Promoting Programs

U.S. 1 cover 2007_2

Image courtesy of U.S. 1

Q: Do you have any suggestions for promoting programs on a small budget?

Sure! I’ll start with the obvious ones first, and then move on to the not-so-typical. These days, the go-to promotional mechanism is online media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs, etc. Lower tech options are to make door signs, or put out a stack of flyers so people can grab one and stick it on their fridge. Once, for a major event at a children’s museum, I took over an entire bulletin board, adding updates to it in creative ways. I would see families stop by during visits to see what was new.

E-mail notifications are also a great ways to get the word out. We run our e-notification list through a University listserv service, but you can use the Contact Group mechanism in Microsoft Outlook (go to Contacts tab > New Contact Group):

outlook contact group screen grabI believe Google has some Group Mail options too. One very, very important thing to remember when sending group mailings? Only insert the e-mail addresses in the bcc (otherwise known as the “blind copy”) field! Otherwise, everyone on the list is going to see the addresses, which leads to privacy issues.

Press releases to local newspapers (and online news sources) are also a great way to get the word out. Here are my 4 rules for press releases:

  1. Keep it short.
  2. Include your contact information in the release.
  3. In the subject line of the e-mail, include the date the program is happening. This helps the editor file it more effectively, increasing your chances of having it run.
  4. Send the release at least 3 weeks in advance. Newspapers have crazy publishing schedules. Give them time to put your press release in place.

But my BIG hint when it comes to press releases is to include a promo photo. Most newspaper calendar listings include a smattering of photos. Nab one of those photo spots! Your promo photo does not have to be elaborate. Here, for example, is the photo for a 2007 Harry Potter event.

princyclopedia harry potter promo photoThat’s a donated graduation robe, a witch hat from the Dollar Store, and some goop I bought from a gumball machine for 50 cents. The photo ended up running in 5 local publications. How about this one for a 2011 Lightning Thief event?

princyclopedia lightning thief promo photoI’m wearing a bed sheet tacked together with hot glue, an old curtain, some costume jewelry, and a fake ponytail I bought on Amazon (which made a comeback for my Victorian Tea costume, woot woot!). That’s a paper puzzle of the Empire State Building. Oh, and I’m 6 months pregnant.

If you don’t feel like being the subject in the photo, you can always ask your co-worker, significant other, relative, or neighbor to pose. Here’s my student assistant Katie McGee in 2009. Isn’t she an amazing Alice?

princeton packet princyclopedia alice in wonderland photo by Mark Czajkowski

Courtesy of the Princeton Packet, photo by Mark Czajkowski

You can ask kids to pose too (with parental permission of course). This lad is gearing up for A Day in Digitopolis, our massive math event, which you can read about here and here. If you do photograph kids, be prepared to take lots of photos very quickly. Kids can get wiggly, distracted, bored, or suddenly shy. Also, the fewer props kids have to handle, the better.

a day in digitopolis promo photoYou can also use objects for your promo photos. When we did a Richard Scarry creative car-building program in 2015 (read about it here), I couldn’t use an image from his books, nor could I pose a person as a car. So I sculpted Mr. Frumble’s pickle car out of an oatmeal container:

cars and trucks promo photoIt took some time to make (especially that fedora) but it paid off! The photo ran in quite a few places, including a highly visible pop-up box in Town Topics, one of our local papers.

Town Topics, February 25 2015 edition

Mr. Frumble enjoyed an encore performance when we took the program to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art (you can read about that here). His final destination? Jeanne Birdsall’s studio in Northampton. I am pickle green with envy because he’s totally going to get to read the final Penderwicks book before I do. Lucky pig. Jeanne sent me this shot of Mr. Frumble happily zipping along under blue skies and puffy clouds.

mr. frumble in northampton

Photo by Jeanne Birdsall

By the way, the goat on the left is from Jarrett Krosoczka’s picture book, Punk Farm. It’s hand-painted by Jarrett himself (and as a quick aside, check out this fantastic timeline of his childhood artwork – wish I had saved mine!).

You don’t have to spend hours hand-crafting an object for a promo photo. Here, for example, is a photo for our annual 350 for 50 writing contest. I borrowed a typewriter from a colleague, put it against a red background, and voila! A lovely, bold photo.

350 for 50 typewriter pop

If you do send a promo photo to a newspaper, make sure the photo is high resolution (300 or higher). Anything lower will blur when they print it, and they won’t use it. If you’re taking the photo with your phone and it only captures images at 72, that’s OK. Just leave the image as large as possible. My phone shoots in 72 and the resulting image is 34″ x 45.” The newspapers can shrink a large, low resolution file down and still print it. But 300 is really the ideal.

If you’re having an event, starting a new initiative, or just have something of interest to the community, you can always call newspapers and pitch an idea for a story. That is how my student assistant Emily Garcia and I ended up on the cover of Central New Jersey’s publication U.S. 1. Michele Alperin wrote a fantastic feature article about the event as well, which you can read here.

U.S. 1 cover 2007_2

Image courtesy of U.S. 1

Another local newspaper, the Princeton Packet, would often (and very graciously) premiere our annual literary extravaganza with a “sneak peek” article. Like U.S. 1, they would send a photographer to take a couple of fun photos to run with the article. Sometimes, one of those photos would end up on the cover of TimeOFF, their weekend insert! Here’s one of their 2010 photos from an article on Treasure Island. Aye, that’s Katie McGee again, this time sporting an eye patch and carrying a old shovel from my neighbor’s garage.

princeton packet princyclopedia article photo by Mark Czajkowski

Courtesy of the Princeton Packet, photo by Mark Czajkowski

A word of advice…if you do decide to suggest an article to a newspaper, choose your topic wisely. Don’t call the editor all the time, pitching every single program you’re offering. Pick and choose, and don’t be discouraged if he/she declines.

One final bit of unusual promo? The windows of local stores. We have a stupendous family-owned local toy store called JaZams (here is pictorial confirmation of their awesomeness). In 2013, they not only agreed to host an activity table at our Journey to the Centre of the Earth event, they let us promote the event in one of their picture windows! Katie and I gathered all the dinosaur, geology, cave, Jules Verne, and night creature related things we could find in their store and put together a thing of beauty.

jazams princyclopedia windowIn 2015, JaZams let us use the window again, this time for our Very Hungry Caterpillar food drive. If you’re wondering who created that beautiful poster, it was our very own Aliisa Lee, artist extraordinaire.

jaZams food drive window

Food drive title and art inspired by the work of Eric Carle.

The nice thing about the food drive was that every donated food item earned the donator a chance to win that gigantic stuffed caterpillar. One generous little girl came every week with new groceries to give. Pounds and pounds. And she won, too!


I always love getting questions from you guys, so keep ’em coming! danas@princeton.edu

If You Build It…

house 3 glass roomThis winter, we had a couple of intense snow storms. Whenever it snows, my program attendance drops dramatically. And yet, there are always a couple of hard core patrons who don their snow pants and brave the drifts to come to story time. This causes a bit of a conundrum. You see, some of my projects involve quite a bit of prep work (a-hem! I’m looking at you candy factory and you haunted house). So the program is prepped and ready for over 20 kids. If I do it with just 3 kids, that’s a lot of prep work going by the wayside…so…

A few years ago, I decided that if fewer than 5 kids came to a snowy story time, the previously-prepped project would be bumped to the following week, and I would offer an unplanned, off-the-cuff creative project instead.

The project I’d like to share today is inspired by the fantastic If I Built a House by Chris Van Dusen (Dial Books, 2012). The story is about Jack, a boy with big ideas for building his dream house. There’s a robotic machine that whips up meals, a bedroom at the top of a 200 foot tower, a anti-gravity room, a race track room, an aquarium room…the sky is the limit!

First, the kids and I made “blueprints.” I replicated the look with blue construction paper and silver metallic markers.

blueprintAs the kids drew their houses, I rummaged through the office for boxes, tubes, cardboard, items left over from other projects, and interesting odds and ends (including, of course, the Bling Bin). Then, out came the tape, glue, scissors, markers, and hot glue and off went the little architects, putting together 3D models of their blueprints.

house 1This house’s base is a box with a clear lid (leftover from this light box project). The architect turned it into a subterranean pond with fish! Perhaps this is our next Frank Lloyd Wright?

house 1 pond floorThe next architect went for wide and stacked, with multiple boxes for multiple rooms. I like the ladder to the second floor!

house 2She also forayed into interior design. That polka-dot couch is made out of patterned paper, pink and yellow cottons balls, and an Altoid tin!

house 2 interiorThe final house’s blueprint appeared to have a tree, a squiggle of water, and antenna. I was curious to see how the model would develop, and I was not disappointed.

house 3LOVE the fountain! And I’m not sure if you noticed that the “glass” room at the top has multi-color portholes made out of tape rolls with cellophane panes?

house 3 glass roomIf you don’t have an art cabinet to quickly rummage through, or you want to do this with a large group of kids, you could always go with Option #2. Collect a bunch of recyclables and stick them on a table. Then ask the kids to draw their blueprints from the items they see on the table (just make sure you have multiples of each item for each kid to use).

Or, you could do Option #3. Give each kid the same basic “set” of object (ex: a cake pad for a base, a tissue box, a paper towel tube, a cone water cup, and 3 squares of poster board) to build the basic structure, then have other art supplies handy to fancy it up. I promise, the results will be unique!

How to Screen Your Dragon

popcorn vikingVikings and Dragon Riders! Don your horned helmets, grab your shields, and get ready for the ultimate How To Train Your Dragon theater experience, complete with real reptiles!

blue-tongued skinkAfter watching How to Train Your Dragon with my kids, I was delighted to learn that the movie was based on the book series by Cressida Cowell. When the Princeton Garden Theater (our local, non-profit movie theater) gamely agreed to a book-to-film outreach collaboration, How to Train Your Dragon was the first on my list.

Our program had three parts. Viking activities in the lobby, a live reptile show, and then the film itself. We’ll start with the lobby activities first. There were tables for making helmets and shields, a replica of a Viking game, and a local artist making custom sketches of the movie’s characters.

Viking helmets were a must, and we needed something quick and easy-to-assemble. Here’s the gang, sporting some seriously awesome headgear.

the gangYou’ll need:

  • A long strip of silver poster board (approximately 2.5″ x 24.5″)
  • A short strip of silver poster board (approximately 2.5″ x 14″)
  • White poster board for your Viking “horns”
  • Stapler
  • Metallic dot stickers (optional)

First, circle the long strip of silver poster board around your head (we purchased our poster board online from Blick Art Materials). Staple it. This is your hatband. Next, staple the short strip of poster board to the front and back of the hatband. Tab and staple a pair of white poster board horns to the sides of the hatband (here’s our horn template if you’d like it). Decorate the hatband with (optional) metallic dot stickers.

viking helmet stepsIt never hurts to thrown in a little history, so we included informational table signs at all the hands-on activity tables. Here’s the table sign for helmets. Next up…shields!

shields

You’ll need:

  • 1 silver poster board circle (approximately 5″ in diameter)
  • 1 circle of corrugated cardboard (approximately 14″ in diameter)
  • 2 strips of poster board (approximately 2.25″ x 11″)
  • 2 brass fasteners
  • Metallic markers
  • Hole punch
  • Stapler

Since we needed a slew of shields, we used cake circles and – believe it or not – the silver foil circles that fit onto take-out containers. Both were purchased at a local restaurant supply outlet. But you can cut a shield from any corrugated cardboard box, and the silver circle from silver poster board.

Hot glue a 5″ silver circle onto the center of a 14″ brown cardboard circle. Push the prongs of 2 brass fasteners through the cardboard shield (one on each side of the silver circle). Decorate the shield with metallic markers.

viking shield stepsNext, loop 2 strips of poster board loosely around your forearm. Stapled them closed. Punch a hole in each loop, then thread the prongs of the brass fasteners through each hole. The back of your shield will now look like this:

back of shieldIf you’re worried about scratched forearms, put tape over the prongs of the fasteners. Here’s the shield table sign. Did you know that metal knob in the center of a shield is called a “boss?” I did not know that.

girl with shieldNot far from the helmet and shield tables was the very talented Keenu Hale, a local artist who is the master of quick cartoon sketches. The kids kept him very busy drawing their favorite Dragon characters (they got to take the sketches home too)!

keenu hale

Here’s a set I posted on our Instagram. Keenu drew these in minutes. Wow.

hiccup and astridThe final activity table was a replica of a Viking game. It was WAY popular. Marissa found it in Hands On America Volume 1: Art Activities About Viking, Woodland Indians, and Early Colonists by Yvonne Y. Merrill (Kits Publishing, 2001). It’s a snap to put together.

viking game being played

You’ll need:

  • 1 white bandanna
  • Fabric or permanent markers
  • Air dry clay

Use markers to draw the game board below on a white bandanna (I bought ours at Michaels Craft Store). The runes are optional, of course. Our runes spell out the names of the different types of dragons. Can you spot “Night Fury?”

game boardThe game pieces are little birds (about 2″ long), made with air dry clay.

game piecesTo play the game, toss the clay birds onto the game board.

You get 1 point if a bird lands upright anywhere on the board
You get 2 points if a bird lands in a circle
You get 3 points if a bird lands upright in a circle

Here’s the game table sign, should you need it. We offered winners 2 prize choices. The first choice was a plastic gemstone. Each gemstone was worth 1 point. Win 6 points, and you got to select 6 gemstones! We provided 3″ x 4.5″ cotton drawstring bags to hold your riches (I bought my bags from Nashville Wraps).

bag of gemstonesThe other prize was a chance to win a cardboard Toothless standee (purchased on Amazon for $30). Kids automatically got a chance to win when they first entered the theater, but at the Viking game table, 1 point equaled 1 extra chance to win. So 3 points equaled 3 more chances to win. The kids really liked that!

12309783_1681519225431817_5305117223597780915_o

Image courtesy of the Princeton Garden Theater

In addition to the hands-on activities, there was a reptile exhibit and live show by Enzo from The Lizard Guys. Enzo brought a terrific array of critters, and shared an astounding amount of knowledge with the kids and their parents.

reptiles

Here’s Marissa bonding with a blue-tongued skink. Soon, she will be a mighty Dragon Rider of Berk!

marissa pets the skinkFinally, it was time for the film. Having only seen it on my laptop, I can say I was completely blown away watching it on the big screen. The flying! The fire! The CLOUDS!

how to screen your dragon

I’d like to express my extreme gratitude to the Princeton Garden Theater for collaborating with us on this program. They were up for anything, and didn’t bat an eye when I asked if we could take over the lobby with multiple craft projects and bring in live reptiles. In fact, their response was a very enthusiastic “YES!” Thanks so much guys!

viking enjoying popcorn