In its ongoing commitment to an individual’s freedom to read without censorship, The DC Public Library Foundation (DCPLF) in the nation’s capital sought to raise awareness for its Banned Books Week programming (aka “UNCENSORED”), including its annual fundraising event, UNCENSORED: The Cocktail Party. The Foundation enlisted DC-based Scott Circle, a full-service communications, conference and event management firm, to raise visibility by increasing sales to the party, boosting social media traffic and shares, and engaging local businesses to take part in its censored-book scavenger hunt.
“Though Banned Books Week was well known across the country, we needed DCPLF’s efforts for the week to stand out from what other libraries around the country were doing,” says Dee Donavanik, Vice President at Scott Circle. “One way DCPLF’s celebration of Banned Books Week did stand out was through its themed cocktail party event. While the event itself was appealing, it was nevertheless difficult to make it stand out since there were many other weekend events we had to compete with. To face these challenges, we devised a strategy to implement a banned books scavenger hunt to help promote Banned Books Week and UNCENSORED. The campaign quickly gained popularity through word of mouth, social media engagement, and media coverage—which helped raise DCPLF’s profile and attract awareness.”
Read on to see how the firm exceeded all its goals and made the event one of the Foundation’s most successful yet—earning the firm and its client a Gold Award in the “Best Campaign Under $25,000” category in Bulldog Reporter’s 2017 Media Relations Awards.
The Strategy: To build excitement for DCPLF’s Banned Books Week programming and party, Scott Circle created and implemented a comprehensive media relations strategy for the Foundation. This included traditional media outreach to both local and national press, as well as a social media plan that including conceptualizing and executing an online contest that would leverage DCPLF’s two social media platforms: Instagram and Twitter.
To engage a broader audience and embrace this year’s theme of “Diversity,” the social media campaign included a creative online contest in the form of a citywide banned books scavenger hunt. Scott Circle helped DCPLF identify appropriate popular local business partners who would be receptive to participating in the contest, and who had their own substantial social media followings which they could use to help leverage awareness of the campaign. Hundreds of banned books were hidden throughout the city at these locations, with a strategically designed cover and messaging to showcase why they had originally been censored.
The design used on the hidden books was visually impactful, featuring a black cover with white text and phrases as to why certain books were banned. For example, copies of Catcher in the Rye were hidden throughout DC with a customized cover featuring only the phrase “ANTI-WHITE”—the reason given in 1963 in Columbus, Ohio for why it should be banned. Inside each book, more information on DCPLF’s available Banned Books Week programing as well as information on the upcoming UNCENSORED: The Cocktail Party was provided. These books were intended to catch the eye of scavenger hunt participants and became something people were excited to find and share on social media. Moreso, it was a great way to educate the public on these titles, and encourage people to utilize DCPLF as a resource to learn more on the history of banned books.
The format of the contest embraced the theme of diversity by not only showcasing literature written by diverse authors, but also by targeting a diverse audience. Banned books were hidden at locations across all four of DC’s quadrants, from metro trains to these small businesses. Twenty local businesses ranging from bookstores to bars and boutiques participated in hosting books for the contest. Those who found the banned books and shared a photo on social media with the hashtag #UNCENSOREDDC were entered into a raffle for a chance to win a pair of tickets to UNCENSORED: The Cocktail Party.
The Execution: Scott Circle created all press and internal communications materials for DCPLF, including press releases, FAQs for media contacts, interview talking points for representatives and a social media editorial calendar with messaging for DCPLF’s accounts. Scott Circle pitched media using various angles—highlighting the success of the scavenger hunt, raising the profile of DCPLF and previewing the UNCENSORED event to encourage ticket sales and attendance.
“Scott Circle coordinated an exclusive invite-only preview event to show press what DCPLF had planned for the 2016 event. Press sampled banned-book inspired drinks that would be served at UNCENSORED, got an early look at the art exhibition that would be on display, and were briefed on the programming DCPLF would have in store,” Donavanik says. “Media could speak directly to library officials, partners and event chairs about the history of Banned Books Week and UNCENSORED. The press preview party also launched the #UNCENSOREDDC social media contest. Attendees were given banned books and encouraged to participate in the scavenger hunt by distributing and hiding copies around the city. This sneak-peek initiated UNCENSORED coverage momentum because it had media excited to share with their audiences what interesting things would be happening at the event.
“Additionally, DCPLF could partner with influential local businesses, who served as host locations where these banned books were hidden,” she adds. “We were able to leverage their social media networks as they posted about their participation, along with hints and clues about hidden books. Additionally, as the contest gained popularity, participants started visiting the stores more frequently in an attempt to find the books. The relationship was mutually beneficial, with DCPLF benefitting from the exposure provided by the local businesses promoting their involvement, and with businesses benefitting with increased traffic in their stores from contest participants.”
For traditional press outreach, the team made sure to saturate the DC media market across all platforms—from securing local morning TV-segment hits to local talk-radio interviews and mentions, and print and digital pieces covering both the #UNCENSOREDDC contest and event.
“By hosting the exclusive invite-only press preview event, we were able to begin building momentum with pieces teasing our upcoming event several weeks before it took place,” Donavanik explains. “When pitching TV, we made sure to outline segment ideas that would include local businesses and give viewers a chance at home to see how the contest was playing throughout the city. When pitching media outlets in the greater Washington area we highlighted the new scavenger hunt and how a part of the contest was meant to engage both local businesses and citizens in the community. Once the local market was saturated, we expanded our outreach. For national press, we emphasized Banned Books Week and how DC was participating in a national week-long event by launching a truly unique scavenger hunt to engage their city.”
Social media engagement: Scott Circle incorporated the social media plan for both Twitter and Instagram by developing content for eight weeks leading up to the party and scheduling posts for DCPLF in a social media editorial calendar. Through social media content, DCPLF was able to leverage engagement with local partners online by tagging them in posts and also sharing/re-posting from users who were participating in the #UNCENSOREDDC contest. Suggested social media posts regarding the #UNCENSOREDDC contest were also provided to these partners, to ensure that any messages surrounding the campaign would be consistent from all channels. Additionally, DCPLF was notified by Scott Circle whenever a media mention was published online or mentioned on social media so that they could re-post and share on their own channels to help maximize visibility. In nearly every post on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, they had DCPLF tag other users involved in the contest. For Twitter especially, they emphasized community engagement by advising DCPLF to notably retweet but comment on posts from individuals participating in the contest.
Once they launched this unique concept for the #UNCENSOREDDC scavenger hunt, they began receiving an incredible amount of positive feedback from the local media and community. Two weeks into the scavenger hunt, they realized the response not only from the press but from the community participating was so great that they extended the contest a full week and distributed 100 additional books.
The team saw with the Pokémon Go phenomenon that people were interested in playing an interactive game with clues and rewards out in their neighborhood—and they capitalized on that national trend and adjusted their social media strategy to be as interactive with the local businesses and community partners participating as possible.
“The campaign and attention surrounding the banned books scavenger hunt gained momentum much more quickly than we expected,” Donavanik offers. “As we began receiving increased interest from local media outlets, we realized that the campaign may have broader appeal, so we readjusted our outreach strategy to connect with bigger national media outlets, which we were able to secure for the first time in the event’s history. We also had to respond from growing interest from local businesses who had heard about the campaign and wanted to serve as locations for the hidden books. Participants in the scavenger hunt began reaching out on social media inquiring about when and where they could find more books, in their attempts to collect all of the titles features in the contest. As a result of the campaign’s popularity, we had to provide more books to hide and extend the contest to keep the momentum building in advance of Banned Books Week and UNCENSORED.”
They realized that people were not only randomly stumbling across these hidden books, but many people decided to actively search throughout the city and repeatedly visit partner locations to try and find every single title that was a part of the project. Both DCPLF and local partner businesses began sharing hints on their social media channels, which encouraged further engagement with scavenger hunt participants and also contributed to increased social media audiences as people began following these channels to keep informed about the campaign.
The Results: With its engaging, trendy strategy, Scott Circle was able to raise overall awareness of the great programs offered by DCPLF (including UNCENSORED: Banned Books Week programming), encourage users to participate in a popular social media contest, and purchase tickets for UNCENSORED: The Cocktail Party.
“The results of this campaign exceeded all of our initial goals,”Donavanik reveals. “Because of the momentum we built with word of mouth recommendations, social media interactions, and media coverage, DCPLF had their most successful Banned Books Week and UNCENSORED event to date. Our goal of increasing ticket sales by 50% was exceeded, as sales increased 103%. Overall press coverage was exceeded by 156% and online media coverage saw an increase of 1984% (with over 2.2 million online views compared to 109k the previous year). Social media shares were exceeded by well over our original goal of 50%, with nearly 70k mentions in 2016 compared to just over 1k mentions the year before—and DCPLF grew their Twitter following by 61%. Our goal of securing 10 local businesses to partner in the scavenger hunt was also exceeded. In addition to those 10 partners DCPLF had invited to participate, they received inquiries from many others who had seen the great reception (and increased traffic in stores where scavengers were searching), requesting ways to take part in the contest—and eventually over 20 total participants took part (some with multiple locations across the city).”
Key Takeaways: “This campaign taught us that the results will not always match your expectations, and that you need to be flexible and respond quickly to the changing circumstances,” says Donavanik. “Luckily for us, the results exceeded our expectations and we were receiving much more interest and demand than we anticipated. We had to adjust our strategy to continue leveraging the momentum we were receiving in how we interacted with the media, local partners, and consumers.”
Secrets to Success: Dee Donavanik of Scott Circle offers the following insights you can use in your next budget-conscious event—and showcasing why the firm won Gold in Bulldog’s 2017 Media Relations Awards:
- Leverage your network to maximize your reach and impact. “DCPLF was able to partner with great local businesses whose customer bases happened to also match our target audience. We could reach these people organically, when they shopped at these locations and stumbled upon hidden books and information about UNCENSORED. And, we also were able to reach them by having our partners share our messaging and content to their social media followers.”
- Have compelling and impactful content. “Part of the reason the #UNCENSOREDDC scavenger hunt contest was so successful was due in part to the visually appealing design of the books. Seeing bold phrases on random books piqued the interest of people who may have stumbled across them. This also made for great photos and had people wanting to share their discoveries with their social networks. And as more people saw others in their network posting photos of their discoveries, they were drawn in and influenced to participate in the contest too.”
- Have a clear and simple ask to maximize engagement. “To get people to actually participate in the contest, we had to have a simple ask: Share a photo of your find with the hashtag #UNCENSOREDDC to be entered for a chance to win tickets to UNCENSORED: The Cocktail Party. The more steps involved in your ask or the more complicated the contest is, the less likely people will be compelled to take further action once learning about your contest.”