“Anytime PBS or NPR are doing something they’re going to be promoting across the country, we certainly want to get on board with that,” says Susan Tran, Director of Corporate Support and Marketing Manager for Maine Public, a state network of public television and radio stations. She quotes the aphorism: “Many hands makes light work.”
When her staff got word that PBS would launch the eight-part Great American Read series in September, they began thinking of fun ways to publicize the project. “We were brainstorming about Maine and summer and reading and then we started talking about beach reads,” she says. What if they could get a local bookstore to give Maine Public a discounted price on some of the novels in the GAR’s “Top 100”? And what if they promoted the series by heading to local beaches and handing those books out, for free, to random beachgoers?
“That’s essentially what we did,” Susan says. They chose nine books from the list (see graphic), got Portland’s Print: A Bookstore to sell them at a discount, and bought around a hundred total copies. Tran’s team added a Great American Read-branded magnet plate to an existing Maine Public vehicle, then printed bookmarks that advertised Maine Public Television (and its sponsors) on one side and the upcoming series on the other. Unfortunately, the first two planned giveaway events were rained out, but on Wednesday, August 29, they headed out to three local beaches in succession.
Each selected beach represented a different population of potential readers. Higgins Beach—located south of Portland in Scarborough, Maine—was crowded with young adults. “It’s your typical summer beach, with people going for the day to get sun and surf. It’s kind of hip in a way,” says Tran.
Nearby, Ferry Beach State Park was filled with families. “The waves are a little calmer and the water is warmer,” she says. They encountered plenty of moms and children under the age of 10. Finally, East End Beach in Portland is a classic urban beach. “It’s known for people who are getting a little beach time before work,” Tran says. “People will sit and read for an hour before going back to whatever busy thing they’re doing.”
At each beach, the team approached random beachgoers, identified themselves as being from Maine Public Television, and allowed the people to choose from a selection of free books—no strings attached. “We let them choose from two or three options in our hand,” Tran says. “Most people were incredibly receptive and appreciative and thankful. We got a lot of photos and heard from a lot of people who were super excited about the project.”
The best response was at Ferry Beach. “Our time there was the longest because nearly everyone we approached wanted to talk about Maine Public Television or Radio and what they liked or didn’t. You don’t get these opportunities all the time. It’s so helpful to go out and talk with people who are invested in your organization.”
As expected, the different crowds were drawn toward different books. “At Higgins, people were excited about The Handmaid’s Tale,” remembers Tran. “Charlotte’s Web was the clear winner at Ferry. And we gave away every copy of The Stand at East End Beach.”
Those who got to choose were excited about receiving the books, and a number posted on social media about it. That excited local sponsors of The Great American Read, because their names were on the bookmarks. “Being tagged on all social media around this project was all bonus for them and has the halo effect, even though they didn’t technically pay for the books, they got the benefit from being associated with the project,” says Tran.
After the success of this giveaway, Tran and company are looking at opportunities to attach other book giveaways to reading programs or similar projects in the coming year. That might involve expansion beyond just the Portland area. “We cover the whole state, so in the future it would be great if we could take this on the road outside of just Cumberland County,” she says. “We’d like to spread it out over a few days so we could target different areas of Maine.”
Regardless, she and the rest of the Maine Public team see the event as a success. “Even the staff members who weren’t directly involved seemed pretty jazzed about the whole idea of it,” she says. “It’s always good when there’s something we can do as a staff and feel like we’re connecting with viewers and listeners.”
*All photos Credited to Mark Vogelzang