A Tale of Three Promotions: Maria's Bookshop Fire on the Mountain Campaign

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By Peter Schertz, co-owner of Maria's Bookshop in Durango, Colorado

Last week, Book Sense and the History Channel announced that Maria's Bookshop in Durango, Colorado, was one of three bookstores recognized for their efforts in orchestrating a Fire on the Mountain fundraising campaign (for full story, click here). In the following article, Peter Schertz, co-owner of Maria's Bookshop, details the store's winning promotional campaign, and the steps taken to create it.

The Book Sense and the History Channel's Fire on the Mountain promotion, which ran from September 9 through October 25, encouraged booksellers nationwide to conduct fundraising campaigns for their firehouses. The campaigns were to tie in with the History Channel's October 28 airing of the John N. Maclean documentary based on Fire on the Mountain: The True Story of the South Canyon Fire by John N. Maclean (Washington Square Press).

Durango, where our bookstore is located, was one of the Western areas severely affected by this summer's wildfires, so this promotion truly hit home with us. We decided to organize our Fire on the Mountain promotion efforts around a fundraiser for the Durango Fire and Rescue Authority (DFRA).

We collaborated with the Durango Public Library and The Durango Herald Small Press to conduct three Fire on the Mountain campaigns. This proved extremely valuable -- working with these other organizations really helped to strengthen the promotion. In the store, we maintained a large display window dedicated to the promotion, along with other fire-related books.

Our first event was a John N. Maclean presentation and book signing on October 3 at Fort Lewis College. Over 65 people attended the event. John's presentation was captivating and went well beyond the Storm King Mountain fire. He brought a local perspective to some of our local fires in Mesa Verde National Park and our recent Missionary Ridge fire, which he had studied in the days preceding this talk. John finished with a spirited reading from his new book.

We didn't charge admission for John's book signing. Instead, we had a fireman's boot out for donations to the fireman fundraiser, and Maria's donated 15 percent of all sales of John's book, too. Furthermore, at the event, we also took the opportunity to announce the next two events of this promotion.

On October 14, our second of three events, the premiere of History Channel's Fire on the Mountain "docu-movie," at the Abbey Theatre, was a huge success. There was a line at the door a half hour before the event, and we had a packed house of 145 people.

Ron Klatt, the Fire Control Manager for the Columbine District of the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, gave a short introduction and set the tone for the movie. He remembered hearing of the deaths of these firefighters eight years ago and the impact it has had on him and his work. He commented numerous times at how pleased he was with the accuracy and authenticity of the movie, and even expressed an interest in getting permission to use the film as a training tool for his crews.

Also, Dan Noonan, Deputy Chief of DFRA, talked about how much his department appreciates being the recipient of the fundraiser and described how the money will be spent. The book donations in the boot were tremendous: We took in over $750, which brought our total to almost $1,150 for the promotion at that point. Overall, there was a lot of appreciation expressed for bringing the History Channel movie here.

Our third and final event was on Wednesday, October 16. DFRA put together an excellent PowerPoint presentation documenting our local wildfires of this past summer. It really brought the Fire on the Mountain promotion back home to our own backyards.

Over 150 people packed the Abbey Theatre for the event. In fact, the theater was full 15 minutes before show time, and over 70 people were turned away. (We couldn’t easily break the Fire Marshall’s room capacity restrictions since they were all right there with us!)

Fire Chief Mike Dunaway and Deputy Chief Noonan presented the hour-long event. The presentation centered around the Missionary Ridge and Valley Fires of the past summer, which burned just outside of Durango. The fire statistics: 70,000 acres burned, over 50 homes lost, one firefighter death. The first half of their presentation was a day-by-day account of the massive firefighting effort in which they played a key role. The second half was images of the fire put to music. It was a very powerful and emotional presentation as virtually everyone in the theatre had lived through these fires. One person in the audience had lost their home in this fire.

Though book sales at this event weren't the best, the donation boot runneth over: We collected $1,000, which brought our total up to about $2,200 for the entire promotion to that point. The most satisfying thing at the end of the event was the number of people who made a point of thanking me directly or those who still come into the shop to thank us for playing such a key role in this promotion.

Creating a Campaign

A good promotion is made through a lot of planning, hard work, and a little bit of luck. That certainly was the case with our Fire on the Mountain promotional campaign.

In August, when the announcement from Book Sense about the Fire on the Mountain promotion arrived, it bounced around between managers' mail boxes for a couple weeks -- scribbled with lots of pro and con notes -- before we decided to "just go for it." So, an early start we did not get! Nonetheless, we found out that the "skids had been greased" more than we realized.

Here's a look at the steps we took to create our three Fire on the Mountain campaign events:

1. The Author Event. First, since John N. Maclean had been here the previous year promoting his book and a large crowd (including myself) attended, it seemed a reasonable idea to bring him in for the fundraiser. Moreover, our community had also withstood massive fires months before that burned over 70,000 acres and over 50 homes. Interest in wildfire was high within our community.

I got an invitation letter off to John N. Maclean, and I was amazed to score on this long shot. As I said, sometimes you need a little luck -- John was going to be in town anyway studying some of our recent fires in Mesa Verde National Park and was happy to commit to doing a presentation with us.

2. Fire on the Mountain Documentary. At the same time, I sent a request off to the History Channel asking for a copy of the documentary that they are airing this Monday, October 28. Remarkably, the History Channel got a copy of the movie to us and was very generous with promotional posters and other materials as well.

3. Securing Co-sponsors. Since I felt that we had the potential for a big campaign, I enlisted the help of other sponsors: The Durango Public Library and the Durango Herald Small Press. I chose the library and the newspaper because they were perfect fits for the campaign. The library had hosted John on his previous visit, and the Durango Herald Small Press has a new book coming out about the recent local fires. Enlisting these additional sponsors was helpful. We were able to get the word out farther and wider because of it.

4. Durango Fire and Rescue Authority presentation. It's probably no surprise that our local firefighters (Durango Fire and Rescue Authority) were extremely enthusiastic about joining the promotion as well as being the recipients of the fundraiser. They had put together an impressive PowerPoint presentation on our local fires that they were willing to show as an event for the promotion.

5. The Abbey Theatre. We also made an alliance with our local independent theatre, the Abbey Theatre, to do two of our presentations there. We had done joint projects with "The Abbey" before and it was another good opportunity. The Abbey has the means to get some great publicity out to the community.

6. Marketing the Events. Admittedly, getting the word out was probably what we did least well. We got press releases out to the usual radio stations, newspapers, etc. However, we should have sent them out earlier, and to a few more special interest groups. For instance, in hindsight, we could have targeted the local Forest Service office, local hiking clubs, and environmental organizations, to name a few.

The best publicity we received was through our bookstore staff. They did a fantastic job of "talking it up." Having a large Fire on the Mountain poster at our front counter and in our restroom (a key location) helped.

7. Determination. We were determined to have our fire department receive that $2,500 so generously offered by the History Channel and Washington Square Press. No one at the History Channel or Book Sense or anywhere else was going to know how our promotion was going here in Durango unless I told them. I was not bashful about sending updates, photos, newspaper articles, and ads to all of them.

Overall, we received tremendous, positive feedback on all these events. The community was very appreciative of our efforts and was very generous in their donations. All three events were free (by donation). Although book sales were fairly slow, except at the John Maclean presentation, we couldn’t judge the success by sales. It ended up being a fantastic community event, which is exactly what we were trying to put out there.