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The Orange County (Fla.) Public Schools system is the 10th largest public school district in the United States. It features 19 high schools, approximately 48,000 high school students, and 174,000 students district-wide. In these tough economic times, the district decided to use these numbers to help the ones in the budget, and has set up a sponsorship program built around online advertising, communication advertising, and athletics.


By Mike Phelps


In seven months, the district has raised $29,000 in athletics advertising alone, using a combination of packages that feature public address announcements, banners, advertisements on gym floors and football goalposts, and even tournament naming rights. For every sale, half of the money is divided evenly among the 19 high schools, while the other half is placed into the Athletic Preservation Fund, which any school can tap into when it has a budget problem.


OCPS has seen a great deal of success thus far through foam sideline banners paired with public address announcements, since those have a lower price point. The key, according to Brian Siatkowski, OCPS Senior Manager of Sales and Marketing, is to package multiple pieces together.


"For example, if a company comes out to a tournament, give them a booth so people see them when they come in, a banner inside the facility, and a PA announcement or two," he says. "Companies like that because you're hitting them with sight and sound. The logo is there on the banner, but it's not just out there being seen. The company gets PA announcements to reiterate their message."


When approaching companies, Siatkowski says it's important to keep two terms in mind: reach and frequency. "They want to know the reach--how many people their ads will be exposed to--and the frequency--how many times they'll hear or see it. We can offer 19 high schools and about 95 high school varsity football home games. A company can get PA announcements every week at every game in the district. Nobody else has a target and reach like ours."


When selling, especially during the fall, it's helpful to point out that football is played during the fourth quarter of the year, and that games are usually on Friday nights, while weekends are some of the busiest shopping days. "There are two ways that you can sell," Siatkowski continues. "The first is the fact-based sale, like traditional media. I tell potential advertisers that our web site has 800,000 people a month, and that 322,000 people attended an Orange County Public School football game last year. The more facts, the better, because when you go out to talk to companies, they're going to want to know those things.


"The second sell is the emotional side," he continues. "That's where you get better results with the local mom and pops or local chains. If you're in an area that has a lot of people who grew up there, or if the schools have been around a long time, you can do well with alumni who understand their ads will reach the target. Most companies I talk to don't want to reach kids because kids don't have the money. They want to reach the parents but show them they support schools and the kids."


For any other school district that is thinking of starting its own program, the first step is to think about it realistically. Siatkowski didn't sell much of anything for his first two months on the job. "You have to take your time," he says. "Figure out what inventory you want to sell and coordinate that with the athletic directors and principals. And you have to have a policy in place as to what type of content you're going to allow. If not, you're setting yourself to have a group that doesn't even really want to advertise, but wants the publicity of saying the school won't let them. The more structure and communication, the better.


"I would also recommend trying to price out your program using the media," Siatkowski continues. "The media always wants to give school districts media kits that have ad rates and information on how many people they reach. Use that free information as your base."


Going forward, Siatkowski says ideas that are being talked about include stadium naming rights, which have fetched $25,000 to $40,000 per year in some parts of the country, and finding one company to supply eye black for athletes in the district, featuring the company's logo. OCPS has also seen success by creating custom schedules for advertisers. For example, a company can choose a package that allows it to advertise only at homecoming games.


A final piece of advice is to take the venture seriously and go above and beyond to make sure advertisers are getting their money's worth. "I've heard from some people on the corporate side that in the past, they would pay for things and never see the school follow through with it," Siatkowski says. "Materials would sit in the athletic director's office, a sign would fall down on the field and never be picked up, or something would get stolen. These companies have tight budgets and have to justify the money they're spending."


Mike Phelps is an Assistant Editor at MomentumMedia Sports Publishing. He can be reached at: mp@momentummedia.com.



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