I'm a graphic designer for a public high school district. I've had more than one person ask me, "Why does a school district need a graphic designer?" Some of them are designers themselves, so it is not as if these people are the kind that don't understand the impact of brand management and well-designed marketing materials.
But really, why does a school district need a full-time graphic designer? In the two years I've worked for the district I've designed a new (albeit boring) logo to replace the hideous and ugly one they've had for 30-some years; I've reorganized, updated, and redesigned the district website; and I've designed a few banners and posters and other miscellaneous items, mostly for employee recruitment.
But what impact have I had on our (supposed) number one goal: student recruitment? I don't have anything to prove it (our admin team isn't smart on data-management), but my guess would be that not one student has enrolled in our schools directly or indirectly because of the work I have done. Am I just too impatient?
Or, is brand management for an entire school district a battle I can't win? Why is it that after two years even I can't sum up our "brand" in one sentence?
I would like to just say our brand is "High expectations for every student" or something like that. But the brand is in the mind of the beholder, and just me and the marketing materials saying it won't make it so.
Another question I have is, does the district really have a brand? What is it made of? Is it a conglomerate of the individual school brands? It can't be, according to the rules of Positioning. Then what is it? And does it matter? I think it should matter if we're going to have any marketing materials at all. There is no point in having marketing materials when you don't have a unique, focused message.
Here is an analogy: the school district is Procter & Gamble, and the high schools are Tide, Bounty, Cheer, Downy, Ivory, and Era (all P&G brands, by the way). Then what is the brand message of Procter & Gamble itself? To me it is "home cleanliness & hygiene products."
However, I don't buy Gillette Venus disposable razors because they're a P&G brand (I didn't even know they were until I looked at P&G's brand list). I buy them because the product, as compared to its competitors, appeals to me the most (for whatever reason that might be: price, looks, recommendation from a trusted source, etc.). I wonder if this structure holds true for our school district as well: parents don't send their kids to our schools because they're part of this district, they send them because the individual schools appeal to them the most, as compared to the competition. Then why sell the schools under the banner of the district name?
One problem we face is that our administrators (including principals) are squeamish about our schools competing against one another. There isn't any gain if a student leaves one of our schools to attend another of our schools. We get the same amount of money for enrolling that child, no matter which campus they choose.
But I sense that there is also a resistance to marketing each school separately (positioning) because they think that it defines the "haves" from the "have-nots." It's no secret that three of our schools are in the millionaire-type neighborhood and the other three are in the lower-middle class neighborhood (if that high at all). This is a fact that has a part in defining each school's brand, whether we like it or not.
However, what else makes each school different from its other schools, including our major competition, the charter schools? Just from my desk at the main office I see that one school is about Tradition, and another is about Pride, and yet another is about Diversity. These are three unique concepts. But if you try to suggest this Positioning mentality, the principal of the Diversity school might say, "But, we're also about Pride. Can't we be about Diversity AND Pride? Oh, and we're also about Academic Achievement!" They don't understand that when you stand for everything, you stand for nothing.
So, back to my original dilemma: what is the district's brand message? Should we just make it something generic, like "Students are our first priority"? Should I give up on branding and just make everything look pretty, like a good little graphic designer?
Al and Laura Ries... help! Branding is much harder than you make it out to be!