Monday, October 21, 2013

Publicizing Your Historical Society at Local Events

This past weekend I attended a fall festival where the local historical society had set up a table. The table included a few artifacts, a sign listing the institution's name and hours, some flyers for historical society events and some decorations. The table would be of interest to historical society fans, but to few others in the community. This has prompted me to post a few tips for those of you who are trying to boost awareness of your institutions at tables during the holiday season.
  • If you are going to decorate, do it right. A couple of pumpkins and a few leaves at a pumpkin festival is not going to catch the eyes of your audience. (A nutcracker won't do it at Christmas time either.) Think themes and dive in! My library assistants recently made paperback pumpkins to decorate our space. They have gotten a lot of attention. People stop to look at our tables because the pumpkins first catch their eyes. Think unusual, classy and seasonal. DIY decorations are in. Find someone creative in your organization and set them on a mission.
  • Create eye catching signs. Stenciled letters and glitter glue scream cheap and unprofessional. Find an artist to do your sign. Or, splurge on a large sign from a company to advertise your work. I splurged on a canvas sign for ArchivesInfo  a few years ago and it was great for displays at book signing events. It showed off my business and hid the supplies I needed under my folding table. 
  • Think exhibits! Your table should show off your best side and some of your best items. Bring artifacts to display or photographs of artifacts. Write label copy describing collections. Take the time to explain the provenance of your items and the context. DO NOT COPY INFORMATION ABOUT THE ITEMS OFF OF WIKIPEDIA!!!!! Personalize the experience. Show how your items are relevant to your community.
  • Think about your audience and your POTENTIAL audience - Your table should not be aimed solely at people who are already interested in historical societies. If you advertise only to these folks, you are in jeopardy of losing any audience for your organization in the near future. Think about what would attract a young audience. The table I saw had included this idea. They advertised that they were running their train display at the historical society that day. Yet, most of the people who would be interested in the trains would never come to the table to see the advertising because there was nothing there for them. Offer candy. Show off a real train. Give away stickers. Think about what kids like. Think about what young parents want to show off to their kids. They are not going to take a chance to go to hop in their car and drive to your organization from a fun seasonal event if you do not prove to them and their kids that it is worth their time. They are not even going to drag their kids to your table unless you cater specifically to families. Make it easy for parents to convince their children to go. Show them the fun!
  • Having a special event for adults? You still should think "show, don't tell". Photos of items you are having at an auction may gain you attendees. Images from past events could do the trick too. Publicize information you have about local families, homes, businesses. Include things that bring back memories and will get people to come over to talk to you.
  • Bring membership forms! Seek members at the event! Get as much information from attendees as you can. Ask for emails. Ask people what interests them about their community history. Ask about their family history. Do this to show that joining your organization relates to what is important to them.
  • Try to excite the senses. Think sound (old music playing softly from your table perhaps?). Think modern sights (maybe a computer slideshow on a tablet at your table?). Think taste (maybe some old-fashioned treats to give away, or even to sell as a fundraiser?) Think touch (Maybe keep some items at your institution that you are willing to have people play with and bring these to shows to spice up your table?)
  • Think of your publicity as an extension of your institution. Is your institution stuffy and boring? If not, don't make your display table appear that way. 

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