March 1, 2012 / Marketing / Spring 2012

A sign of yearbook tradition

Written by Elizabeth Braden, CJE

For all of the changes in yearbooks during the past seven or eight decades, one has remained the same – students still enjoy signing each others’ books. For that reason, if you are trying to get your yearbook further ingrained as a part of student life, provide students an opportunity to enjoy their yearbooks when they receive them, instead of just handing them out.

There may be several obstacles to hosting a yearbook signing party at your school. With a little thought, these can be overcome. Consider the events at these three schools for ideas for starting your school’s signing party tradition, or improving yours.

Partner with a tradition

At Central Catholic High School, a private high school in Lawrence, Mass., the yearbook is included in the fees, so every student gets one. Underclassmen receive the yearbook in September when the fall-delivery book arrives. The problem is getting the previous year’s seniors to return and pick it up.

Prior to this year, the recent graduating class picked up the book at a time scheduled during the first week of January.

But adviser and alumnus Andy Nikonchuk said attendance at the event had been dwindling. In January 2011, only 50 to 60 of the 300 graduates came to pick up the 2010 yearbook. Nikonchuk suspected part of the problem was that January distribution is not as immediate – it’s a whole semester after the start of college.

The Six-Month Reunion and Yearbook Signing event was a good time for the 2011 graduates to meet up at Central Catholic High School in Lawrence, Mass. Enjoying pizza and yearbooks were, from left to right around the table, Zach Bardwell, Ryan Sullivan, Dan Shields, Evan Sheehan, Oliver Liu, Nick Leonard, Nick Pelrine and Ryan Wakeford.  Adviser Andy Nikonchuk is on the far right.

The Six-Month Reunion and Yearbook Signing event was a good time for the 2011 graduates to meet up at Central Catholic High School in Lawrence, Mass. Enjoying pizza and yearbooks were, from left to right around the table, Zach Bardwell, Ryan Sullivan, Dan Shields, Evan Sheehan, Oliver Liu, Nick Leonard, Nick Pelrine and Ryan Wakeford. Adviser Andy Nikonchuk is on the far right.

So Nikonchuk scheduled a distribution event for the class of 2011 on the day before Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is the first time home from college for many students, so the party “is a good place to gather and meet up” with friends, Nikonchuk said.

It is also a day when some traditional events are held at school.  An annual cross country run for alumni, the O’Sullivan Memorial Alumni Race/Walk, was set for 12:30 p.m. The annual Lazarus House Turkey/Food Delivery was set for 6 p.m. For that event, the school opens its gym to provide space for the community to coordinate its food basket delivery.

Nikonchuk scheduled the yearbook signing party at 4 p.m. in the cafeteria/multipurpose room. In an email to the class of 2011, he billed it as the Six-Month Reunion and Yearbook Signing. Nikonchuk brought the yearbooks and the school’s Advancement Office provided pizza and bottled water.

Nikonchuk said approximately 130 graduates showed up.  They ran out of pizza early, because attendance was higher than expected. Some graduates who had picked up their book in September brought their books to the event for signing. Everyone was encouraged to go to the gym after the party and help with the food baskets.

“I know of one student who skipped class (at college) to come,” Nikonchuk said.

Nikonchuk said social media helped to spread the word, using the official alumni Facebook page, the school Twitter account, Nikonchuk’s personal Facebook page and personal Facebook pages of teachers and students.

However, many heard about it by word of mouth, so Nikonchuk said he needs to make sure to get email addresses before graduation and get them to Like the alumni Facebook page.

Nikonchuk plans to do the event the same way next year, except to have more pizza ordered.

Start a tradition

The staff at Americas High School in El Paso, Texas, hosted their first signing party last year. Like any first-time venture, they learned what worked and what did not.

Two items they want to keep are the admission price and the disc jockey who played music. The staff worked with the Student Council to help the DJ raise money for a charity that helps blind children attend summer camp. Students attending the signing party were asked for a $1 donation for the charity, said Cristina Flores-Barela, adviser at Americas.

For the event, the DJ brought an inflatable jumbo screen to show the staff’s yearbook photo slideshow. Students from both yearbook and student council decorated the school’s small gymnasium with Walsworth balloons. Yearbook editors were in charge of setting up the distribution tables and sales.

“It lasted for about three hours. If I could go back in time I would change the time that the event started. It started almost two hours after school, but that was something that was out of our control at the time. This year I plan on having it at least 30 minutes after school,” Flores-Barela said.

“The event had a better turnout than I expected.  About 200 students attended, but not all of them stayed for the entire event. I attribute that to it starting late in the evening,” she said.

The event also helped with sales because students were buying the book at the event.

Advertising for the 2012 signing party was set to begin in January, using student-made videos, posters, and announcements. Flores-Barela said she will ask the local TV and radio stations to do some public service announcements.

Instill a tradition

Joanna Burns, adviser at Westlake High School in Westlake Village, Calif., started the annual Yearbook Signing Party in 2007, the first year she was an adviser at Westlake. She brought the tradition from her previous school, and has built it into an anticipated event.

“Since I started the party, the attendance has increased every year. Now all the students are used to the practice, since the seniors have had a Yearbook Signing Party every year they’ve been in high school,” Burns said.

The Yearbook Signing Party is held in May, three weeks before the last day of school. Tickets are sold during the week before for $4, and are $6 at the door.

Students who attend benefit by getting their yearbooks two weeks before regular distribution during the last week of school, and having time to sit with their friends to look through and sign each others’ books rather than trying to get signatures during the last few days of school. Burns said this is especially important to seniors, who have finished finals by regular distribution.

“Teachers like it, too, because they don’t want students pulling out yearbooks during class (for signing),” Burns said.

The party benefits the staff by enabling them to distribute more than half of the 1,780 books they sell every year at one time.  About 75% of the students at Westlake buy yearbooks.

The staff orders extra books to sell at the event to students who did not buy before pre-ordering ended in December. They also sell book covers and extra autograph page inserts at the event.

Seniors are allowed in first, at 1:45 p.m., then all other ticket holders at 2:45 p.m. Those who buy tickets at the door get in at 3:15 p.m. The event lasts until 4 p.m.

For crowd control, students line up outside the cafeteria and they are given numbered cards so they do not cut the line. The cards are collected in order at the door. When the event starts, 10-15 students at a time enter and their wrist band is cut off. Each student then goes to the distribution tables to get their book, a Sharpie and candy, for example, Ozark Lollipops, Sandy Candy and candy pebbles.

“We try to make the candy unique; the students eat it while they are sitting around signing yearbooks. They love it – they think it’s free but the cost of the ticket covers the Sharpies, wristbands and candy. We do not do pizza or drinks, because we don’t want them to ruin their yearbooks with greasy fingers,” Burns said.

“While some students do pick up their book and leave, many stay and sign yearbooks with their friends – more and more stay each year, as they are now used to this annual event,” Burns said.

Planning the ultimate party

The yearbook staff at Westlake puts a lot of effort into planning their signing party, starting right after the final deadline. A color scheme, correlating with the yearbook theme, is chosen and used for the staff Signing Party T-Shirts, the vinyl wristbands and the paper on which they print the index and post it all over school.

The yearbook theme remains a secret until the party, however, the T-shirts are designed with a hint to it on the front, and the party’s date, time, location and ticket price is on the back. T-shirts also are ordered for the counselors, office staff, administration, and campus security.

“We ask everyone to wear their shirts at least once the week prior to the party and on the day of the party. The yearbook staff must wear their shirt the Friday two weeks prior to the party, twice the week before and twice the week of the party. This way, students can recognize who to buy tickets from,” Burns said.

The index is used to advertise the party. Paper to match the T-shirts and wristbands is purchased, and the index is enlarged and copied on the paper. The papers are cut so each student’s name and the pages they appear on are on strips of paper. Two weeks prior to the Signing Party, the strips are taped all over the walls, ceilings, banisters and windows of the classrooms, halls, bathrooms, stairs, cafeteria and quad.

“The excitement this starts is incredible! The students start searching everywhere for their name strip; when they find their friends’ names they’ll even take down the strip and bring it to them. It is so cool to see the students looking, and finding, their names. They get so excited to see the yearbook, they want to buy tickets right away. We make them wait until the week before for the tickets, though,” Burns said.

Sales to the party start the Monday before, and they wear the wristbands all week, which reminds others to buy their tickets.

Elizabeth Braden, CJE
Elizabeth Braden, CJE

Elizabeth Braden, CJE, is the former editor of Idea File magazine. Before retiring, she was a copywriter for Walsworth Yearbooks for more than 15 years, writing articles for various marketing materials, and proofreading copy for the Yearbook and Commercial divisions. Her career included reporting and editing for United Press International and editing for Knight-Ridder Financial News. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Media News from the University of Tulsa.