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

Weird Books

weird books I’m over on Cotsen’s curatorial blog today, sharing a collections education program we did with 9-12 year-olds. The program was titled “Weird Books,” and our goal was to show kids the unusual formats books can take (including this miniature book housed in a walnut shell). Intrigued?

Click here to go to the post!

Can’t get enough special collections stuff? You might be interested in this post on a pricey little doodle, this post in which I get to pet Charles Dickens’ writing desk, this post on what appears to be an ancient code (but is not), and this post about the very first Jemima Puddleduck stuffed toy.

Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)

sweet dreams are made of thisTravel through a cloud-covered dream tunnel which doubles as a magical oven for a pie full of sweet dreams. Dreams and pie…is there a book than can connect the two? Oh my yes.

We read Sweet Dream Pie, written by Audrey Wood, and illustrated by Mark Teague (Scholastic, 1998). Pa Brindle can’t sleep, so he begs Ma Brindle to dust off her magical, oversized pie-making equipment and bake a sweet dream pie. Despite repeatedly warning Pa that things could get out of control, Ma finally agrees to do it. The enormous pie is stuffed with sweets of all kinds, and the giant oven (which is set to “Special”), causes a heat wave on Willobee Street. Neighbors gather, ignore Ma’s warnings, and eat way too much pie. The result? Some of the wildest, out-of-control dreams imaginable (as only Mark Teague can illustrate!). Sighing, Ma Brindle takes her broom and sweeps the tempestuous dreams away. Ah well. She did warn them.

You’ll need:

  • 1 sturdy paper plate (approximately 8.5″ in diameter)
  • 1 rectangle of tin foil (approximately 12″ x 13″)
  • 1 circle of tagboard or poster board (approximately 6.25″ in diameter)
  • 1 circle of brown packing paper (approximately 11.25″ in diameter)
  • 1 paper bowl
  • Dream pie decorating supplies (more on that below)
  • Scissors, tape, and glue for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • 1 dream oven (more on that below)
  • Hot glue

First, the pie! Place a paper plate on top of a rectangle of tin foil, then wrap the tin foil up and around the sides of the paper plate. The tin foil should just cover the edges of the plate, not the entire thing.

pie pan step 1Hot glue a tagboard or poster board circle to the center of the plate.

pie pan step 2Decorate the tagboard circle with your dream scene! First, we gave kids a quarter of a sheet of paper and asked them to draw a dream character or scene.

Once that was glued (or taped) in place, we offered supplies to fancy things up: iridescent cello, colored cotton balls, tissue paper circles, iridescent fabric shapes, self-adhesive foam, fabric flowers, foam beads, large gemstones, self-adhesive butterflies, pom-poms, small feathers, bits of embossed foil paper, mesh tubing, and metallic dot stickers.

Here’s Marissa’s dream scene, which involves stars, dusk, flying, and and ice cream clouds. Be-a-u-ti-ful.

marissa's dream sceneAnd here are the dream pies the kids made! We asked the kids to describe the dreams for us, but I must admit, those who did offer their interpretations were still somewhat vague. Below, see if you can spot a ballerina, Valentine’s Day, flying, unicorn wonderland, ghost, mountains, butterflies, Spider-man, a birthday party, “purple,” “Antiga,” “shy,” and hippo.

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When the inside of the pie is done, set it aside for a moment. Use scissors or a box cutter to cut slits in the center of a 11.25″ circle of brown packing paper (or brown wrapping paper). These are the “ventilation slits” for your pie.

pie crust step 1Next, roll the edges of the circle upwards and inwards (about 0.25″ should do it). These are the edges of your “pie crust.”

pie crust step 2Now to add the “dome” to the top of your crust. Flip a paper bowl upside down and press and smooth the crust over the top of the bowl. You’ll need some height here to cover that crazy dream scene you created.

pie crust step 3Place the crust on top of the paper pie plate. It’s very cool to see the dream scene through the little ventilation holes of the pie crust!

finished dream pieYou can stop the project there, or you can take it a step further and go through a dream oven! This doesn’t have to be fancy. You can drape a sheet over a table, or head into a darkened closet with some blue lights or glow sticks. But if you’d like to replicate our dream oven, here’s how we did it. Basically, it was a big box with door flaps cut out on both ends. On the outside, the box looked like an oven set to “Special.”

dream ovenBut inside, it was a fantastic dreamscape! Marissa lined the box with blue paper, hot glued white felt clouds to the walls, rigged up dangling polyester fill clouds, and dotted the whole thing with mirror board stars. She used packing tape to attach a strand of blue LED rope lights to the ceiling. It was…so…awesome.

inside the dream ovenGrasping their dream pies, the kids entered the oven and scooted through the tunnel, “cooking” their pies amidst clouds and stars. Some kids charged through the tunnel and lined right back up for another turn. Others meandered slowly through the tunnel, pausing to take in the dreamy atmosphere (I took a turn too!). Sweet dreams!

meandering dreamer