By: David R. Voss from SEEN Magazine
Public education used to be a monopoly. No competition. Every year the students simply showed up, and most people loved and supported what was happening inside. Not today. Charters, vouchers, open enrollment and private schools dot the landscape, bringing fierce competition for students and the dollars each one of them brings to the district budget.
Attacks on public education have deflated morale and unfairly labeled public education as the cause of many social ills.
Not that it’s all bad. Competition challenges public education to new heights and there’s nothing wrong with parental choice. But it has created a new imperative for schools and districts: branding and marketing.
It’s an imperative because public education is losing the battle of public opinion. It’s a critical exercise due to the potential of losing cash and slashing budgets. And it’s an imperative because our employees need a morale boost and a rallying point.
The difficulty is that education leaders don’t receive courses in marketing. Yet, based upon a recent survey of search firms conducted by the National School Public Relations Association, the number one reason superintendents are fired is, “a failure to communicate.” Here are three points to consider when branding and marketing a public school:
It’s Not Just a Logo
Many people equate a “brand” with a “logo.” Actually, a logo is merely a graphical depiction of your brand. A better description of a brand is a fervent belief, a gut-level emotion and a way of thinking for all stakeholders. It affects our daily behavior and demeanor as well as a clear focus toward our goals. To the external audience it’s an immediate identification of who you are and what you stand for. They get an immediate impression when they think of you. In addition, branding answers the question of what makes you special and differentiates you from other schools or districts. It tells parents why they should send their children there and why taxpayers should pay your bills.
Branding your school or district illustrates who you are and what you do in the simplest of terms. It’s based on local culture, tradition, future direction and your strategic plan, but it’s developed through a creative process. While the result is simple, the time and effort is substantial because it requires a great deal of inclusion and expertise.
The process should start with a communications audit. This determines how people currently feel about you and how they are getting their information. Otherwise known as “marketing research,” the audit identifies the launching pad for your branding process by determining how much you may need to change people’s minds and what things they may already love about your brand. This is called “brand equity” and your new brand should leverage the strengths you already have while overcoming misconceptions.
Committee work then ensues, facilitated by a marketing expert. Tough questions get answered and “key words” are developed for how the school or district would like to be perceived. These are expanded into “key messages” or short descriptions of the brand. The creative brainstorm includes symbols and colors that represent who you are.
The committee work is then turned over to the professional marketing person and a graphic designer. Just as you wouldn’t want a carpenter doing the plumbing, you don’t want educators or students doing the graphic design of a brand —no offense, please, but it’s not your thing. It’s a profession and people schooled in such work should provide you with options for your brand. This is not a place to skimp or run an in-house contest, which only results in hurt feelings. It is well worth the small investment.
Making It Known
Once you have a brand, put it everywhere. Put it on stationery, web, mobile app, social media, emails, billboards, posters, vehicles, buildings, badges, buttons, clothing—the list goes on. You’ll never establish a brand unless people see it over and over again.
Finally, stick with it. Many times when a new logo comes out people will find criticism or comment on cost or colors. Ignore it and move on. Over time the brand becomes known, people get used to it, and you build pride around it.
Content originally appeared in SEEN Magazine Issue 16.2. See full article here.