Reading, Writing and Profits With The School System Near You
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Reading, Writing and Profits With The School System Near You

You can position your company for profitability by serving the growing market for in-school advertising.

By Jennifer LeClaire

When George Mason High School needed funds to install lights in its new football stadium, it looked for advertisers to foot the bill.

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  • Recognizing the opportunity, a local Cadillac dealer was quick to strike a $50,000, five-year naming rights agreement that puts the company’s logo in different locations inside the stadium, including on the scoreboard, at concession stands and above the stadium entrance.

    The partnership led to profits for John Martel, a Sign-A-Rama franchise owner in nearby Merrifield, Va. His company was selected to create and install Moore’s signage in and around the facility. Martel’s shop has since found a lucrative niche in serving in-school advertisers in the region.

    “As budgets get crunched, schools are starting to look for different ways to raise revenue,” Martel says. “Signage is definitely one option that school administrators are looking at. There’s a good opportunity here for signmakers to create all types of different signs, from vinyl banners to channel letters to directories.”

    Like Martel, signmakers across the country are beginning to recognize the vast opportunity in catering to in-school advertisers. That’s because schools are beginning to recognize the vast opportunity in catering to marketers. According to a U.S. General Accounting Office report, in-school advertising has become a growing industry, with marketing professionals increasingly targeting school children.

    “Exclusive contracts with soft drink companies can net a school about $35 per student each year,” says Mike Roumph, vice president of D.D. Marketing in Pueblo, Co. “Soft drink marketing programs can bring a school district up to $300,000 in revenues. Somebody has to make the signs.”

    A sweet deal
    Companies are getting savvier at negotiating contracts with school districts and both educators and corporate managers are attending conferences to learn how to increase revenue from in-school advertising efforts. It’s a sweet deal for signmakers, who are in a unique position to profit by acting as a service liaison between the schools and the marketers.

    How sweet is it? Youth marketing agency Blue Fusion estimates the youth market is a $95 billion dollar opportunity. While in-school advertising has gained criticism when placed in the actual classrooms and hallways, experts say advertising in school stadiums and gymnasiums is well received because it doesn’t compete with teachers for the students’ attention. With school-spirited parents, teachers and students attending athletic events, marketing messages in sporting environments present the best opportunities for companies, schools and signmakers alike.

    “For years, the teenage boy has been an almost impossible target to reach for corporate America, but corporations who emphasize sports can succeed, as many 14- to 18-year-old boys drink, eat and sleep sports,” says Jim Kaufman, president of SchoolSports, a publication targeted at high-school students. “We find leading corporations, including Reebok, Gatorade, New Balance and others, to be heavy advertisers inside schools in order to reach the 31.3 million U.S. teens that spend $141 billion a year.”

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    And it’s not just teens. Forty-one million Americans between the ages of five and 14 have a direct buying power of more than $40 billion a year and influence an additional $146 billion worth of purchases, according to a report from MarketResearch.com. In fact, nearly two-thirds of parents even admitted that their children were active participants in shopping for cars. Joe Moore, vice president of Moore’s Cadillac, understands this well. “Many school systems are strapped for money for sports and extracurricular activities,” Moore says. “Investing $50,000 in signage at the school is great exposure in an environment that’s very similar to our customer base.”

    Word of mouth spreads
    Sign-A-Rama’s Martel says installing Moore’s signs has brought him name recognition in the community that has led to work at other schools. That has led to repeat business from existing advertisers and additional business from those same companies that need signs made for other venues. It’s a relationship building strategy.

    “This is not a competitive bid environment,” Martel says. “If school officials have dealt with you before and they were happy with the finished product and the turnaround time, then they aren’t out looking for three bids to try to find the cheapest price. They know you’ll give them a fair price.”

    Martel isn’t the only sign company cashing in on in-school advertising. Longview, Texas-based FastSigns is also working with local high schools to help administrators raise much-needed funds. FastSigns recently created seven 28-foot by 8-foot billboards visible from the home section of Longview High School’s football stadium. The Booster Club sells the spaces to generate revenue for the school’s athletic department.

    A local car dealership, two hospitals, a chiropractor, Dr. Pepper and Chick-Fil-A purchased the billboards. Local advertisers may renew their billboard commitment next summer or individual billboards can be sold to other advertisers. “This was a profitable project for us because of the magnitude of it,” says FastSigns franchise owner Mike Baker. “And it’s repeat business because as the advertisers change we have the responsibility to supply the new signage.”

    Educating the customer
    Signmakers agree that the biggest challenge is educating the school system and their advertisers about the types and sizes of signs that are appropriate for stadium and gymnasium settings. Martel also notes that his prices for schools are slightly discounted as a service to the community because the signage is usually part of a fund-raiser for the school. With that in mind, he sets parameters that will ensure he generates a profit and the advertisers get quality signs.

    “Advertisers get two colors on a banner and one logo,” Martel says. “You have to explain to them that this is going to be up on the outside fence and people are going to be 300 feet away and you can’t put a 2X4 banner there because nobody’s going to see it. Everybody has to stick to the uniform specifications.”

    Baker says another challenge is getting good, usable artwork from local advertisers. His company had to create a lot of the artwork at no charge for the Longview project, but says the job was still well worth the trouble. “It’s been very good publicity in the community because our products are very visible and people are impressed by the quality of the signs,” he says. “Other schools are now coming to us and we will continue making signs for the outlying school districts around Longview.”

    Marla Friedler, an executive on the board of the Orange County Ad Club, a non-profit organization dedicated to developing its local advertising industry, says the trend toward advertising in school sporting venues is only increasing. “School campuses are embracing advertising because it’s a source of income,” she says. “Signmakers who pay attention to the trends will reap the benefits.”

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