Sales-Marketing-Spotlight

School Outreach: Part 1

** Featuring best practices and outreach tactics for summer and back to school! **

Karen JacksonIt’s another exciting back-to-school season for Team Mathnasium—a time of year when targeted school outreach is especially critical! To provide you all with A+ guidelines for building relationships with key contacts at schools, we’ve enlisted the expertise of franchisee Karen Jackson (Mesa & Queen Creek, AZ). A former PTO president with demonstrated success meeting and exceeding fundraising goals, Karen started her Mathnasium journey with a strong grasp of local education culture. Drawing from her experience, she crafted a comprehensive, year-round school outreach strategy to connect with the right people at the right time (summarized on the September 2 Mathnasium Live webinar). Her efforts have helped her make Mathnasium a respected household name in the communities she serves.

Best Practices Overview

Generally speaking, effective school outreach starts with finding the right door and laying the groundwork for solid relationships. “Simply donating and/or dropping off Mathnasium merchandise won’t do much,” Karen advised. While we should be mindful of each school’s culture and administrative structure, it’s important to be brave, be bold, and follow the rules… within reason. If one avenue doesn’t pan out, in most situations, there’s almost always another way in. Keep trying!

As you pinpoint target schools in your area, be aware that some schools may have firm restrictions that limit partnership potential. Here are a few that Karen’s discovered:

  • Title 1 schools receive funding for tutoring. They often aren’t receptive to partnering because they want their students to use their afterschool programs. Karen maintains a list of Title 1 schools in her territories and updates it yearly, in the event that certain schools switch over to Title 1.
  • Certain private schools won’t accept logoed merchandise and don’t allow advertising. While some will accept donations, they won’t recognize donors/sponsors on websites or printed materials.
  • Other schools have after-school tutoring programs in place that they pay for (and therefore aren’t too keen on partnering with Mathnasium).

As with all relationships, establishing meaningful connections with key decision makers and parent leaders at schools takes much time and commitment. Karen has Center Directors on hand to manage day-to-day operations, leaving her with ample time and energy to focus on marketing, relationship building (in-Center and throughout the community), and high-level business growth strategies.

Building relationships involves demonstrating consistent effort to stay engaged and involved. Attending school board meetings is a great starting point. “These are open to anyone,” Karen said. She also attends PTO/PTA meetings for all schools in her area—at least four to five/month per Center, though there can be as many as 10 in a month!

When attending meetings:

  • Be aware of the time commitment. Each meeting is about an hour long. You must attend meetings regularly and become a familiar face—this shows your dedication and commitment to supporting schools and parent leaders.
  • Wear your Mathnasium shirt!
  • Introduce yourself as a community partner. “I’m here to see how I can sponsor and what I can do to help you out.” Make it clear that you’re there in the spirit of partnership and generating awareness—you’re there to be of service and aren’t trying to sell them anything!
  • During your first meeting, ask for an event calendar for the year. This will help you pinpoint seasonal opportunities.
  • Listen attentively and offer to help in any way possible! Karen has helped PTAs/PTOs with fundraising, including volunteering, selling tickets to their events, and donating in cash or kind.

Here are some year-round tactics Karen has utilized to show her support and create networking opportunities:

  • Serve as a classroom or office volunteer.
  • Connect with football and baseball coaches at her nearest high school (3,500 students) and offer them a handful of scholarships to use on an as-needed basis. These are intended to help students improve their grades so they remain eligible to participate in sports programs.
  • Sponsor schools’ weekly program folders (“Wednesday Folders”). These are folders that go home every Wednesday with information about upcoming school events. “Teachers send them home in kids’ backpacks, and parents have to read the material and initial them every week.” Karen has arranged to sponsor these folders for $700/semester. “One side of the folder has dates and space for parents to initial weekly. The other side has Mathnasium on it!” Through these folders Karen reaches an estimated 500 – 600 families per school. If she encounters a school that doesn’t offer this program, Karen offers to initiate and pay for it herself. She says that these folders are arguably her best marketing tactic! Karen Jackson School Outreach Wednesday Folder
  • Offer a limited number of complimentary two-week memberships for struggling students at elementary, middle, and high schools. These passes include a free Assessment. “This allowed me to get in front of parents that might not have heard of Mathnasium.” Karen uses these scholarships tactically and sparingly and always funnels them through teachers or principals/administrators in the context of parent-teacher conferences or preparing for standardized tests (teachers/principals are instructed to give this offer letter only to parents of students in need). “I can’t tell you how many times those two-week offers turn into a 6- to 12-month membership,” Karen noted. “If the immediate family cannot afford to attend, many times, a member of the child’s extended family will offer to pay for Mathnasium.”
  • Provide teachers with free homework help coupons(essentially a “Free Trial”). Each teacher receives a sheet of these at the beginning of the school year; Karen encourages them to photocopy the sheet and distribute to as many students as possible. She also attaches them to teacher outreach emails. Karen knows they’re being used, as families routinely bring in black-and-white photocopied coupons into her Centers. So families get an accurate impression of what Mathnasium’s like, sessions mirror a typical session in terms of teacher-student ratio.
  • Approach elementary schools and ask for the opportunity to sponsor teacher workshops. This includes bringing them lunches/snacks and Mathnasium-branded items.
  • Once a student signs up at Mathnasium, reach out to the teacher to get feedback on the student’s needs and overall performance. “This not only gives the business more credibility, but also encourages teachers to send more parents to us. Much of my success can be attributed to word of mouth from teachers and students we were able to help.”

Based on school calendars and her own experiences networking in schools as a parent, Karen identified seasonal outreach opportunities, allowing her to plan in-school marketing strategically and optimize exposure for Mathnasium. Read on to find out how she implements the tactics listed above effectively and with flair!

Summer

“PTO and PTA presidents are elected at the end of the school year,” Karen explained, so school outreach begins during the summer months. Karen connects with newly-elected parent leaders via email as they prepare for responsibilities that lie ahead. She attends summer PTO/PTA meetings and asks PTO/PTA presidents how she (and Mathnasium) can help them reach their goals in the coming year. She also gives these key contacts a few suggestions for how Mathnasium can help. For instance, Karen offers to provide teachers with back-to-school goody bags during the first week back, as well as host a back-to-school teachers’ breakfast and other events. When sending these emails, “always copy the principal,” she advised. (Editor’s note: Check out http://www.greatschools.org/ to pinpoint principals in your area.)

Back-to-School

In-school “Welcome Back!” Teacher Breakfasts – first week of the school year

Karen partners with local restaurants to provide food—it’s a great opportunity for these businesses to gain exposure, and “Every year, different restaurants want to participate,” she reported. Karen times breakfast set-up to overlap with guests’ arrival time. This gives her ample face-time for networking, and teachers and administrators get to know Karen and her staff as neighborhood math experts. Karen notes that a lot of the time, teachers are more than willing to help set up!

Breakfast Set-up:

  • One section/table with food (breakfast items along with coffee, soda, juice, dessert, etc.)
  • A teacher goody bag on every seat
  • One table for teacher information packs (including trifolds and Free Homework Help/Free Trial coupons: postcard-sized, encouraging teachers to send at-risk students to Mathnasium for a free hour of math help)

Teacher information packs:

  • Introduction letter
  • Business card
  • Mathnasium trifold
  • Free Homework Help Coupons (mentioned above)
  • A letter addressed to parents offering a two-week free membership for a student in dire need of help (mentioned above)

Teacher goody bags:

All items fit nicely in a cooler bag ($2.09 at Staples); Karen customizes these with the Mathnasium logo via Staples. Included are:

  • A selection of Mathnasium-branded items: Post-its, pencils, pens, notepads, etc.
  • Snacks (protein bar, candy bar, can of soda)

“Two weeks after the breakfast, reach out to every teacher at the school. Thank them and attach another sheet of Free Homework Help/Free Trial coupons,” Karen advised. “I also tell them that if they have a student who really needs help but can’t really afford the program, they can call me and I’ll do my best to work with them. I give these students a month-long scholarship—usually what happens is that these students sign up and become paying customers.” Karen always receives follow-up emails from teachers thanking her for her support!

Mathnasium table at Back-to-School night – back-to-school nights as outlined on each target school’s calendar (mostly elementary and middle schools)

In this situation, Karen showcases how Mathnasium makes math fun and engaging as she connects with families! At these events, she and her staff don’t sit behind their table. Face-to-face contact with parents is critical—they stand in front of their table and hand out brochures and free trial coupons to everyone who walks by.

Booth Set-up:

  • Mathnasium tablecloth (via Wild Impact)
  • Balloons
  • Mathnasium banners
  • Flashing light-up frames with Mathnasium posters (very eye-catching!)
  • A+ mascot (via Wild Impact)
  • Prize wheel, with Mathnasium-branded items as prizes

Additionally, she encourages parents and kids to hang out at her table for a longer period of time by giving each child a page from the Mathnasium paper airplane kit (16 pages total; available here) along with instructions. “I have candy on the table, but kids can only take a piece if they build the airplane and fly it,” she explained. Karen sets up a spare table for airplane-building, and added that “often, kids can’t build the plane by themselves, so parents need to sit with them and help.” Karen then gets some valuable face time with the parent while the student has fun flying the paper airplane. “Every parent gets a business card, and if they choose to give me their contact information, I follow up immediately!”

Students’ Night Out event – hosted quarterly, with the first held as close as possible to the beginning of the school year

Parents drop kids off at Mathnasium for an evening of fun, food (snacks and water), goody bags, and games (ping pong, Cornhole, Jenga, coloring activities, and more)! This is a great opportunity to introduce families to Mathnasium as a fun place to do math. Student participation raises funds for schools—when pitching this idea to parent leaders and administrators, Karen likens it to a “restaurant night” fundraiser.

  • Attendance is free and lasts about three hours—parents enjoy an evening out while kids have fun at Mathnasium!
  • The evening starts with an hour blocked off for Assessments.
  • Staff adequately to ensure parents get the best service—Karen always has plenty of Instructors on hand to greet and discuss Assessment results with parents.
  • Karen donates $5 – $10 to the school or PTA/PTO for every student that attends. Schools/PTOs/PTAs receive a $25 donation for every student that signs up for a minimum of one month. Schools/PTAs/PTOs receive a minimum of $200 as a donation for participating. Donations cap at $500 per school/PTO/PTA.
  • Parents fill out forms with their information—Karen follows up with all parents via phone and email and talks to them about Mathnasium!

Karen primarily uses this activity to solidify community branding and spread goodwill. Thanks to support from PTAs/PTOs, flyers for the event are sent home via the school weekly program folder/Wednesday Folder every week for about four to six weeks prior to Students’ Night Out.

Coming up later this week: Karen’s school outreach strategies for report card season, the holidays, and the spring semester. Stay tuned!