September 23, 1999 / Fall 1999 / Marketing

Staffs use innovative methods to sell more yearbooks

Written by Scott Albright

The young lady singing the praises of yearbook was highly enthusiastic and oddly familiar. Students watched in amazement as the wild and crazy gal made a very convincing case for buying a copy of the 1999 yearbook. Broadcasting from the school’s central control room, the extremely popular video infomercial reached every student in every classroom. By the end of the day, everybody was talking about the yearbook and about how cute Brian Thomas looked in a dress and high heels.

This highly innovative sales approach is just one example of how many staffs are successfully marketing their yearbooks. Utilizing a wide variety of creative sales and marketing methods, yearbook staffs are working hard to increase sales and to post annual “buy rates” of between 60 and 80 percent. Numbers like these are impressive, considering the majority of staffs realize sales of 50 percent or less on average.

Whether it is a simple marketing plan based on posters and word of mouth or a more ambitious plan involving a cross-dressing student in a video infomercial, it seems the sales philosophy of each yearbook staff is different. Despite the varying approaches, the goal is always the same: to sell more yearbooks.

“More than anything, I try to instill in my staff the importance of yearbook sales,” Christie Chambers, yearbook adviser at John F. Kennedy High School, La Palma, Calif., said. “Having said that, I must admit our sales philosophy is pretty simple. Basically, we rely on word of mouth. That is, the staff starts spreading some harmless rumors about how great the yearbook is going to be this year. This creates a frenzy and gets the whole school talking about the yearbook. We just plant the seed and watch it grow.”

Besides using the teenage gossip mill to their advantage, she said the staff of the Eternal Flame also relies heavily on reputation to sell their yearbook.

“We’ve been able to piggyback on the success of the last book when it comes to sales,” Chambers, who reports a buy rate of more than 60 percent, said. “We work very hard to produce a product that’s different every year. The reputation of the book alone has helped us sell more each year. Many of the students are thinking ‘I don’t want to miss out; I want a copy of the yearbook.’ They don’t want to be the only one without a copy.”

While Chambers and her staff keep it simple, the yearbook staff at New Palestine High School in Indianapolis employs a more involved sales and marketing plan. The Avalon staff organizes an annual sales week, two major mailers and several other activities involving the entire school and community.

“We do everything we can to promote the idea of buying a yearbook,” Chris Conti, adviser, said. “It’s all about promotion.”

Some of the successful promotional activities at New Palestine have included:

“Chalkboard Blitz” week. Yearbook staff members meet 30 minutes before school starts and fill in a designated section of every chalkboard with a catchy slogan and other important information promoting the yearbook.

“Free Candy” days. Staffers pass out free candy in the halls and commons, using candy-specific slogans to urge students to buy a yearbook. For example, the slogan “Let the Good Times Roll and Don’t Forget ‘Em” is used on Tootsie Roll day, while “Don’t Be a Dum-Dum” is used on Dum-Dum day.

Sales-week video production. A staff-produced video promoting “Buy a Yearbook” and the yearbook theme is shown to the entire school at the beginning of yearbook sales week. Popular students are featured in a “movie-like” production, such as the recent “Mission: Impossible” video.

The Avalon staff has been involved in another effective campaign for selling their yearbook. Each year, the staff has approached the fire department, gas stations and other local businesses about using their marquees to promote the yearbook for a few days or a week at a time. Conti said most of the businesses have been willing to help out.

“This is a great way to get the word out to parents and others in the community,” she said.

Many advisers gave general advice about how their staffs have been able to increase yearbook sales. A common suggestion was to sell yearbooks during registration.

“The staffs that aren’t doing this are really missing out on a great sales opportunity,” Chambers said. “We started selling at registration two years ago and our sales have increased by about 300 books.”

For Lisa Morris and the Cohiscan staff at Connersville High School, Connersville, Ind., yearbook sales at registration is a long-standing tradition.

“We traditionally sell about 500 books during our school’s two registration days in early August,” Morris said. “It really is pretty amazing. The principal sends out a ‘Welcome to School’ letter, simply mentioning that yearbooks will be on sale at registration, and then the parents flock in to hand us money.”

Morris also touched on another philosophy shared by most advisers.

“I really think one of the best ways to increase book sales is to give the students a quality product, full of photos and quotes, which involve the students,” she said. “I’m in my second year here and book sales is something we are still working on. Our first book caught their attention and we quickly sold all our overruns. This year, by the time we sell all our overruns, we will have sold 740 books to about 1,200 students. That’s a 62 percent sales rate.”

Conti agrees that building a reputation of excellence can really make a difference.

“Really, when you boil it all down, our best marketing tool has been we have a better yearbook,” she said. “We’ve built a reputation and it works. The students simply want the yearbook.”

The bottom line for most advisers and staffs, whether they employ a simple sales and marketing plan or one that is more involved, is increasing the yearbook’s visibility within the school and community. This idea was summed up the best by Susie Coleman of Greenfield, Ind., a veteran yearbook adviser who is beginning her first year advising the Catamount staff at Greenfield Central High School.

“You really need to get out there and get in the face of the student body and the community,” Coleman said. “Just be creative and have some fun. That’s really half the battle.”

Here are some other effective methods being used by staffs to increase yearbook sales:

Don’t forget the mailings! Organize bulk mailings to students and/or parents of students who have not bought a yearbook. Be creative and make it easy to order. Consider including a coupon with a mailing. Coordinating mailings can be a lot of work, but it is still a sure-fire way of increasing sales.

Coupons, coupons, coupons! Offer discount pricing at different intervals throughout the year or during special events. For some people, getting $5 or $10 off the regular price is all the incentive needed.

Make an appearance or two! Set up a yearbook sales table at special events, such as the Homecoming football game, Prom dinner, freshmen orientation or parent-teacher nights. Registration and a single sales week is not always enough. Go to the students as often as possible; do not expect them to come to you.

Sell ’em in installments! Implement a partial payment plan, splitting the cost of the yearbook into three or more installments. This can increase sales by catering to students who may never buy a yearbook because they cannot afford it all at once.

A photo is worth a lot more sales! Sell extra photos from sporting events and other special activities that are not being used in the yearbook. Put up posters that say “If you like the photo, buy the book!” Rubber stamp each photo with the same sentiment. A great way to make money and increase sales. Or have photographers on assignment hand out cards that say “You’ve been shot. To find out how you fit into the big picture, buy a yearbook!”

  • Billie Patterson

    LOVE these ideas! GREAT things to promote yearbook!

  • Grace Ancharski

    I’m not the one in charge of sales for the yearbook, but the staff who are will like these ides.

Scott Albright