Every district and school has a story to share. Beechwood Independent Superintendent Dr. Mike Stacy wants his district’s story to be told by himself and the school board.
“I can’t tell you how important it is to brand and market,” Stacy said during a clinic session at the KSBA annual conference Friday, Feb. 24.
Stacy has worked in seven school districts during his career in education. “I’ve been in eastern Kentucky, I’ve been in urban settings, I’ve been in suburban settings and now at Beechwood. And I can tell you before we even start, there’s not a one of those districts that I wouldn’t say that branding and marketing isn’t a major component or major need right out of the gate.
“Because in the political atmosphere that we’re in and the charters and some of the other things that are being discussed, I cannot tell you how important it is to brand and market your school system.”
Stacy said it’s not a one-size-fits-all strategy for every district. “A communication plan at Powell County would be different than it is at Beechwood.”
Beechwood Superintenent Mike Stacy shows audience members
a notebook with the Beechwood logo on the front.
Shaping your message
Beechwood decided to incorporate business principles and branding strategies to shape its message and to help connect with current Beechwood families and others in the community who do not have children in the school system.
“You want to develop a feeling of loyalty or connection with your stakeholders,” he said. “We all have consumers. It’s definitely looking at how to bring a business component, business atmosphere, business communication style into the school system. A lot of people say that schools are not businesses – that is absolutely correct. But that does not mean we can’t incorporate business principles into the day-to-day setting, especially the superintendent or board office.
“A lot of times I’m hit with, ‘We need to improve communication.’ OK, I can do 15 newsletters, I can do 15 letters home through the mail; that does not increase communication. What increases communication is if I can tell my story, if I can put the points out that everybody in my district automatically knows that when I say those words it resonates with every person. That is increased communication.”
All Beechwood materials related to athletic teams use a red paw print; materials related to academics are branded with a red and white B; and a seal corresponds to communications from the district office.
The district uses the same company to handle any mailings for the school and the brand standards have to be used. “It had to be the red, it had to be the white, it had to be the font, it had to be the B, it had to be the paw, or it didn’t get printed,” Stacy said. “So I was able to control that from my position.”
Stacy likened it to how people respond to logos they see, citing Starbucks, Target or McDonald’s as places that are instantly recognizable by their logo.
“Do people resonate that way within your school system or your school district?” he asked.
Stacy said at some point every district will need specific community support, whether it’s for a tax increase or something else. When that happens, the district will try to communicate with the community about why it is needed. If the district has been marketing its message, it will be easier to gain support.
“I know somewhere down the road we’re going to be faced with something,” he said. “It’s just I would rather try to work on it now.”
Reaching the community
Beechwood mails a one-page communication piece to the community each year detailing the goals of the school district. It also started a biannual magazine called “Legacy” that is mailed to every household and business in the community and to alumni.
Stacy said even a few mailings a year can make a difference in how the community is perceiving the district; his goal is for people to receive some kind of communication from Beechwood at least every three months.
The district received input from students, teachers, administrators and board members on what the branding should be and then contracted with Scooter Media of Covington to market the brand.
Scooter Media’s Angel Beets, who also spoke at the clinic session, said it’s important to know the target audience. “For some of you, competition is strong in your area,” she said. “We believe the stronger your brand, the stronger your market numbers, the more you can encourage students to come to your institutions.”
Beets said social media, including Facebook and Twitter, is a great platform for a district to get its message out because “it’s where people already are.” She said she incorporates the Beechwood brands into social media.
Beets uses a process called “boosting” to generate more views of Facebook posts. The district pays Facebook $1 to $5 on select posts and the social media platform pushes the post to more people, helping get the information to the intended audience.
A good marketing strategy, Stacy said, can also help offset negative comments on social media without having to post comments yourself.
Outsourcing a district’s marketing can cost between $10,000 and $50,000, Stacy said. He said it is a necessary expense because his district is small. Beechwood renegotiated each of its top 20 maintenance expenditures and used some of the savings to pay for the marketing. “It’s not about finding new money,” Stacy said. “My board would never let me be reckless with money.”
He said creating the brand takes about six to 12 months, depending on the size of the district. It takes another 12-18 months to implement.
“This is not a quick process, but once it’s in play it is something that can make a return on investment,” Stacy said.