Sunday, March 14, 2010

Harlem Children's Zero Sum Game

I used to work in the marketing side of large corporation (I don't think they'd like me to use their name so let's just say you've heard of it and leave the matter at that). We frequently discussed the dangers of adverse selection: the possibility that a marketing campaign might bring in customers we didn't want, particularly those we couldn't legally refuse. We also spent a lot of time talking about how to maximize the ratio of perceived value to real value.

On a completely unrelated note, here's an interesting article from the New York Times:
Pressed by Charters, Public Schools Try Marketing

Rafaela Espinal held her first poolside chat last summer, offering cheese, crackers and apple cider to draw people to hear her pitch.

She keeps a handful of brochures in her purse, and also gives a few to her daughter before she leaves for school each morning. She painted signs on the windows of her Chrysler minivan, turning it into a mobile advertisement.

It is all an effort to build awareness for her product, which is not new, but is in need of an image makeover: a public school in Harlem.

As charter schools have grown around the country, both in number and in popularity, public school principals like Ms. Espinal are being forced to compete for bodies or risk having their schools closed. So among their many challenges, some of these principals, who had never given much thought to attracting students, have been spending considerable time toiling over ways to market their schools. They are revamping school logos, encouraging students and teachers to wear T-shirts emblazoned with the new designs. They emphasize their after-school programs as an alternative to the extended days at many charter schools. A few have worked with professional marketing firms to create sophisticated Web sites and blogs.

For most schools, the marketing amounts to less than $500, raised by parents and teachers to print up full color postcards or brochures. Typically, principals rely on staff members with a creative bent to draw up whatever they can.

Student recruitment has always been necessary for charter schools, which are privately run but receive public money based on their enrollment, supplemented by whatever private donations they can corral.

The Harlem Success Academy network, run by the former City Council member Eva Moskowitz, is widely regarded, with admiration by some and scorn by others, as having the biggest marketing effort. Their bright orange advertisements pepper the bus stops in the neighborhood, and prospective parents receive full color mailings almost monthly.

Ms. Moskowitz said the extensive outreach was necessary to make sure they were drawing from a broad spectrum of parents. Ms. Moskowitz said they spent roughly $90 per applicant for recruitment. With about 3,600 applicants last year for the four schools in the network, she said, the total amounted to $325,000.

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