Jennifer Tegan is the National Director of Marketing and Communications for Reach Out and Read. In this role, she is responsible for the strategy and efforts to promote and advance the organization’s mission of incorporating books into pediatric care and encouraging families to read aloud together every day. These strategies include digital media management, external communications, partnerships with membership organizations, web marketing, social media, and media outreach. Prior to joining the organization, she fine-tuned her skill set in education at Boston College High School as the Director of Marketing and Communications and as Executive Director for the Children’s Well-Being Foundation. She earned her B.A. in Psychology from George Mason University.
Sherri Langburt: So a little bit about me. I grew up as the youngest only daughter to entrepreneurs, surprise, surprise. And while I have many fond memories of my childhood, I don’t recall many moments when my parents read out loud to me.
My older brother’s tried but you can imagine how that turned out. I guess the lack of reading to me in my household turned into a fascination with storytelling, which landed me in the influencer marketing space. There’s no irony there. Reading out loud to children is critical in early childhood development and today’s guest makes sure all children have that privilege.
I’m pleased to welcome Jennifer Teagan, director of marketing and communications from Reach out and Read, the nonprofit organization that promotes reading.
You’ve spent a career in marketing and communications. Can you tell us a little bit more about your background?
Yeah, absolutely. It’s, it’s been a fun journey kind of getting here. I’ve been directly working in marketing communications for about 15 years in nonprofits. And before that, you know, bumped up along side of that as well, I have had the good fortune of working in both education and pediatric healthcare, which is a great intersection of where reach out and read does their work.
How did you get into the nonprofit sector and what led you there?
I think it’s really about the mission. You know, I love connecting individuals with our mission. And, and every organization I’ve worked for, it’s really being able to tell the story and, you know, for reach out and read, you know, if at the end of the day we have reached a parent or a grandparent and they pick up that book and spend quality time with their little ones.
It’s been a good day. It’s extremely gratifying work. I won’t be the first to say that it’s easy work. Oftentimes getting your message out there in such a noisy world, but it’s really, really gratifying work.
Tell us more about Reach out and Read
So we started right here in Boston, about 30 years ago in 1989. And it’s at the old city hospital, which is now Boston medical center. We have grown over the last four years. We are now in all 50 States.
33,000 medical providers delivering our important message of spending time with your children and reading to them out loud. We serve 4.5 million children a year, but shockingly, that’s only about a fourth of the 20 million children that live under the age of five in the U S we are the only national media pediatric early literacy model endorsed by the American Academy of pediatrics.
And it’s, it’s just really gratifying work to have the docs being able to tell their, tell the story of why it’s so important to spend the time every day. Just quiet time, cozied up on the couch, reading to your little one.
How does it really work with the pediatric care system?
So with more than 33,000 providers operate in 6,100 sites across the US, the providers deliver a new and developmentally and culturally appropriate book at the well-child visit. They start seeing patients at beginning at birth and so about there’s about 10 visits from birth to about age five.
Our program does stop at age five because that’s usually kindergarten kindergarten readiness there. So when a mom brings in our six month old and our doctor integrates the book into the visit. They use it as a developmental tool. So as you can imagine, you, you hand the mom or the baby, the book, and what does a six month old do?
They put the book right into their mouth. And it’s great because the doctor can then say that’s completely appropriate. This is exactly how your child’s learning right now by putting everything into their mouth. And it’s really an another great features and they can model reading. To the parent and then talking about the importance of spending that time together, even if it’s just pointing at pictures, you don’t have to get through the whole book.
It’s really about the time spent together, laying that foundation of quality time spent together.
Are they new books or they’re used books?
Definitely new books. We we take donations for gently used books for a lot of our sites non COVID time. Of course we, we work directly with distributors to get the books into the hands of the docs. Most of the sites order their own books, so that way they know their own inventory and everything else. We deliver approximately 7 million books a year across the United States.
Why is reading and storytelling storytelling so important in early childhood development?
It really is. It’s, it’s amazing. How, how many folks out there that are, that are having children that not only are well-educated, you know, well, brought up in a sense don’t even understand the importance of reading aloud. So getting the message out there and working through the trusted pediatrician we have the potential to reach 90% of all children in the United States.
But when you read, talk, sing, connect with a child beginning at birth. It lays the foundation for not only healthy brain development, but it builds a resilient and loving person. I don’t want to go too far down like the science and evidence that backs our work, but we know that the first three years of a child’s life is a critical window of growth, not only socially, emotionally and developmentally the brain experience its largest growth window and these first few years.
So imagine if you’ve, you’ve got a loving parent or grandparent that spends the time reading. That, that child, that baby hears so many more words there. Their brain is primed for not only language acquisition, but they’re also being served that social, emotional connection of a loving adult spending the time with them every day.
Right. I think I’m covered, my grandmother used to sing with me. So singing is, is part of this right. Singing, talking, reading. And then I think having that conversation back and forth, you know, that all of it counts. The book has meant mainly the tool and the vehicle that sometimes makes it easier for folks.
Cause I think, you know, for me, I was never a big singer when I, you know, my two little ones. But I could read a book and then you’d make up your own stories around it. And we hear all the time, how much, you know, like a two year old would love to read the same book over and over and over and how, how fun it is when you you know, I used to skip a page occasionally just to see if they’re paying attention and they’d want to go back and do that repetitive, every single, you know, word.
And they point to the words. So all of that is so important for being not only being prepared for school, but you know, they’re prepared for life.
How does math come into this playbook?
So math is it’s incredibly important. It also, it’s one of our actual special initiatives. We have a reach out and read counts as we know, math is so language-based especially, you know, in our, our American school systems, it’s very language-based.
So it’s something that they can learn early and you can incorporate it into fun. Even higher executive, you know, learning skills of, you know, comparing, predicting. Those are all math skills. So the basic simple counting is, is wonderful. There’s so much more going on with with math that, you know, we, we decided to tackle that a couple of years ago and are rolling it out.
We’re just in the second phase of we’ve, we’ve piloted it in several States and are going to be rolling it out nationwide. It’s so critical because I think that when you hear about problems, kids have in school, it’s really not about the reading more, it’s more about the math. Right. And then, and, and math is still so again, roots language.
Yeah. So it’s a lot of it is just how much you talk about and how familiar they become with many of those skills as well.
Are there other special initiatives you support?,
We have we have several special initiatives and they really do still work within our model of the well-child visit and delivering the book.
But we, we really try and focus on some special populations that You know, have special circumstances around them like military families, you know, being deployed, being, moving a lot, trying to build resiliency you know, a young military families move on average of two to three times more than regular families that aren’t aren’t inactive duty native American, Alaska Americans providing books in their first language.
We just did some special fundraising around Navajo nation and partnered with. Several groups out in New Mexico to get culturally appropriate books around COVID, you know, because there was just this, they were hit so hard with COVID and the information that was getting to them wasn’t wasn’t accurate and it wasn’t trusted because it wasn’t coming from a source that they trusted.
And then another, another really initiative that we’re really excited about is our mirrors and windows campaign. And that’s really Working within having books that reflect children and that, you know, they see themselves in the book. So having diverse and culturally appropriate books you know, it’s, it’s an amazing opportunity to work with small business owners diverse and authors.
There are so many challenges with nonprofits and marketing, but specific to your organization, are there any unique marketing challenges you face?
Probably our main challenge is that because we work through the trusted pediatrician or nurse practitioner, family, family, doctor we don’t really get a lot of opportunity to connect with.
The end user of the program, which is the family. Oh, wow. Yeah. That’s, that’s HIPAA, you know, and, and the fact that they’re getting the book from the doctor. So oftentimes they think the book comes from the doctor. So there’s that present challenges of how do we, how do we get our brand out there and how do we get our name out there?
And you know, one of the ways we, we feel often disconnected with the, you know, primary beneficent of the program. That’s why we have social media. We’ve had such, we’ve had such an impact with social media because it gives us a chance to talk directly to moms, dads, grandparents, and their experience around sharing books together.
Do you put any stickers or stamps on your books so people know its coming from a nonprofit organization?
Yes, we do that as well. We are, we are very, very lucky to work with some great distributors with Scholastic and all about books and they do, they do help us get some branding on the books. With 7 million books, that’s really hard and it’s just one of our goals to have all of our books branded, but we have hundreds and hundreds to choose from.
So the doctors have a lot of variety to be able to choose from and different developmental milestones that they like to, you know, they all have their favorite books. They like to give out in a sense of program books, but it, yeah, it is, it can be a challenge, you know, just to, to raise the notion that, you know, the, the doctor gave them this great book and, and even we’re okay with that though, too.
When did you start to go to social media to get direct correspondence? And how has that evolved and how has it helped?
It really has helped. It’s really helped us connect with our audience. And cause we can tell when we connect with a parent.
The message is, is very clear that they, they love that time. They spend together. They, they really have found kind of the magic and the transformational power of reading together. It’s their quiet time. So there’s, there’s so much warmness and fondness around hearing say a grandmother or grandfather, talk about how they, they really.
Love reading to their grandchild because it brings back such warm memories of reading to their own children. And so that’s, that has been such a great way for us to connect is through social media. And oftentimes we’ll ask for we’ll run little mini campaigns asking for stories or. Or a little fun things like share your favorite photo.
It gets a little tricky cause we need to make sure that we always get the photo permissions and things like that. But it’s been really rewarding working through especially Instagram and Facebook for connecting with parents.
Which is the best channel?
Instagram and Instagram for us, for parents. So it’s funny. All of my platforms have very different users. It’s a very different makeup. My, all my docs are on Twitter. That is where we go to exchange information. It’s I post similar content there, but a slightly different for Twitter, but that’s where our medical community is.
They are such strong advocates for our work. And they really, they really like to hold up and amplify our message whenever possible. But Instagram is where, where the moms are, the librarians, the grandmas and grandpas. They love, love, love to give, you know, the, like the shout out the sharing. And then Facebook as well on Facebook is, you know, in the last year I’ve seen Facebook change quite a bit and it’s, it’s kind of hard to reach The audience that we used to reach.
I don’t know if others are finding that same, same challenge. But for about a year now, we’ve, we’ve really struggled to get our posts as broad reaching as they used to. So they’re trying to get you to spend advertising dollars and we have been, so actually we, that is one of our tactics. You know, we we’ve been to raise awareness.
We really do Google advertising and we do Facebook and Instagram. And a couple other smaller projects, and we’ve seen a lot of, a lot of success on Facebook when we advertise. But you know, in, in with generating leads as well, but it, it is it’s a tricky platform lately. I don’t know. It’s been about the last year.
I’ve seen a change. Yeah, definitely. And I was actually on a networking call last night and a lot of the women were saying that. They’re not looking at their feeds anymore. They’re more embracing Facebook groups. So like if they’re in a group, so it’s more about like, maybe there’s like, I don’t know, like local teaching groups or nurse groups, like that’s where a lot of people are spending more time rather than she called it the scroll and drool something like that. Like, you know, Yeah, because we I’m in, you know, our, our national page is in several groups and there’s a lot more conversation in those groups compared to just reacting with one of our posts. And that does make a lot of sense. Yeah, thanks for the insight that I thought it was just kind of me.
Yeah. It was interesting last night. Cause a lot of the women were saying that that’s and I, and I see it too, from a community perspective, you know, I don’t really post on Facebook personally anymore, but I will, I get a lot of, you know, back and forth with people in different communities. So I think that’s, that’s something that I think everyone’s going yeah, true.
Yeah. I do as well right now that you mentioned it. I really, I don’t post personally on Facebook anymore either. And But I do see several of the groups that I’m in lots of great conversation. You know, I’m in one for my dog, of course.
Do you do anything with influencers?
You know, we’ve done a couple of small things. I have to say we. We just finished the toddler and tots campaign with, with Babel box. And it’s been such a great experience for us in so many levels.
We learned a lot about our audience, you know, things that I thought I knew or had, you know, insight into how folks interact with each other, but it was just such a great learning experience for us. And just the comradery of these moms and how they connect with each other. Through, you know, through a strong support system.
And I thought I found that to be very filled with joy. Whereas a lot of times I find social media can be such a almost a chore, but I found it very joyful and uplifting in a, in a, a very different way. We’ve worked with a few a few, few celebrities with like favorite book lists and favorite times of year.
And then I have my, my influencers that are in, you know, like the medical and healthcare field that just really are true advocates for our work. But then they’re talking back to, you know, their audiences, which are, which are healthcare and medical. So it’s, it’s great because it helps us grow the program, you know?
And we know, I mean our, a medical intern who does their residency. Is if they experience reach out and read in their residency and they don’t have it in the practice they go to, they end up starting it. So it’s a, it’s a great pipeline for us and a great way of advocating for the program itself.
How has COVID shifted the way you do things?
Our nonprofit much like every other business it’s suffered, you know, we, we shut down. All of our offices went virtual. We didn’t have a very large office in downtown Boston, but we haven’t gone back since almost a full year at large that first week in March.
And you know, well-child visits went, went down considerably through June because folks weren’t going to the doctor. So our program numbers did go down, but we S we saw them right. And come back to normal because folks have to go to the doctor. You, you can’t skip a well-child visit. So you may not have it right at two, but if you’re going at two and a half, it’s still okay.
So we did see those numbers come back up, but. What we really found is, and I have to say I’m, I’m, I’m so proud of our organization. It was very internal. It wasn’t something we really boasted about or talked about beyond our own walls, but we, we really reconvened and brought up, brought everybody together and started meeting weekly with, you know, with our leadership and a sense of our medical leadership, our our executive leadership.
And we met weekly about what can we do? How can we still serve these families? And out of that came some tele-health videos and tele-health learning of how to still talk about reading together even when you’re not in person. So even the doc couldn’t give the book, it gave them a window into the family’s life.
At home. So, you know, what does it look like at home? And it gave the, you know, the children that were still being seen, you know, they’re not getting a vaccine, they’d still come in for their vaccine later, but if they’re just getting their well-child visits as a check-in and you know, the other work gets done later, they were still getting seen and heard and, you know, asking mom or dad, how’s it going?
So there’s, there’s a mental health aspect to it. Oh my God. Yeah. So huge. And I think that was really needed. And I have to say I’m so proud of our organization that we came around and put, pulled together a video virtually, in a matter of a couple of weeks to be able to say, you know, and teach, teach our docs how to do reach out and read through telehealth.
Yeah, and that lives on our website still. And, you know, I think folks still use it, but it’s not as urgent now, you know, they are going back in person for well-child visits. But just sharing of resources and then checking in with each other, you know, I think the level of care has gone well really up, you know, There’s such a, an important, you know, the, the mental aspect of what’s happened to children and what is happening to our children.
It’s like, when we think about going to the doctors, like, are they’re eating they’re this or they’re going, but what about are they are, they are their emotional needs being tended to, are they being isolated? You know, the isolation we’re going to. This is going to unfold for years to come, you know, here affected our children and in this population and at different ages too, you know, and I think with one of the great things that I keep going back to the reading aloud but it really does build resiliency.
It’s that little, 10 minutes of normalcy or 15 minutes of normalcy that you can still do at home with that four year old, that used to go to preschool. Yeah. I’m on page 600 of Harry Potter. We read all of those out loud too. I have to say, I love, love, love. The audio books were even better because they just that soothing British accent.
How can influencers help you in doing your great work that you’re doing?
I think I’m just going to focus on one platform and that’s Instagram. We are pretty new to the Instagram game still. We’re only at about 3000 followers. I would just love the help and following us and help amplify our message. I’m open to working with, with all folks and I’ve met some really great influencers with just working with Babel box. But we would love to hit the 10,000 goal or just, you know, keep, because we know that if the more folks that see our message that it will be taken, taken seriously in a sense of like, Oh, Hey, they keep saying the same thing.
This must be, this really must be important. And it’s just, it’s really been a lot of fun. So I would, I’m open to anyone reaching out to me directly just liking our posts and. Follow us. Awesome. And three, that 3000, if you just got started, it’s still a lot of followers, so that’s great. It’s getting there.
Do you partner with brands?
Absolutely. Absolutely. We, we like to really partner with. You know, like-minded brands in a sense of, and we do a lot of partnering with other literacy organizations healthcare organizations, anything that really is supporting the whole.
Whole health of a child whether it’s mental health and then for corporate brands and foundations we partner with several and it, we found really gratifying work and it, because it, it takes a whole village to, to really raise these children. And when I say these children, that’s all the children in the United States and trying to move the literacy dial and raising healthy, happy, you know, high functioning kids is, is a very lofty goal.
So we are open to working with brands. We do a lot of camp cope co-branded campaigns. We have some shared social media campaigns that we do with several literacy organizations. So we are definitely open to working together because it’s better really, it’s better to get us. So we say, and so how can people find you is reach out and read and.
Reach out and read.org and all of our social channels that are at reach out and read.
Name an influencer you love to follow, but hate to admit that you do?
That is so funny. So I had more fun, I think with this question than any of the others, because I have no real shame in my game. I follow a ton of people on my own Instagram and Twitter and such. But what was funny was when I went to go and look I’m not real diverse, diversified in my following. I follow pretty much anyone that likes to post about food.
And if that says enough about me, I’m your girl. If you need to know somebody where to get the best tacos on the street in Austin, Texas and it’s just, you know, I felt I, it was kind of eyeopening, so I don’t really have anyone that I, I hate to admit that I follow them because I pretty much follow anyone that talks about food.
That’s awesome. Well, when I’m able to travel again, I’m going to write to you about recommendations of where I should go to and who has the best tacos? Oh my gosh. If you like street food, the best tacos are in a gas station off of South Congress. And it’s a little white truck that has no, no names on it.
And there’s little lays back there. Making tacos by hand. So. Awesome. Yeah. Thank you. You’re welcome. Such a pleasure speaking with you, Jennifer, and please stay in touch and anything we can do to support your efforts. We are here for you. Thank you so much. And thanks for having me.