Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Julie Andrews Visit to Naperville Magical!

Anderson's aims to have good relations with this city.(Neighbor)(Chalk talk ... and more)
Article from:Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL) Article date:June 16, 2004More results for:jeanine nicarico Literacy

Byline: Denise Raleigh

Public relations can be trickier than ever.

In the days of always-on cameras and continuous audio feeds, coaches and players have been known to drive fans away rather than draw them into the park.

Events intended to help establishments connect with consumers sometimes accomplish the opposite.

Nina Menis, Naperville Unit District 203's director of community relations, recently wanted to talk about Julie Andrews' visit to Naperville - a study in doing public relations right.

The actress-turned-author spoke and signed books June 6 at Naperville Central in an event that benefited the Jeanine Nicarico Memorial Literacy Fund.

The event was "magical," Menis said, adding that the people of Anderson's Bookshop could have had a purely in-store event.

"But they made it an even more special event. They made it be for the community, to benefit literacy and to further career exploration for students," Menis said.

That didn't occur by happenstance, she said, it was planned.

Mary Yockey and Becky Anderson Wilkins of Anderson's work to make connections both outside of and inside Naperville. Wilkins is a member of many national book-selling organizations and is president of the Great Lakes Bookselling Association.

At a convention in Los Angeles last year, Yockey and Wilkins met Andrews, who was looking for feedback from booksellers about her publications.

When Andrews decided to tour to promote her book "Dragon: Hound of Honor," which she co-wrote with her daughter, Anderson's got the call.

Yockey said the store was contacted because of its reputation and the community's reputation of being "hungry for books."

"We immediately thought of the Naperville Education Foundation and the Jeanine Nicarico Literacy Fund. It's just a reflex," Yockey said. "It was better for everyone."

Yockey and Wilkins then began communicating with Andrews' management about how books would be signed. Thought went into the size of the auditorium and the time. Wilkins, a member of the Sunrise Rotary Club of Naperville, and Menis wanted to involve students interested in writing careers.

Ultimately, Andrews agreed to talk with a small number of students, then sign up to 400 books. The Rotary Club helped purchase books for the junior high students.

Community members bought books in advance, with each purchase earning admission for two and a position in the book-signing line.

Yockey said they could have sold tickets for $35 to $50 apiece, but they wanted the event to be open to as many people as possible and they wanted it to be orderly.

"That's how we operate. We are part of this community. We depend on the community. We hope and feel that they depend on us," Yockey said. "It's a mutually beneficial relationship. They depend on us to bring exciting opportunities to meet authors."

Wilkins and Yockey have learned to host successful events through experience, they said. Since Anderson's first hosted Rachel Welch in its Downers Grove store, they've learned the value of knowing which authors interest the community.

Visits through the years from Mike Ditka, J.K. Rowling and lots of other authors - many first-time - taught them about number systems, pre-selling and making sure they have staff on hand.

It also helps when you pick someone like Julie Andrews.

Karin McNamara is a part of Naperville Central's Theatre Central group. She volunteered to be one of Andrews' escorts for the evening.

Before Andrews arrived, the crowd spontaneously began singing songs from "The Sound of Music," McNamara said.

"She (Andrews) was so down-to-earth. On the way in, she was talking about how nice our auditorium was," McNamara said.

After Andrews spoke with the junior high students, Yockey said, she opened her talk with the large audience by discussing the value of literacy, the Jeanine Nicarico fund and the need to "keep the light burning for Jeanine."

"During the signing, she actually talked to each person," McNamara said.

And she spent more time with those at the end of the line, though it was approaching 11:30 p.m. and she'd been signing since 8:15 p.m., McNamara said.

"When she was leaving, she stuck her head in the theater office and she said, 'Thank you for helping me,' " McNamara said. "She signed our Theatre Central quote book, 'Words Count, Books Matter.'"

The event raised more than $1,000 for the Nicarico fund, Wilkins said. But the event benefited even more people, Menis said, because a business supported its community.

- Denise Raleigh writes about education in Naperville. E-mail her