The Phoenix Flyer

Public schools are now a “brand.” When did that happen?

By: - July 13, 2018 12:06 pm
Florida Phoenix

Parents and grandparents may remember when kids came home with backpacks stuffed with books, homework, notes from the teacher, field trip instructions and other info – all on pieces of paper.

With the advent of the Internet, schools began posting newsletters, calendars and other paperless updates online.

It was all about simple communication – until techniques got more sophisticated.

Nowadays, districts across Florida are using marketing, messaging, branding and other business-world methods to inform and embrace their targeted audience — meaning school families and taxpayers.

The Sarasota district has a “branding and logo guide” that uses particular shades of orange, green and blue. The Duval school district has “brand and identity guidelines” that come with strict rules warning readers not to stray from approved graphics and messages.

The Orange County district has a marketing and events team that “develops and supports district and school marketing efforts to build enrollment, brand image and community support.” 

This new school branding movement extends nationally, with the National School Public Relations Association handing out awards for the best marketing campaigns.

Rachel Pleasant, senior director of public relations and strategic partnerships at the Polk County school district in Central Florida, explains what has happened over the years.

“When I was growing up. You went to the school down the street,” Pleasant said. Now, “We are increasingly in a school choice environment” – meaning that families can often choose which school they want their kids to attend, even if they don’t live in the official neighborhood school zone.

That means Florida’s traditional public schools, charter schools, magnet centers, career academies, fine arts schools and more all compete for students, and that doesn’t even include private schools in the state.

“The point is, the education landscape is different,” she said.

Parents are now school shoppers that districts want to attract.

Last school year, Polk district officials turned to their own high school students when they wanted input in designing a new branding effort. The students created a new logo and slogan for the district, and local business partners used it as a teachable moment to help the teens get familiar with the branding process.

“The brand has been a unifying force in our district,” Pleasant said.

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Diane Rado
Diane Rado

Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.

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