Back to School

The importance of back-to-school time for brands

PR departments and agencies looking for great cross-promotional opportunities in the fall have an ace in the hole: In many parts of the world, it's the start of a new school year. The back-to-school experience is relevant across a huge range of geographic and cultural divisions, and with the right campaign, a promotion can turn this annual tradition into an attention-grabbing jumping-off point.

Basics of back-to-school promotions

The start of a new school year will become a hugely attention-grabbing trend across communities at slightly different times, Back to Schoolas each district picks a slightly different date. News outlets may devote special attention to the season, and PR Week recommends making pitches to any channels, print or online, that make this kind of effort.1

Becoming part of an overall conversation could bring eyes to a company in an organic way, especially if the brand can come up with a hook that matches the rest of the coverage. In 2008, the year PR Week spotlighted, the focus was on brands lowering prices in the face of the oncoming recession.

Every year and region will have a dominant tone to back-to-school coverage. Brands that keep a close watch on the media in their targeted markets will likely be able to place their stories more effectively and receive the type of coverage they're after. Those with good media intelligence operations will be able to perform these actions more effectively.

A range of options

One of the most exciting parts of back-to-school season from a PR perspective is that with the right angle, a huge variety of campaigns can get a boost from a tie-in. From the most obvious items to more ambitious options, anything can be the subject of an effective pitch. Here are a few examples from this year's crop, each spotlighting a different approach:

  • Charitable contribution: Schools around the country are in need of funds or supplies for the year ahead. Making a donation can throw a business into a flattering light at a moment when parents' minds are on education. WRDW's recent coverage of Kroger - the supermarket chain donated $21,000 worth of school supplies to Georgia classrooms - is an example of this tactic in action.2
  • New territory launch: The beginning of the school year is a time when kids and parents alike get a fresh start, so why not tie a new product or geographic expansion into the fall season? According to PR Week, yogurt brand Chobani launched a back-to-school themed outreach campaign alongside its expansion into Mexico.3
  • Helpful hints: Parents sending their young ones off to a new school year may be feeling a little overwhelmed and welcome lists of hints and tips to maximize their kids' experiences. A campaign that blends promotional and informative elements, like the snacking tips put together by the California Milk Advisory Board, can appeal to media sources looking to pass on some life-hacks to their audiences.4
  • Themed contests: Creating a competition based on the back-to-school season is a good way to draw eyes to an organization, especially when the prizes are tied into philanthropy and giving. This ties the above-mentioned charitable contributions to a compelling contest narrative. For a recent example, see Idaho's Bingham Memorial Hospital and its coloring contest, wherein the top prize is up to $10,000 to help a winner's school.5

 

Perfect tone and timing

PR departments looking to launch the perfect back-to-school campaign will improve their effectiveness if they have a clear view of the rest of the industry. What kinds of messages are competitors sending? Which news sources put a special emphasis on the back-to-school season? What local micro-trends are particularly relevant in the regions they're targeting? Departments and agencies with effective media intelligence are able to answer these questions, then carefully monitor the reaction to and spread of their back-to-school campaigns.

A unique season

It's up to leaders to decide whether their products can tie into the themes of back-to-school season. For a surprising number of companies, the answer will be yes, such a campaign is a good idea. Once the choice has been made, it's simply a matter of choosing an angle and monitoring the results carefully. The annual ritual of the new school year can become a periodic way to grab headlines.


Sources:

1 PR WEEK, August 18, 2016: Back to school brings a variety of options
2 WRDW, July 27, 2016: Kroger donating more than $21k in classroom supplies to local teachers
3 PR WEEK, August 30, 2016: The 7 stories PR pros need to know on Tuesday, 8.30.2016
4 Yahoo Finance, September 1, 2016: California Dairy Offers Back-To-School Healthy Snacking Tips For Families To Start With A Clean Slate For Better Performance At School And Beyond
5 Idaho State Journal, September 6, 2016: Bingham Memorial Hospital holding 2nd annual Back-to-School Coloring Contest

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