Education Boosted By Integrated Campaign

I hope the 2011 Effie Worldwide Awards, which close this week, honor a campaign that matches or exceeds last year’s Grand Effie winner: the Detroit Public Schools’ (DPS), which epitomizes what I think of as integrity2impact.

When you work in communications, which not everyone ‘gets,’ it’s gratifying to hear of a program that exceeds objectives and links to cost savings or profits. Even better, if it shifts perceptions to the positive, like this school board’s “I’m In” campaign did.

This initiative was prompted by a $305 million deficit and school closures, driven by declining enrollment due to lack of public confidence. Years ago, I served as a communications officer for a large Canadian school board that faced similar issues. We offered a wealth of positives but I suspect like many school boards had to counter the fallacy that government-run or public sector programs are inferior to privately run initiatives.

Like the board I worked for, DPS honestly had many successes, but they were likely eclipsed by urban school crises, from virus outbreaks to fatal fights on school turf.

Leo Burnett and the board countered this with an integrated paid and earned media campaign that used appreciative inquiry, guerrilla-like tactics and the classic bandwagon principle. They created 172 blue doors to represent its 172 schools and the great opportunities behind them and placed them at community events and a downtown plaza. Each door showcased a school’s benefit to local neighbourhoods. Teachers, students, parents and celebrities used each door as a platform to showcase a school’s benefit to local neighbourhoods. Residents were encouraged to show their commitment with “I’m In” yard signs among other tactics. The impact? Enrolment rose by 6,500 and $49 million in funding was raised. [To read about this in more detail, see HBR’s article on it.]

With the explosion of social media tools and steady growth of cause marketing, I think other public sector organizations could potentially adapt this approach and take it even further.

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