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New Insight on Marketing Public Schools

By Rich Bagin, APR, Executive Director, National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA)

Thanks to a tip by NSPRA President Nora Carr, APR, we are sharing just a glimpse of a study completed about North Carolina’s registered voters. The study was intended to help leaders get a better grasp of effective marketing messages about public education in North Carolina. My bet is that these findings will also ring true for many other regions of our country as well.

The Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation commissioned the study, and Neimand Collaborative’s Artemis Strategy Group conducted it in February 2013. 

Most of us in education use the “greater good” pitch to prove the social value of public education in our communities. Educators normally agree that the societal outcome of public education is the key card to play when we talk about the value of public education. And, for that matter, it is most likely why many of us decided to become educators. Sure, helping students achieve daily and charting their growth has always been the prime reason for becoming an educator. But a close second was the realization that our collective work strengthened our communities and that our country’s future could be built by all of our graduates because they contributed to the common good. 

Most of us likely agree that contributing to the common good is still our goal, but new research tells us that instead we may want to focus more of our messages on how we are helping individual students achieve.

This study notes that individual outcomes trump the merit of societal outcomes in the thinking of these North Carolina voters. Basically, the researchers are telling us that we need to prove that our day-to-day work is creating success for all children in our changing world. They tell us that individual outcomes for parents and students are the most powerful. Societal outcomes are desirable, but less powerful. In other words, people are asking: What have you done for my daughter to make her a successful adult in our community?

We need to make sure our messages communicate what we are doing to make each child a success.

One additional preliminary observation is that confidence, hope, and optimism about individual results are the most powerful emotional states that adults seek when they consider k-12 education. Parents are seeking confidence that schools are doing well in that role and adults seek confidence that their education investments are actually preparing students for success in real life. We all need to focus on this insight as we begin talking about the powerful value that public education brings to our students first — and then to our communities.

Some additional advice and messages from these research and public opinion strategists are:

  • Education Savings Accounts, Opportunity Scholarships, or whatever anyone calls vouchers are just nice names for giving taxpayer money to private schools. Don’t be misled — these voucher programs put public school money into private schools.
  • Public schools are the best choice for parents, children, and North Carolina. They are by no means perfect. No school is.
  • Common Core — explained as new and improved curriculum that produces a well-rounded and prepared child — has strong traction and should be leveraged as a marketing tool to instill confidence.
  • Talk about the needs of parents and children first — not the needs of the system — then talk about the supports that are necessary to help each child and family achieve their goals.
  • Education is not a system; it is a personal growth experience for parents and children that is made possible by smart and compassionate people working together to help actualize personal and social goals.

To read the full report go to http://bit.ly/1bD0LYw.

An earlier version of this post appeared on NSPRA's Always Something blog.

Views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.

Image by Shunichi kouroki (Flickr: Blue Dragonfly) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons


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