April 26, 2010 / Marketing / Spring 2010

Don’t sell your yearbook like it’s 1965

Written by Elizabeth Braden, CJE

The story of lagging yearbook sales is much the same across the country.

This downward trend has not happened suddenly and it cannot be blamed just on the current recession. It has been a slow progression.

Despite this, yearbook staffs continue to market their yearbooks like their parents did in 1986, and like their parents’ parents learned to do in the 1960s.

If you dislike your sales numbers, it’s time to begin looking for new ways to market the book to students and to their parents. There are many new approaches to boost sagging sales.

Don’t just sit there

“This may sound crazy, but the best way to sell more books next year is to start now,” David Massy, Marketing Services Manager at Walsworth Publishing Company, said. “Planning book sales in the spring gives you the best chance to sell more books than you have ever sold before.”Success at Southwestern Randolph!

Start now to plan for the first real opportunity to sell next year’s book: fall registration. Find out what the registration process is. Are school fees or book rental fees paid online? Can the yearbook be made a line item that parents can choose to pay at the same time? If a letter is sent to students during the summer, can you include a flier about yearbook sales in that mailing?

“Yearbook staffs need to get people started thinking about the yearbook as a vital part of high school life,” Massy said. “Therefore, we need to be making sure that when people start thinking about the new school year, they think of the new yearbook as well.”

Some schools sell most of their books in early in the school year. Do not despair if sales are slow the first time you sell at registration. You have begun building an awareness that will pay off later.

Take piggyback rides

Another big change in marketing your yearbook needs to begin now, too. Instead of making the selling of the yearbook an event, like a one-week sale, sell the yearbook at school events throughout the year.

With this Event Marketing approach, the staff identifies key social or school events that will have high attendance, particularly with your major target group: parents (because they have the money). Then, schedule staff members to sell the book at those events.Success at Vasquez!

“The traditional way to market yearbooks makes people come to the yearbook. You announce, ‘The yearbook is on sale bring your money.’ A better way to sell is to bring the yearbook to the people,” Massy said. “Be at places where people will be and entice them to purchase a book.”

These important events will vary from school to school. It will be up to you and your staff to determine the best opportunities. The first major event at most schools will be registration day. Regardless of why students are coming to school that day – pay fees, pick up schedules, have their ID photo taken – you should be there to let students, and possibly their parents, know about the yearbook and to sell as many copies of it as possible.

Since the presence of parents is important to sales, consider selling books at freshman orientation, Back-to-school Night, fall play intermission and parent-teacher conferences. Sponsor a tailgate party at the first football game and have a table where parents can buy yearbooks.

But you cannot just show up at an event, set up your table, and hope to sell lots of books. You must market your sale before the event, and that involves thinking ahead.

As you plan how to sell your book, figure out how to entice parents to purchase a book now. Advertise a discount for purchasing before a specific date. Maybe offer free namestamping to buyers at registration. The bottom line is, tell people in advance when the book will be on sale and the pricing deals you are offering so they will show up with money or a checkbook in hand.

Go ask

Old way? Make announcements at school or send information home in the school or PTA newsletter. Not bad, but today it is easier to reach parents. Email Marketing and All calls using the school’s automated phone messaging system are proving to be highly effective in spreading the word.

Do not be too quick to rule out these options. Often, staffs that don’t believe either method is available to them have never asked. Do not make assumptions – check with office staff or administrators.

Now that people know to arrive ready to buy, make sure people can find you. Set up a table, have large, legible signs and staff members to direct people to you, and provide incentives for people to purchase right then by creating a sense of urgency with discounts and special deals.

“Don’t just be there,” Massy said. “Make the yearbook a part of the event. Find ways to participate. The more you can do that, the more likely buyers will respond.”

Tailor your marketing to the specific event. At Back-to-school Night, ask teachers to make announcements at the beginning of each “class period” or ask to hang posters or fliers in each classroom. At a basketball game, ask the announcer to remind the crowd that the yearbook is on sale. Offer discounts tied to points scored or concession stand purchases (buy two hot dogs and get $5 off your yearbook). Make it fun for buyers.

Success at Brown!

Start new traditions

While you are thinking about change, here’s another idea – drop the tradition of keeping the yearbook a secret until distribution. Think about it – you were asking for money but unwilling to tell consumers what the end-product would be.

“Can you imagine going into a store and having the salesperson try to sell you a sweater, but she only wants to show you the box it comes in?” Massy asked. “Are you really going to purchase that sweater if you don’t get to look at it or have some idea of what you are buying?”

Don’t panic. This does not mean you will reveal the entire book. But let people see samples of your work in progress. Maybe no one sees the cover until distribution; of course, you will keep the senior ads under wraps. But showing off the incredible sports pictures you are considering or giving people a sneak peak at the homecoming spread will entice buyers.

That’s where social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, come in. By creating a Facebook Fan Page, your staff can send information to large groups of people at once. And, by showing the yearbook staff at work and some pages in progress, you can whet students’ interest in what is being produced, which should create a desire to buy. Then, use Facebook to advertise upcoming events and sales.

Some advisers think the immediacy of Facebook hurts yearbook sales.

“The thing that people fear will cut into sales can actually increase sales,” Massy said. “When students can actually see what is going to be in the book, when they can see what they are buying, when the awareness about yearbook increases with the student body, sales increase.”

Head spinning yet?

But increasing sales by doing all of this probably sounds like a whole lot of work. And, let’s be honest, it is. These marketing ideas will not just happen with erratic attention or by just stopping production to work on the marketing effort. What is needed is a staff member dedicated to promotion and sales – a marketing manager, and a team of promoters.

Just as you recruit students with writing, design and photography skills, it is crucial that you find the right person to lead the marketing team, and that the team’s focus is on identifying prime selling opportunities and developing and implementing the marketing plan.

If your staff is small, work with the business or marketing teacher to enlist one of their classes to take on yearbook sales as a project for a grade. Again, you won’t know until you ask.

So, it is time to get busy. Go to the “Where to find it” box to get started on your new marketing journey. Just remember, no matter how you market it, the message of the value of the yearbook should never change – as the holder of memories of the school year for all students at your school.

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.