschool to middle school to visit StartSquad.org for expert help with homework and for fun;
Assure parents that children can use the Internet safely via age-appropriate paths;
Ensure that children across the state have universal access to the “best of the best” resources on the Internet; and
Raise awareness through media coverage in communities across North Carolina that libraries are The Very Best Place to Start to connect children and teens with learning and discovery.
Capital Strategies’ strategic approach for promoting StartSquad.org and getting the word out about the “coolest new place” on the Web involved media relations, collateral materials, a librarians’ portal launch promotion kit and a speaking tour. We created an exciting launch and – more importantly – an ongoing statewide approach to reach kids and their parents.
To ensure wide coverage of the State Library’s message, we developed a media relations plan that involved contacting local, state and regional contacts, developing media kits and coordinating a statewide news conference for the November 1 portal launch.
To promote awareness of StartSquad.org among all North Carolina children and parents, Capital Strategies designed and produced a wide variety of promotional material featuring Start Squad characters for librarians to display in their libraries and distribute to children.
To raise awareness that libraries are The Very Best Place to Start for expert help, we equipped librarians with a portal launch kit (online and hard copy) to promote StartSquad.org and themselves in their communities.
To ensure that all communities in North Carolina are aware of StartSquad.org and understand how libraries connect children and teens with learning and discovery, we organized a statewide speaking tour for first lady Mary Easley.
In addition to StartSquad.org, we produced a bi-monthly newsletter called Starting Point; conducted four statewide demonstration projects with selected NC libraries on how to strengthen their positioning in their communities; and designed a Spanish-English poster — all aimed at raising awareness and reinforcing the message that libraries are The Very Best Place to Start.
Capital Strategies designed promotional items featuring kid-friendly illustrations of the Start Squad in action. These pieces have helped librarians create excitement about the kids’ portal in their libraries and communities. Each item serves as a reminder to North Carolina parents and children that the library is The Very Best Place to Start whether online or on site.
Librarians order their promotional materials online, and continue to distribute and display posters, trading cards and stickers.
We used the kid-friendly graphics of the portal and featured the Start Squad team in a variety of captivating settings: exploring underwater in outer space, a cave. We also featured the portal Web address on every item. We named the Start Squad members and created personalities for each of them that kids could relate to.
Among the items we created are:
- Mousepad – An obvious tie-in with the Web site and a great giveaway
- Screen saver – A mini-film that runs on library computers to attract kids
- Poster – Libraries can customize it with their local information and post in the library or in the community
- Trading cards – These cards feature the different members of the Start Squad. When you collect a set of four, they form a larger picture of the team
- Display card – This piece works as an in-house ad positioned in the children’s section or on computers
- Bookmark – A great reminder about the portal at the checkout desk, then again at home
- Sticker – Kids love ’em!
North Carolina First Lady Mary Easley was the best choice to serve as The Very Best Place to Start spokesperson because she is well-known and liked in North Carolina. She is active in several initiatives targeting children and is able to travel extensively throughout North Carolina.
Mary Easley, wife of Governor Michael Easley and the State Library’s Very Best Place To Start campaign spokesperson, unveiled StartSquad.org at the event where several Wiley Elementary School children served as guides to the Web portal. First Lady Mary Easley continues to raise awareness of StartSquad.org and all the great things libraries are doing with news events being held across the state. These ongoing events remind children that the library is accessible anywhere in North Carolina whether online or on site.
Capital Strategies met with children of different ages from Wiley International Elementary Magnet School to serve as StartSquad.org guides. We developed a media list that targeted local, state and national publications and television stations. We also faxed a media advisory and made follow-up calls to media outlets to pitch the November 1 news conference for coverage. We developed a media kit containing an agenda, biographies, a fact sheet, photo caption, a news release, mousepad and bookmark.
Librarians wear many hats, and some have already put on the PR hat, while others are learning quickly. One of our goals is to equip librarians with PR skills that they can use in the future. So we created a portal launch promotion kit to assist local librarians in championing StartSquad.org as The Very Best Place to Start for expert help for kids.
The portal launch promotion kit included:
- Introduction sheet – An explanation of the tools in the kit
- Key messages – Five messages to use when talking to groups and the media
- 10 tips to promote StartSquad.org – Some practical ideas on how to promote the Web portal in the library and community
- Fact sheet – Background information about StartSquad.org
- Descriptions of the promotional materials –This information gave the librarians basic facts on the materials as well as ideas for using them
- Template news release – A release that can be customized and sent to local media
- List of the portal committee – A list of members of the library community involved in creating the portal
In addition, the children who served as guides were encouraged to write reviews for a local kids’ magazine called Kidsville News.
The news conference featuring the launch of StartSquad.org generated local, regional and national coverage for the portal and for local libraries.
Eleven North Carolina news stations aired stories that reached more than 432,700 viewers. Twenty-six publications with a total circulation of more than 2.2 million published articles about the Web portal. Ten Web sites have links to StartSquad.org, including USA Today. BigChalk.com has named StartSquad.org one of the “Bigchalk Best” sites based on its rich content and academic excellence. Media clips continue to be generated.
From October 31 to December 31, StartSquad.org has attracted 117,849 page views. In addition, the children who served as guides rated StartSquad.org as a 10 (the best), and said that it is a cool Web portal with fun things to do.