Think advertising through school districts just amounts to a donation that supports local communities? Think again.
Brands like Sprint, Pizza Hut and SeaWorld are putting money into school advertising and seeing results. In some local markets, school districts can reach up to eight times as many families as the largest traditional media source.
School districts are beginning to recognize their influence in the community and the opportunity there. They are replacing the traditional print newsletters with ad-serving digital software that sends clients tracking reports. They have stopped selling the old sideline banners in the outfield and replaced them with high-visibility on-field signage and experiential marketing. They are looking more like college sponsorship programs and, since students are paying to get into these events outside of school hours, it’s no different than sponsoring a college or professional team event -- except your competitors aren’t here yet.
How to take advantage
In many of the mid-to-large sized markets across the U.S., you can find ways to integrate your brand with the school districts on a district level (and not have to go school-to-school). Schools are realizing they can underprice and over-deliver compared to local media and other for-profit events. They don’t have to set rates high enough to pay local talent and they don’t have to pay for ways to get the community to attend.
According to a study by Turnkey Sports & Entertainment (2007), 77% of parents agree that they would be more likely to purchase from and support a company if they sponsored the local high school.
So, whether we call it scaling-out our local, becoming hyper-local, there’s now ways that brands can reach communities in a personalized way that the community feels like it’s just for them.
Think about the Orlando, Florida, market -- a tourist town where it is traditionally tough to reach the locals. The local school district boasts 198 public schools and reaches an estimated 235,000 parents. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s the second largest employer in the market (which is very common as well) with 24,000+ employees and that Florida school districts are zoned by county (so you cover the city as well as the suburbs and rural small-towns around the market).
Which brings up another point: This is still catching on. So, if you are in the Southeastern United States, game on. That’s probably the biggest region.
As more media segmentation occurs and more digital ad buys fail, we will see more and more brands returning to the community-based advertising platform and, now the schools are ready for them.
3 ways to advertise
There are a lot of great ways to work with school districts and each one is different but here are three major areas where school-based advertising has advanced and worth considering:
- Digital web advertisements on school district pages: When you are in a school-based advertising “friendly” market (meaning the school district has the largest traditional media reach in that market) it makes sense to put your ad directly on the school district website. This way, your brand is aligned with the community and still gets the targeted reach you are looking for. It’s a great way to feel a little more secure that your ads aren’t getting blocked and there are real people seeing your ads. Plus, now, school districts have wised up and are using the same ad-serving software that your other digital platforms are using so the targeting and reporting capabilities are there for you.
- Branded events or programs: We’ve done programs for clients like Michael Waltrip’s Pit Crew Challenge (STEM), the Pizza Hut half-time black out’s at high school basketball games, and a Sprint Anti-Bullying hotline. These align your brand values with communities and show off your best features. When Sprint renamed a basically unused anti-bullying hotline, the school district said they thought the student engagement with the hotline actually increased due to it being branded. Same thing with a school district saying they sold more lunches after SeaWorld helped design menus. The more you try to integrate, the better. From half-time shows to the call-of-the-game, sports is probably the biggest area we are seeing growth and even though football gets the biggest numbers of attendance, we have worked with several brands who wanted to focus on those audiences that used to get ignored, like female sports or non-revenue sports like wrestling and soccer. Explore to find the fan base most rabid for your brand.
- Facility Naming Rights: Dollar-for-dollar, you can’t compare the value of a local high school to a pro team. Local is so much better with the support the community returns. A brand that owns a unique space in a casual environment where business isn’t at the foreground of conversation resonates. Groups like Pop Warner football, freshman volleyball, junior varsity field hockey, varsity basketball, and adult soccer leagues use schools year round. Think of all the schedules a venue name goes on, all the tickets that are printed for events, and all the times families are reminded you support them. More times than not, a naming rights deal can reach more cars passing by the facility than a single billboard and, in many cases, the cost to put your name on a school gym, theater or even football stadium is about the cost of full-page ad in the local newspaper, a week of a billboard, or a week on a top radio station.
If you are new to school-based advertising here are some good resources to consider:
- DOT Traffic Reports (free access and allow you to gauge traffic around high school stadiums/theaters, and gyms.)
- Council of Great City Schools (www.cgcs.org) shows you the largest school districts in the United States which should help align what markets you should be in.
- National Federation of High Schools (www.NFHS.org) is a great way to start finding out who is who in the states/markets you want to work in.
Brian Siatkowski is managing partner at Tebo & Associates, a consultancy that helps build partnerships between companies and large school districts.