Monday, September 28, 2009

Designing Publicity for Teens

Designing Publicity for Teens
by Mia Cabana, Assistant Youth Services Librarian, West Springfield Public Library

1. Size does matter

The size of your publicity does matter! On one end of the spectrum is the giant banner option. Using the biggest paper you can find (sometimes I tape two widths together for maximum effect) use paint to write your information in larger-than-computer-generated font. An extra-large poster is an eye-catching way to publish a big message. Sometimes an equally effective way to distribute publicity to teens is to make your flyers smaller than a full printed page. This cuts down on paper waste and also designates the teen flyers as separate from other publicity materials around the library. For example, our monthly schedule of teen programs is designed to fit on a half-sheet of paper. Usually we have just enough programming happening to fill up a half-page without looking sparse, as opposed to our programming for younger children which requires a full sheet of paper. Designing flyers that are the shape of bookmarks is also a good way to give your publicity longevity. If a teen is using a flyer as a book mark they are less likely to lose it among all the other paper they must organize, and serves as a continual reminder about the upcoming program. We have also planted flyers that are this shape in popular materials that concern an upcoming program. Randomly slipping our iPod-style flyers in a sampling of the teen CDs a few weeks before our music sharing program occurs, or tucking bookmarks about an upcoming drawing workshop in books from the manga collection, helps to disperse the message to the teens most likely to be interested in such a program.

2. Language: Slang and other Salinger tactics.

Teens today are a generation surrounded by tongue-in-cheek media, from The Simpsons to The Daily Show or The Onion. The thing that makes these medias valuable is not only their satire, but their intelligence, and this principle can be applied to teen publicity materials. Your flyers and posters can include opinions, clever asides, or jokes that set the tone of an event, while still effectively conveying the relevant information of What Where How and Who. While there is certainly something to be said for brevity and clarity in all advertising, teens seem to have a higher appreciation for wordiness than their juniors who may still be struggling with reading, and adults who have been conditioned to seek out the most relevant information from a constant barrage of language. An example of this was a poster we made advertising our poetry slam. It was printed in an old-English style font on a background that looked like parchment. The text was faux-Shakespearean, which one patron was so taken with that he insisted on reading it out loud repeatedly in his best Monty Python accent. (It got annoying after a while, but there’s no doubt that he did his part to spread the message to other patrons, vocally.) Teens also have an appreciation for language that speaks to them. Listen to the phrases they actually use amongst themselves, and beware the pitfall of slang that is trying too hard to sound cool.

3. A quick word about clip art

Teens are aware of clip art that looks too ‘babyish’ or over the top. Fortunately, versions of Word and other Office programs now include some genuinely cool stock photography options. By limiting your search to only the photo medium, you can find some surprisingly sophisticated images. Sometimes choosing a neutral image actually packs a lot of punch. For our New Year fun survey we chose photographic images of glowing candles. It was vaguely goth, vaguely mystical, vaguely New Year’s party. I’ll admit that we pretty much stole this idea from the hyper-popular cover design of the Twilight series, which is a good tactic to make our jobs easier; look to the publishing industry to see what the graphic designers who are trained and paid to appeal to teens are doing, and take your cues from well-received book covers. This helps keep your materials looking current, and reinforces the literature in your collection. We also find that using photographic images almost exclusively for our teen publicity helps designate it on sight as different from our children’s materials. Not only does this appeal to teens, it is also helpful to parents and caregivers who might be trying to grab information in a hurry. Including a few images in any written document is a quick and easy way to make it pop out as instantly more attractive and professional.

4. Original artwork- use your talented teens!

Our library has a sizeable community of budding young artists. Noticing that they were excited to have their artwork hanging in the teen area, we decided to take it one step further and ask them to contribute drawings to use in our publicity. One of our high school interns designed the iPod-style flyer we use for our music sharing program, complete with a picture of a DJ and turntables. Other teens are contributing avatar-versions of themselves to include on a poster about the Wii Rockband event we hold monthly. Original artwork gives teens a sense of ownership, helps to build community, and starts to ‘hype’ an event even before the publicity gets out there. We even got in on the action ourselves, creating a manga character known as Level 6 Librarian who appears occasionally on publicity. Quiz Night flyers feature collaged magazine images and are lettered in handwriting rather than by computer, giving them a unique, slightly subversive look. (One teen even told us she uses the Quiz Night flyers to decorate her locker at school, and as you can imagine we were pleased as punch about this!)

One note on original artwork: store it in a safe place. With teens we generally allow them to keep their original and make a photocopy so that nothing happens to an irreplaceable work of art. Keep a folder where all original artwork can be stored, especially if you plan to use it repeatedly for flyers. Scanning the images as jpeg files would also be a good option, if possible.

5. Technology

Using technology for teen publicity deserves its own article, but we have used e-mail lists to co-ordinate out teen advisory board with a high degree of success. We also have collaborated with the adult department to harness the power of Twitter to announce programming for the youth room. Using technology for publicity sometimes requires promoting the technology as much as the event itself, so paying attention to what your teens use most is a good way to try to divine where to put your efforts in mastering a new technology for publicity purposes. Having noticed the universal usage of YouTube among our teens, we put a video of our summer reading program promotional skit on YouTube so that it could be accessed repeatedly by teens and all members of the library community.

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