My time here is done.

Filed under: education, marketing — d June 19, 2007 @ 4:44 pm

Well, my boss basically just told me that we have no budget to do marketing research this next academic year. No money to figure out the readership of our employee and community newsletters, no money to ask people why they send their kids to our schools or why they take them out to attend a 'better' school.

This past year we left some $50,000 or more unspent. This, even after I kept harping on my boss to get going on marketing research. We had plenty of money to do it this year, but we didn't.

My time here is done.

I just applied to a position at one of our feeder schools (same community, different grade levels). They have a full marketing staff there - 2 designers (hopefully I'll become one of them), a copywriter/PR/broadcasting expert, a marketing director who has expertise in video creation, and a part-time secretary. They do marketing research every year (or at least every other year) and focus on one specific thing: enrolling students.

They have a real marketing department.

To hell with the people I work for now. Let their student enrollment hemorrhage and their budget drop year after year. Will they finally learn when they realize they have to cut jobs and salaries? Will they finally learn when people drop like flies to go to other districts?

Nah. They won't learn. It's a school district. They'll just keep doing a shitty job year after year, and pat themselves on the back for doing it. And they'll keep getting money from the state.

Oh well.

Branding and Positioning for public school districts: Impossible?

Filed under: design, education, marketing — d June 6, 2007 @ 1:12 pm

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?

PositioningOr, 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.

PG logoHere 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!

Marketing is pointless without research

Filed under: design, education, marketing — d May 3, 2007 @ 11:06 am

I'm sitting here trying to write and design an advertisement for our school district to be placed in a local business directory. What should the headline be? Who is the audience and what are they looking for in a school?

The answer is that I have no idea. Why? Because we've never done any research. I don't know what the parents and students think about our district. In other words, I don't know what our brand is.

Why do parents send their kids to our schools? Is it because of good SAT or AIMS scores? Is it because the parents know and trust the teachers? Or is it because they don't have the money to send them to private or charter schools? If they take their kids out of our schools, why and to what schools are they moving?

I've been at this district for almost 2 years and to still not know the district brand is frightening. I've been pushing to do market research since I got here, and still it has not been done. Why? I have no idea. We have $75,000 of marketing funds that will go unused this year. Luckily, we're still getting $120,000 again next year to start with. I'm amazed that the teachers haven't rioted since seeing that we get that much funding for marketing & recruitment.

One would think that the lack of good school marketing and PR is due to lack of funding. Not in our case. In our district it is because of a lack of marketing brains and a lack of good leadership and overall communication. Data-driven decision-making? Hah!

::sigh:: I guess I'll just make something up.

Technology in the Classroom: Yearbook Design a la Web 2.0

Filed under: design, education, technology, web 2.0 — d April 28, 2007 @ 11:06 am

Today I had a wonderful, long conversation with the yearbook teacher and webmaster for one of our schools. Mostly it was polite complaining about how the people in charge just don't "get it" about marketing, customer service, and technology. Well, and leadership, if you ask me.

In our conversations about wanting to buy a content management system for her school's website, she decided to show me the website that her class uses to design their yearbook. Yes, they design their entire yearbook within a web-based application. So long, InDesign, these kids are designing in 100% dee-licious Web 2.0.

The site is called Yearbook Avenue and is a service of Jostens (who probably published my yearbooks, too, way back in the day). Unfortunately there isn't a demo login you can get access to unless you give them a call. So instead I've taken a few screencaps:

Jostens Yearbook Avenue

(Click for full size) 

The site is much more powerful than I thought a web-based print layout application could be. The yearbook teacher gives each student in the class their own login account and from any computer on campus or at home they can work on the pages to which they are assigned. A number of students can work on it at the same time. The teacher has the ability to lock and unlock pages to specific users. She can even add virtual sticky notes on a page to tell a student what they need to edit!

One might think, "Yeah, but InDesign really will always be better." Sure, it might be. But this comes pretty darn close to the functionality of InDesign and Quark. And the built-in content/photo management system can't be beat, especially since the teacher and students can work on the book from any computer and at any time. The teacher told me she used to stay in her classroom until 10 pm working on grading students' layouts in InDesign. Not anymore. She now does that from the comfort of her home.

Photo management

Photos can be uploaded and managed by students from any computer. There is also an area for community members to upload school-related photos if they like. This school has nearly 5,000 images uploaded. Even better, when placing an image into a layout, the application will automatically tell you if the photo does not have a high-enough resolution for print. No worries about crappy cellphone camera photos at 72 dpi.

 Yearbook Avenue


Printing and Previewing

For proofing purposes, students can easily make a PDF of the layout with the click of a button. They can also view a "virtual" book and literally flip through the pages to get a feel for how it will look when printed and bound.


Yearbook Avenue

All-in-all this is a fantastic application. It is a great example of how technology, and Web 2.0 in particular, can be used in the classroom. And while I'm on the subject, why do I call this Web 2.0? Honestly, I'm not quite sure what Web 2.0 really is. I'll look it up tonight perhaps. But its starting to crystalize in my mind that Web 2.0 is the trend of web-based applications replacing software applications: Google documents replacing Microsoft Word, Flickr replacing iPhoto, and Yearbook Avenue replacing InDesign (at least for yearbooks).

Maybe I'm wrong, but this is certainly an exciting trend!


I’m having a Microsoft panic attack

Filed under: design, education, technology — d April 27, 2007 @ 10:35 am

Why for fuck's sake are they still teaching people to use FrontPage, Publisher, Word, and PageMaker for fucking websites???!! Three of those four are for fucking PRINT publications, not web!!! Why the hell did Microsoft feel the need to put that flipping "Save as web page" function in there?????!!!!

If Bill Gates didn't do so much for charities I'd want to fucking beat his head in for all the shitty software he's pushed upon the moronic masses.

Would someone out there PLEASE make an application for people to make websites that is easy and not at godamn fucking shitty as Microsoft???

Not paying attention to the blogosphere

Filed under: education, blogs, blogging, school districts, technology — d April 11, 2007 @ 11:17 am

I just found out my boss and probably at least one governing board member (if not all 5) aren't paying attention to the blogs about our district. I don't care what anyone says, all the old people need to wake up and join the 21st century. To miss all the meaningful conversation that is happening on these blogs is not acceptable. Our base customers - parents and students - are using this technology every day. But many (not all) in the older generation are used to their ways, mainly ignoring the wave of technology that the younger folks can't live without. I don't expect these people to have a Twitter account. But at least know and understand what it is. Set up Google alerts for your own name and district and each of your schools and school board members. Check out myspace (if it's not blocked by Websense). Force yourself into being *curious* for goodness sake! We're letting our customers just pass us by. What a shame.

Logo by a Child Left Behind (or what happens when Dubya gets a red crayon)

Filed under: logos, design, education — d April 9, 2007 @ 9:48 pm

In the dark of the night sometime in January while no one was watching, No Child Left Behind got a makeover. Their new logo shows three slash-like red stripes and horrible typography. Makes me wonder what poor unpaid intern they had work on this piece of art.

read more | digg story