Today was Day One of the 3rd Library Association of Singapore (LAS) conference (8 - 9 May 2008).
I'd planned to blog its highlights from the keynote speech and papers.
But a chance encounter with a Question changed all that (as you will learn soon enough).
The way I answered the Question nagged at me; a mental itch that I have to scratch away.
I decided to blog about it as catharsis.
But instead, I ended up with an idea for next year's conference theme.
During one particular Q&A segment, an overseas delegate asked the panel, "Is there a National Marketing Strategy for Singapore's public library services?"
I wasn't in the panel, you see.
I was standing way back in the room. Wasn't even listening to the question, to be honest.
The current LAS president, Ms. Ngian Lek Choh, who's also the Director of the National Library and the Deputy Chief Executive of the NLB, took the microphone.
I heard her say something about asking someone from the public library services.
Then I heard my name being called: "Where's Ivan Chew?"
Me? I'm not on the panel.
What was the question?
(I guess my other senior colleagues from PLS weren't at the conference, so I was next in line to answer the question).
So I pretended to be cool and walked the 30-metres to the front.
Took the microphone.
Whispered to Ngian, "What was the question again?"
She told me.
I faced the delegate who asked the question.
"Don't ramble," I mentally instructed myself.
"We don't have one," I said, in essence.
We have marketing activities but not a marketing strategy.
Mentioned three points: that individual branches may carry out publicity acitivites like branch anniversary celebrations, and that the respective Children's Services and the Adult & Young People's Services may have their own promotional activities. But no grand National level marketing strategy.
OK, I didn't ramble (which was good).
But I felt I didn't fully explained why I said "No" (which is not good).
My delivery was terrible, I think.
During the break that followed, I was swarmed by colleagues who, not unkindly, suggested I should've answered, "Yes". They felt our public library carried out marketing activities and equated that with a Marketing Strategy.
But I still argued we didn't have a Marketing Strategy by definition.
What's 'Marketing' and What's Not?
Many people tend to understand "Marketing" as being equal to promotional activities like loan promotions, publicity posters, marquee etc.
A "Marketing Strategy" IS NOT merely "marketing-related activities".
That's what I understand from the Marketing courses from my Business diploma, and my Management degree programmes.
Let's take a look at definitions.
Here's one from BusinessDictionary.com:
Written plan (usually a part of the overall corporate plan) which combines product development, promotion, distribution, and pricing approach, identifies the firm's marketing goals, and explains how they will be achieved within a stated timeframe. Marketing strategy determines the choice of target market segment, positioning, marketing mix, and allocation of resources. See also strategic plan.
The Wikipedia entry is also quite comprehensive (as per the Marketing textbooks I've come across). Look at this extract from the "General Corporate Strategy":
1) Target Audience 2) Proposition/Key Element 3) Call to Action
I explained to my colleagues I was aware how we had marketing-related activities.
But activities like "Promotions", "Publicity" and "Public Relations" are really just elements in a Marketing Mix.
Those we certainly do it all the time in the Singapore Public Library context. Some of them are effective. But they don't necessarily make up a Marketing Strategy.
The 4-Ps alone do not make a Marketing Strategy.
Anyway, all that discussion got me thinking: What does a National Marketing Strategy for public libraries look like?
Examples of National Marketing Strategies for Public Libraries?
When I have that mental itch, I just have to get it resolved.
The conference venue had no free WIFI access, so I called up the Public Library's ASK! Service (what else?! heh).
Asked my colleague if he could help me find examples of national marketing strategies for public libraries in other countries.
He sent me these links (thanks, Soon Huat):
- UK: The marketing strategy and plan for public libraries for 2005-2008 (Museums Libraries Archives Council, 2005)
- Netherlands: The Marketing Strategy of the Dutch National Library (PDF; presented at the 67th IFLA conference, 2001)
I think the UK example is the clearest example of a Marketing Strategy. It has both a Marketing Strategy and a Marketing Plan.
In their Marketing Strategy document, they attempt to answer these key questions:
- What makes libraries special
- What role we want them to play
- How we want people to think and feel about public libraries
- The most important messages we need to communicate
- What kind of culture they should reflect
- Our vision for the future of public libraries
Then the Marketing Plan provides another level of details on "how to act" and "what to do" to achieve the outcomes stated in the Marketing Strategy:
"It takes the research, analysis and creative thought and identifies a practical programme of activity that will deliver against the marketing objectives." (page 3, Marketing Plan)
A "Marketing Strategy" Theme for the next LAS conference?
This year's LAS conference is themed "Innovate to Serve!"
The programme line-up, while interesting and relevant to current themes (especially the Web 2.0 stuff), doesn't include Marketing.
Maybe next year's theme could be on Marketing Strategy at these two levels:
- Sector-levels (Academic libraries, the Public library, the National Library, School libraries, Corporate/ Special libraries, and Government libraries)
- National level
The question I had to answer this afternoon asked if the Singapore Public Library had a National Marketing Strategy.
In writing this post, I've realised that we should think about a Marketing Strategy for all libraries and librarians in Singapore, at the National level.
Singapore is a small country.
Something like this can be done. We can present and showcase to the world an integrated, complimentary and cooperative Marketing Strategy for libraries and librarians, as a country.
A National Marketing Strategy for libraries and librarians in the broadest sense.
The Singapore Library Week would be the perfect launch event.
I'd imagine workshops and symposiums to be held before the main conference. These workshop sessions would be intensive ones, where participants would be guided and be able to develop a reasonable draft of their Marketing Strategies at their Sector levels, and National level.
Then at the main LAS conference, these ideas and proposals could be presented for discussion and debate.
The ideal case would be for delegates to agree to the implementation of those plans (including endorsements and in-principle budgetary commitments) over a stated period.
Some of those proposals could be tabled at government and Ministerial levels.
Or presented at a press conference as a statement of intent; of the Singapore libraries and librarians' commitment to serve our users and customers.
OK, while I'm excited about the whole idea at this point, I'm aware that the reality may be just "all talk and no action". I mean, the papers could be presented but no resulting actions due to differences or difficulties in implementation.
But I don't see that as a bad thing.
Because at the very least, through such an exercise, participants would have gained an awareness and understanding of how to develop or implement Marketing Strategies and Plans, at least for their own libraries.
And if the Library Association of Singapore is able to pull off such an exercise -- to reach a stage where ideas and draft proposals for a National level Marketing Strategy for Libraries in Singapore -- I say the association would have (further) proved its relevance as a professional organisation.
[Next: Part 2]