Using a Library Approach to Communications

Andrew Fimka

Category: Strategy


Think back to your time wandering the aisles of your local library as a child and searching for that next great story to read. The surrounding stacks of books offered an almost limitless choice of options and the only barriers were either the length of your reach or the extent of your curiosity.

Personally, the library (at least before the Internet) served as my anchor as I navigated and searched for information I needed for school, and for the perspectives I sought to learn from. Now in my professional career, I often reflect on my time spent in the library when thinking about strategies to best reach my audience in an increasingly crowded messaging environment.

In that spirit, there are four main takeaways I find myself calling on:

  • Embrace a storytelling approach to communications – Too often the manner in which an issue is defined inside the beltway and beyond; consists of laying out positions in a dictating manner and then implementing a flurry of paid advertising behind it in order to convey its relevance (and perceived importance). With diminishing returns, we should know that this “shock and awe” approach is neither effective nor persuasive. We have entered a time where audiences expect more genuine engagement, and that is best accomplished through rich storytelling. This requires building a compelling narrative that moves your audience through a well-defined story arc. It’s OK to “challenge” your audience – they expect it and in many ways now demand more thoughtful and detailed communications. It is how they determined what is genuine content versus what is simply another marketing ploy.
  • Thoughtful content curating makes all the difference – With countless digital platforms, and mediums available to communicators; curating content is both essential, as well as empowering. A great story can now come to life via long-form or short-form text, high-quality video, exploratory data visualizations, animated motion graphics, impactful photography and even interactive digital features. When combined, these elements can create an immersive experience for your targeted audience – engaging multiple senses just like when you heard your favorite story read aloud for the first time. You remember the tone, the visuals, the inflection in the reader’s voice – the little things that made the story jump off the page.
  • Have your “reference material” at the ready – The times when you have the luxury of planning a communications campaign with six months notice are becoming fewer and farther between. The media cycle and corresponding messaging environment moves much too fast. Therefore, it is imperative that you build-out your content assets beforehand – creating an internal library of content that you can deploy at a moment’s notice. By planning ahead you won’t miss the opportunity to engage your audience when they are most inclined or in need of information. Just like a well-positioned book at the entrance window, you are ready to take advantage when the moment and the interest meet.
  • Keep records of interest and engage on those interests – Any good librarian learns the favorite authors, subjects and other interests of their visitors, and is quick to make a recommendation based on that detailed-oriented knowledge. The same holds true for communicators. We must utilize the technology and tools at our fingertips to better engage our audience based on their interests and deploy a communications strategy that is based on personalization and customization. Increasingly this means serving not only interest-specific content (ex. economic news vs. foreign policy), but also thinking through which medium (ex. video vs. infographic) is preferred, what device is most convenient (desktop vs. tablet) and what platform (ex. social media vs. blog post) is most appropriate.

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