July 20, 2010
Early in July 1982, Larry Walters tied more than 40 weather balloons to his lawn chair and rose 16,000 feet above the smog over Los Angeles. Spotted by various aircraft, he descended by shooting the balloons with a BB gun, eventually drifting some 20 miles. He ended up hanging from some power lines. FAA officials fined him $4,000 while shaking their collective heads. No one knows what happened to the lawn chair.
Occasionally, one hears of library marketing campaigns launched with about as much forethought as Larry’s jaunt above L.A. In the bad old days, interested librarians would huddle around cauldrons muttering various and sundry spells, hoping to catch a glimpse of a marketing idea that would concoct greater visibility or better public relations. Those cauldrons have long since bubbled away their last vision—and that is just as well since some of them were far less than the sum of their parts. Today, libraries must test their steel with legions of entertainment and information-gathering competitors, and unfortunately many show up on the battle line with marketing strategies borrowed from George Armstrong Custer’s playbook at Little Big Horn.
Marketing takes more than cauldrons or brainstorming: Marketing needs a plan. Texas Tech University has that plan and truckloads of evidence that it works.