Guest blog: Andrew Downie, Teacher Librarian at Fairfield High School, brings a wealth of experience as someone who has worked in both school libraries and in educational sales. In this guest blog post, he shares the lessons he has learnt and applied about marketing your school library and yourself. A version of this article was previously published in Term 3 “SCIS Connections”, republished with permission.
As a teacher librarian with over 21 years’ experience working across three different school systems, and working in private enterprise for another 20 years, I would like to address a matter that is very close to my heart: How does one market themself to their principal, members of the Senior Executive, head teachers, staff, and students? As a teacher librarian, I believe there are two types of marketing that we must undertake if we are to be successful in our role:
- Marketing the resources of the library to its users
- Marketing ourselves to our colleagues
While the first form of marketing is crucial to our role, I want to focus on the latter. How many times have you heard a school library professional make a comment such as this: ‘My school leadership team doesn’t understand my role or the value it brings to the school.’ Self-marketing is something that most people do not understand or feel comfortable doing. And this lack of understanding is doubtless just as prevalent in private industry as it is within the school system.
I started my teaching career in 1978 and, like many people, I didn’t know how to market myself. It wasn’t until 1989, having been out of teaching for four years by then, that I began to understand the importance of marketing oneself. After all, no one trains you for this at university. In 1989, I took a job in direct sales for an education company. I knew absolutely nothing about marketing and sales when I started. However, to survive in sales, you must learn not only how to sell your product or service, you also have to learn how to sell yourself. As I left the office to go on an appointment, my manager’s last words to me were always the same: ‘Sell the benefits’.
The following is a list of 7 lessons I have learnt about marketing yourself to your colleagues.
1. Learn how to read body language
The first thing I had to learn was how to read body language. I discovered this the hard way as I kept hearing the word ‘No’. How many times have you or another staff member asked to speak to a superior to perhaps ask for extra funding? They agreed to see you. They kept their arms folded across their chest the whole time, they heard what you said, but they weren’t really listening to you. And of course, the answer was always ‘No’. Unless you understand how to read body language, the answer will always be ‘No’. Every time you have a meeting with a colleague you need to consider that you are in a sales presentation and, as such, you have to find a way to break through their negative body language.
I once had an appointment to see a senior leader of a large Australian trade union regarding a sponsorship that I wanted his union to undertake. This union official was a lovely person. However, he had an appalling phone manner, and when I got to see him, he had his arms folded across his chest and was looking very stressed, and it was only 9 am. After 10 minutes, I realised that I wasn’t going to get the sponsorship unless I could find a way to connect with him. I looked around his large office and noticed numerous sheets of butcher paper on the walls that, as it turned out, his two and four-year-old children had used for finger painting. This union official was a proud father who spent the next 15 minutes sharing with me the story of each painting. After 15 minutes talking about his children, he was a changed person. He then asked me: ‘What do I have to do to finalise this sponsorship?’ Fifteen minutes after that, I left his office with a signed sponsorship for several thousand dollars. If I hadn’t found a way to connect with him, I have no doubt that that sponsorship would not have happened.
2. Find a meeting structure that works for you — and your leadership team
When setting up appointments with colleagues, you need to know how they operate. For example, I have had several principals who only operated on a set appointment. On the other hand, with another former principal, while we sometimes had to schedule formal appointments, more often than not, our best appointments were at either 7.30 am or 5 pm. And remember that some of the best appointments are the 30-second chats in the corridor.
When meeting with a colleague, you also need to learn when not to see them, even if you have made an appointment. Maybe something has come up that requires their immediate attention and so there is no good insisting on a meeting even if it had previously been agreed to. Remember, ‘A champion knows when their best presentation is not to do one.’ And that is a lesson that I learnt the hard way in educational sales.
3. Find the narrative of your library
Telling engaging yet factual stories to a colleague in a business meeting about something that has happened in your library is a great way to win them over to your cause. Ensure your stories revolve around your ‘wins’ with particular staff members or students.
4. Use social media whenever you can
Find out what social media platform your principal uses and use it for your benefit. With my current principal, I use Twitter. A tweet with photos, where applicable, is often the best way to keep them informed. And you must keep them fully informed of everything that goes on in the library.
This photo was orginally used in a Tweet to inform my school Principal in the last week of term 4, 2017 – a busy time for him – that the iPads had been installed.
5. Keep your library page up to date
Make sure that you have an up-to-date library page on your school website. It never ceases to amaze me how many school and company websites are out of date by several years or more. Some schools do not even have a library page on their website.
6. Take on extracurricular activities
Take on extracurricular activities outside the library and make sure that your superiors are aware of your involvement in these activities. A couple of suggestions are coaching a sporting team or joining the school finance committee.
7. Make connections
To make your life easier at school you also need to get to know and, as far as possible, be on good terms with other key members of staff. For example, your IT person, your general assistants and your cleaners. They can be worth their weight in gold. I am always surprised, when I go to conferences, how many teachers complain about the cleaners at their school, yet they have never met their school cleaners. At my school, the library is usually cleaned before 7 am and after 5 pm. And while I often miss them, I have built up a good relationship with the various cleaners over the past 14 years and they will do anything for me regarding cleaning the library –– within reason.
In summary, you need to sell the benefits of what your school Library has to offer to both staff and students and that includes what you, personally can do for your users. You need to find their “Hot Button.” In the case of many students, I have been able to build a friendship that lasts well beyond the student’s days at school by sharing a mutual love of sport, talking religion to them or about a mutual knowledge of their homeland. And when these students come back to visit me having finished school, often one or more of their classroom teachers at school will make the following comment to me: “How come Julie Smith (non de plume) comes back to see you and you didn’t teach her, and yet, she doesn’t visit me and I taught her for 3 years?” It’s all about building relationships.
My final message to you all is: ‘Sell, Sell, Sell.’