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

Art at Home

art at homeOver the years, I’ve had parents approach me at my programs and say “I bet you do a ton of art at home with your kids, right?” They are very surprised when I tell them that no, actually, I don’t!

The reason is this. I have a very active son. And I mean active with a capital A. He decided he was done napping when he was 13 months old and celebrated this decision by vaulting out of his crib. I have a younger daughter who puts everything in her mouth. Absolutely everything. So art supplies were not the best match for our active, mouthy little household. My one experiment with crayons resulted in eight decorated walls, and my son referring to my daughter as a “great artist” with something akin to awe in his voice.

This winter, however, I decided that everyone was a little older (and hopefully, a little more careful) and we were ready to try again. I put together a little art studio, in a little house, on a little budget.

I decided that the studio would be in our kitchen, since we already had a second-hand table parked there that had previously served as a train table for my son. I purchased a couple art caddies from Michaels craft store and parked them on the tabletop.

caddiesInside the caddies are scissors, a glue stick, a hole punch, markers (regular and thin), a tape dispenser (for a good one, see this post), and plastic shape tracers my husband purchased 3 years ago.

We had been using 3 drawers in the kitchen for toy storage. I moved the toys elsewhere and set up art storage.

drawersThe top drawer holds crayons, colored pencils, and regular pencils. The middle drawer holds construction paper and patterned paper. The bottom drawer has sketch pads and white paper. It might seem like overkill to have these supplies divided into three drawers, but I wanted the kids to be able to segregate the supplies easily and put them away on their own (it worked too!).

The final art storage area is located in the bottom of our pantry, which is right next to the art table. Again, I didn’t pack the pantry full of supplies because I wanted the kids to have plenty of room to access the supplies and put them away on their own.

pantryI stocked a canvas bin full of clean recyclables: empty oatmeal containers, cereal boxes, tissue boxes, toilet paper tubes, paper towel tubes, plastic retail packaging, tea tins, etc. Every now and then, I replenish the bin with new stuff. In many ways, it’s a small-scale version of the recyclable program I run at my library. Here’s the canvas “art bin” in action:

art binTucked next to the art bin are containers with Playdoh…

playdohWatercolors (not tempura or finger paint – not quite going there yet) plus extra brushes

watercolorsAnd a miniature version of the Bling Bin, which contains odds and ends like pom-poms, pipe cleaners, a pair of unused shoe laces, ribbon, clothespins, feathers, craft sticks, even those little hook thingees that come on new pairs of socks.

mini bling binAlso in the pantry was the biggest splurge – a huge roll of easel paper for floor projects. But a 40% off coupon really helped knock down the price. In fact, I used Michaels 40% off coupons for all of this stuff, slowly acquiring supplies and stashing them in the basement until the big reveal on New Year’s Day.

So, how did the art studio go over? That morning, my son spent 4 hours in the studio, creating things. He made a roadway with easel paper, a jet pack, a rocket, a drawing of a haunted house, a train map, and a train bird feeder, which he promptly asked me to hang on the porch. These days, he’ll head to the art studio to manufacture his own toys to play with. Here’s a shot of that snazzy train bird feeder. Look at that fancy tape work!

train birdfeederMy daughter favors Playdoh, coloring, and using pom-poms from the Bling Bin in various scenarios around the house (ice cream store, grocery store, some sort of complicated sports game with vague scoring parameters). Often, she can often be found scribbling away at the art table with multiple markers at once. She says this is a drawing of a playground. Can you guess what her two absolutely favorite colors are?

playgroundThis past holiday weekend, we stepped into the studio to create some snazzy submarines with spinning propellers (toilet paper tubes, drinking straws, cereal box cardboard, and plastic medicine cups).

submarinesAnd, continuing with the nautical theme, we also made these boats out of tin foil (that’s sailboat on the left and a rowboat on the right). Then we floated them in the bathroom sink.

boatsIn short, the studio was a success and I didn’t need to invest in something big like an easel, shelving, or even new storage bins to make it work. In fact, I was surprised and delighted to learn that many of the containers and even some of the art supplies were already lurking in the house.

Oh, I can still fantasize about my dream home, where a whole room would be dedicated to art. It would have big windows, a sink, a tile floor, a drying rack, a patchwork sofa, a drafting desk, decorative mobiles hanging from the ceiling, and walls adorned with the cheerful work of my genius children.

But right now, I’m happy with my little kitchen studio, and so are my little artists.

Programs for Teens

teen programsLast month, I gave a keynote address at the NJ Library Association & NJ State Library Youth Services Forum. I always like to leave time at the end for questions, and here is one question I wish I could have answered better and more thoroughly. Hence, this post.

Q: What sorts of programs do you do for teens?

A: My library does have some opportunities for teens, but…

Most of my work is with preK – grade 8. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, I’m a single staffer, so my program roster is limited to what I can manage by myself (currently, I’m juggling two weekly story times, a weekly classroom program, a bi-weekly children’s literary club, an author interview program, a publication, an annual writing contest, this blog, occasional weekend programs, the launch of a new program for underserved kids, and the development of new online middle school programs).

Secondly, I primarily read children’s chapter fiction. YA is not my territory (I also joked that YA is scary to me. I mean, do I really want to revisit all the pain and suffering I went through as a teen? Even if it does mean scoring an awesome sparkly vampire boyfriend?).

That said, my library does offer some opportunities for teens, and I thought I would share them here, along with some suggestions for developing teen programs. Here’s our current programming:

  1. Teens can submit writing pieces to the Picture Book Press, our children’s literary quarterly.  Click the title to read An Ode to the Radish, one of my favorite haiku poems of all time. It was submitted by a 17 year-old.
  2. Our annual writing contest, 350 for 50, has three age categories. The top age category is for 14 -16 year-olds. Click the title to read The Pit, last year’s winner in that category.
  3. Princyclopedia, our (former) massive annual event was for ages 4 -14. You can get a little taste of what Princyclopedia was like in the beginning of this post.
  4. Cotsen Critix, our children’s literary club, is all about books, writing, and doing unusual activities related to literacy. Initially, the club was for children ages 8 & up. So I worked with a number of 13 – 16 year-olds. Unfortunately, it was a difficult to develop content that was appropriate for such a wide age span, so the current age range for Cotsen Critix is 9 -12-year-olds.
  5. Cotsen sometimes offers specialized Saturday programs for teens such as Elvish 101, a 2-hour workshop devoted to learning to read, write, and speak Quenya, the high language of J.R. Tolkien’s elves. During a program break we sipped New Zealand spring water from crystal goblets and munched on lembas bread. Elen sila lûmenn’ omentielvo!

Presently, I’m developing some collections-based programs for middle school students, but someday…oh someday…I would love to do high school lectures based on Cotsen’s collections. Depictions of war in picture books, gender identity as evidenced in children’s magazines, analyzing the zeitgeist of period artwork…I’ll get there someday! By the way, if you’d like to learn a little more about Cotsen’s collections, click here to visit the curatorial blog).

In the meantime, here are my top four recommendations for developing teen programming.

  1. Offer Experts. Whenever possible, I staff my programs with specialists. Some are hired, and some are volunteers. A geologist at a Journey to the Center of the Earth event, a University lecturer at a Chemistry of Magic program, professional stage fighters at a Robin Hood event, a historical reenactor bringing a past century to life, a local artist or student poet leading a creative workshop. I try to create opportunities for teens to engage in a mature, intellectual dialogue that satisfies their curiosity and encouraged their interests.
  2. Collaborate. I like to work one-on-one with teens on creative projects. Currently I’m working with a high school junior to create a full-size Cinderella dress out of trash. We’ll feature it in the Picture Book Press and display it at princess program we’re developing for the spring. Not only do I get to work with a fantastic young mind, but I can offer her an opportunity to engage in a creative collaboration while still (and this is important) managing to meet deadlines.
  3. Ask. If you’re stumped, put together a teen focus group and ask them what they want, what they need, and if they could really use a particular program. With the investment of a little time (and possibly a couple pizzas) you could gain a treasure trove of information (or at the very least, some insight into the minds of your target group).
  4. Fun is good, but…it might be that the needs of your population are homework help, computer skills, English as a second language, or locating resources to get them through tough times. Movie screenings, trivia contests, and gaming conventions are great, but there’s nothing wrong with focusing your resources on the not-so-glamorous-but-very-much-needed programs. Especially if your time and budget are limited.

    Postscript: In Fall 2015, we launched a new program for teens called First Draft. Writers ages 13-17 can submit creative writing and personal essays, and Princeton University student editors give their constructive feedback! For more information, click here.