Lessons in marketing for school districts

San Angelo ISD

As children, we all had to go to school. For the vast majority of us, that meant our assigned public school.

Forward-thinking school districts know there is a sea change afoot and have proactively worked to enhance customer service and to offer more choice through expanded academic and extracurricular options, magnets and in-district charters.

But many struggle with how to market these options in a sophisticated way.

Digital marketing has made it more cost effective than ever to reach highly-targeted audiences such as parents, but unless there’s a sound strategy and compelling creative behind the effort, it runs the risk of falling flat. The ads themselves need to be at once professional yet fun, informative yet entertaining, and modern yet enduring.

Traditional school districts who wish to thrive in the choice revolution must begin carving out money and resources for marketing, and they must figure out how to talk to parents and students in a way that feels authentic.Choice wasn’t a really a thing back then, and the school district spent little energy wooing us into our seats every morning. Threat of detention worked well enough.

San Antonio


The world has changed a bit since then. Choice is a thing, and today’s parents (Mostly Gen Xers and Millennials) are demanding choice in everything from artisanal ice cream flavors to education. America’s 75 million Millennials (born between 1981 and 1997) are the fastest-growing group of parents. Nearly 70 percent say they favor charter schools and 73 percent favor vouchers, according to a 2016 study by EdChoice.

San Antonio is a hot market for charters, and the city’s 16 different school districts have banded together to fund a marketing campaign called Go Public to proactively push out a positive message about traditional public schools. In coordination with the districts, The DeBerry Group helped to brand and launch that campaign, which focused on channels where folks weren’t used to seeing traditional public schools advertise, including social media, broadcast television and billboards.

That campaign was among the first in Texas. Others are now following suit. For individual districts, TV and billboards may be out of reach financially, but YouTube, social media and streaming TV services such as Roku and Hulu are great (and less costly) vehicles for promoting videos.

Last year, we worked on a campaign with San Angelo ISD using exactly those platforms. Paired with videos featuring outstanding teachers that tugged at the heart strings, the campaign garnered more than 1 million impressions, a far greater reach than the district could ever achieve with the videos they post organically on their social channels.

With Facebook’s new algorithms prioritizing posts from family and friends, school districts need to think even more seriously about paying to boost content. And of course, making sure that content is awesome and shareable.

Yes, marketing is just one more thing competing for dollars in budgets that are already lean. But if it keeps students and families engaged, proud and choosing to be part of that school district, it’s worth every cent.

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