At the BEA panel Give It Away to Get It Back: Using 'Thought Leadership' to Build Your Children's Business, Kristin McLean, executive director of the Association of Booksellers for Children, defined "thought leaders" as people "widely recognized for innovative ideas that they share broadly with their organization or community."
McLean contrasted "old marketing"--in magazines and on TV--and "new marketing"--seeking "opportunities in the community to get consumers to know who you are and seek you out." Once upon a time, "if you had books, you'd find customers." Now one must be a "niche market[er]," hosting local authors and artists, reaching out to local organizations, she said. Examples include partnerships with local schools, writing a review column for the local paper, establishing an information center in the store, as well as raising awareness of "buy local" programs.
McLean urged audience members to make "programming an essential component rather than an add-on" and to "strategically go after these relationships," which will result in increased sales at the schools, increased traffic in the store and an increase in viral marketing. McLean suggested that this is "not about advertising" but rather about establishing the idea that "I'm an expert, and I care about you and your kids" and ultimately establishing trust--"a trust built on your reputation." Bookstores must emphasize benefits rather than features, she added.
Valerie Lewis of Hicklebee's Bookstore gave examples of the relationships she has forged between Hicklebee's and the San Jose, Calif., community since she opened the store with her sister, Monica Holmes, in 1979. For one, after September 11, Hicklebee's sent out an extensive list of books "about grief, firemen and the countries involved."
Another example: When Lewis heard about the opening of a new library in the area, she said, "I got myself on the library board" and had a storyteller event at Hicklebee's for a "donation party" with proceeds going to the library. Lewis admitted that she was not, however, a quiet partner with the new library--or with any other organizations: "Every book that goes out has a sticker for Hicklebee's--and sometimes a map on how to get there," she added with a laugh. Anyone who wanted to help support the new library could say so at checkout, and Hicklebee's donated 5% of the proceeds.
She also encourages customers to "adopt a school" and gives 5% of proceeds to the school specified. In a partnership with the local youth theater, Hicklebee's promotes the productions in the store newsletter, and the theater sends people back to Hicklebee's; the store has also partnered with the Santa Clara County Reading Association.
If you want to get to know future teachers, "invite college instructors to come to your store and host a class," Lewis advised. After the teachers' book orders arrive, she invites them into the store to get training. This gives teachers the ammunition they need to argue to their administrators that the discount may not be as deep, but Hicklebee's is selecting the books, lending its expertise and training teachers.
Sue Corbett, author, parent and journalist/reviewer for the Miami Herald, People magazine and others, who receives "thousands of books a year," said that after she began donating books to schools, she received invitations to do book talks. She calls her book talk "Fresh Produce" and keeps it cutting-edge by adding cover images of new books she likes to her PowerPoint presentation.
For her book talks, she has three categories--picture books, 'tweens and teens--and often gives teachers personal anecdotes. Her second-grader, Bridget, is a social butterfly, so Corbett made reading a "social activity." Together they started a mother-daughter book club. "I must have reproduced our booklist 30 times," says Corbett. "People want this but don't know how to go about choosing 10-12 age-appropriate books."
For her fifth-grader, Liam, graphic novels were "the gateway drug" to reading, according to Corbett. "He even read Baby Mouse and that's a pink book!" she cried. "We lose a lot of boys between second and fourth grade. Liam looks at his parents, and his mom is in a book club and his dad is not. His teacher and his librarian are women." The challenge is to keep boys engaged "beyond Captain Underpants," said Corbett. She also recommends books that she personally may not love but that her children did, citing Truancy, a first novel by then 15-year-old Isamu Fukui about a totalitarian mayor who heaps ever-stricter rules on his city's students, as an example. "My 13-year-old loved this, but the author, in different circumstances, might be turned over to the FBI," she said with a wink.
Corbett stays plugged into what kids are reading as coach of the Battle of the Books team and suggests that bookstores get copies of their state reading lists and become acquainted with the Accelerated Reader program, a Renaissance Learning program that she says roughly 70% of the schools use.
Emily D'Amour Pardo, events coordinator for the main Books & Books store, Coral Gables, Fla., said that it's a store joke that they want to have "a Ferris wheel at every event." Like Lewis, Pardo looks to people in the community to help. "Everyone who walks in has his or her networks," Pardo said. "I like to tap into the kids." She has what she calls a "posse" of 30 'tweens and teens: "They get their friends to come. We publicize their recommendations in our newsletter, and they blog about us."
Pardo said teens want music, food and a place to hang out. So, for an event to launch the YA novel Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson, Pardo invited local bands to come (they agreed to play free for the publicity), and the folks at Books & Books carded everyone to make sure they were "18 and under," then partnered with a local pizzeria to serve free pizza. "Twenty-three pizzas were gone in ten minutes," she said. She has hosted "curated selections" from students' artwork as well as poetry and play readings at the store. "All parents come to see their kids perform. We sell books and donate some of the proceeds to the schools." Given the store's Miami location, Pardo has also made the most of El día de los niños (April 30) by inviting a dual-language school to the store to perform the most famous poem by the late Cuban poet José Martí, "Los Zapaticos de Rosa." This group was then invited back for a workshop for parents featuring Raising a Bilingual Child by Barbara Zurer Pearson.
Pardo, like Corbett, acts as a judge for the Battle of the Books. She pointed out, "The 'engaged and connected' second-grade teacher gets you to the 'engaged and connected' fifth-grade teacher," and she adds each of those "engaged and connected" teachers to her electronic Rolodex, with separate mailing lists for teachers, for principals, for librarians, for parents and for teens.--Jennifer M. Brown