The Problem

St Helens Council Library Service is now into the sixteenth season of its innovative, Arts Council England funded, Cultural Hubs: Arts In Libraries events programme. Approximately 90% of the project’s marketing and audience development efforts has traditionally been spent on the production and distribution of an extensive print brochure. Over recent years, however, this has proved to be an ever-less effective tool for reaching audiences. Responses to a bespoke question in St Helens’ Audience Finder survey have shown that fewer than 5% of attendees cite the brochure as their primary source of information about the event – a very small return on investment for the effort and cost that goes into its creation.

The Solution

In response to these findings, St Helens has been able to take the events marketing efforts, budget and delivery in a new direction for the most recent season. By reducing a brochure that would once have been a highly detailed 12-20 page print piece to a simple tri-fold pamphlet, St Helens has freed up funds to experiment with its resources. By newly focussing on web, email, social media and other bespoke communications, they have been able to market via channels that audiences report to be more effective sources of information.

It is hoped that the necessary simplification of messaging that this shift facilitates will allow staff to better advocate for and sell events across all St Helens Libraries. That said, the project has still been able to retain, at a greatly reduced cost, the cohesive message of a fully curated season in a slimmed-down pamphlet for those who prefer a physical takeaway and the word-of-mouth business that it can certainly still deliver. Focusing marketing efforts more heavily online and freeing up hitherto unavailable funds for things like Facebook advertising (Facebook Families is a prominent Audience Spectrum group in the borough) has allowed St Helens to clarify its offer to audiences by creating, for example, a key to indicate event formats, appropriate age groups and themes.

The Future

Crucially, the year-on-year data trends continue to enable the St Helens Libraries team to make a clearly evidenced case for a shift in focus and resources away from an extensive print production process that didn’t prove profit-fruitful, towards more diverse engagement practices that their audiences report to suit them better. As a Pathfinder organisation, St Helens is currently looking into ways to refine its Audience Finder survey further to garner a still-clearer picture of how its audiences prefer to be reached and what they respond to most enthusiastically. This plan is being developed with a view to retaining the freedom of format that allows honest and unfettered answers, in order to continue evolving its conversation with the community over the coming years.

Read more about St Helens Cultural Hubs initiative