Measuring and Partnering Are Key to Event Success [5]

Even the most enthusiastic booksellers can be overwhelmed by events.

“It’s a little bit like laundry,” 4 Kids Books owner Cynthia Compton admitted. “They just keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger and never go away.” But Compton has developed strategies and techniques for keeping events under control, and she shared them with a roomful of booksellers at “Creating Events for Children,” part of ABA’s Day of Education [7], sponsored by the Ingram Content Group, at BookExpo America [8].

“Measure, measure, measure the outcome of everything you do,” Compton said. “Your success is measured by how many people come in the door, how many you captured for your database… and how many came back for repeat sales.”

In order to know what to measure, Compton said, she begins by determining the purpose of every event. “Start out by deciding whether your event is going to be friend-raising or fundraising.” Friend-raising is Compton’s term for events that may not turn a profit, but are intended to bring more customers into the store, including storytime and readings by local authors.

Compton returned to the idea of tracking event data several times during her presentation. Being able to show a pattern of successful events can help stores establish stronger partnerships with publishers and other vendors, she said, making it easier to request popular authors or co-op support in the future.

And maintaining records from less successful events is also helpful, since it gives stores concrete reasons for choosing not to repeat them.

Compton also stressed the importance of partnerships in event planning. “Doing events is like going on a field trip to the zoo in first grade,” she said. “You need a buddy.” 4 Kids Books tries to find at least one cosponsor for every event.

Some cosponsors simply help spread the word about events, allowing the store to reach an audience beyond its own mailing list, while others provide additional staff and activities.

For instance, the local Kiwanis Club cosponsors 4 Kids Books’ annual police and fire department event. While young customers explore police cruisers and fire engines in the store’s parking lot, their parents can learn about the Kiwanis’ Child ID program. “More importantly, the Kiwanis bring every single one of their grandchildren,” Compton said.

Having cosponsors also allows the store to put on the same event multiple times. “If it makes sense, repeat the event on their site,” Compton said. 4 Kids Books has found that events designed for preschoolers work particularly well when repeated at the cosponsoring preschool.

And when 4 Kids Books runs events away from the store, Compton always brings along a pile of gift cards. “Every place I go I give away $5 gift cards,” she said. Since she finds better results from gift card giveaways than from other forms of promotion, Compton has stopped all print advertising and uses that portion of the budget to cover gift card expenses.

Compton also recommended that stores do all they can to maximize the value of author visits to local schools. For instance, 4 Kids Books has found that when an author is visiting one Indianapolis school, a local foundation will often cover the author’s fee and the cost of books for students at another school in the area.

And, she said, “when you’re putting an author in a school, don’t miss the opportunity to have stacks of those fliers on your counter” to give customers who will not be at the school visit an opportunity to request signed books.

After Compton’s presentation, the audience divided into small groups to share their stores’ event successes and challenges. Several booksellers said they had found Workman’s summer camp materials useful in planning activities for children. Others reported success with paid events that required pre-registration.

For more event ideas, see ABA’s “Creating Events for Children” session handout [9], which features suggestions and ideas volunteered by children’s booksellers during January’s Winter Institute 6 children’s program, “Ideas That Work.” Watch BTW for more events ideas shared by booksellers at BEA.