Marketing to schools in the days of the virus

Part 1: What happened?

Self-evidently no one had any idea of how to undertake email and website marketing to schools during a pandemic, when Covid19 arrived, simply because this was the first pandemic of the email era.

As a result of both the novelty of this situation and the uncertainty of how long the shut down might last, what happened was that large numbers of advertisers noted that schools were closing, and so stopped advertising. This turned out to be something of a mistake because although teachers were as shaken and bemused by the pandemic as anyone else, they had two issues to consider. As a result they were among the workers who were effectively still at work during the pandemic, even if they were at home rather than working at school.

First, many teachers were left searching to find activities and materials that the pupils and students they were teaching could undertake at home. Second, they started to think about what they were going to buy in the next financial year, to accommodate this changed situation.

For the LA schools the timing of the crisis did not cause too much of a problem since the virus arrived just as the funding for the new financial year (with the increases promised by the government during its election campaign the previous December) was entering the school’s bank accounts.

This meant that teachers began to think about spending money on resources that were suitable for the present crisis.

However for the Academies, life was slightly more complicated as their new money arrives one term later, at the start of the new school year. However most were able to divert the money left from the current budget and bring forward some funding from the 2020/1 school year.

Thus there were on the look out for new materials that would help them teach their pupils or students at a distance. The only oddity for them was that about 50% of companies that would normally be advertising at this time, stopped sending them information on their products or services!

Part 2: How to write advertisements during the days of the virus

This of course was what we all needed to find out, although fortunately it only took a few experiments revealed the answer – and we were able to work with those clients of ours who wanted to keep on advertising at this time.

What we quickly found was that advertisements that highlighted the virus, even if it was just with a passing mention of “these uncertain times” or anything akin to that, did less well than those which simply accepted we were living in the days of the virus and got on with it.

The reason for this appears to be that such adverts tended to tell the teachers and managers what they already knew, and it has long been realised when writing to teachers and managers, that this is not the best way to start. “Start with the exciting, start with the new” has always been the guideline.

One can headline an advert “Home working materials for Year 3 children” – that is fine, but the impact of that clear headline will be lost if one then says, “At a time when children are working at home and busy parents may not be able to spend as much time on their children’s education as they would like…”

Everyone knows that is the situation during lockdown, and therefore such an opening was seen as irrelevant blather.

On the other hand a headline that reads

“Perfect for homeworking where parental support is not available”

makes no mention of the virus, but gets straight to the benefit.

In effect what continues to work well are advertisements which simply accept the current situation as the new normal, and which get straight into the benefits.

The reason for this is not too hard to see. Teachers are perfectly aware of what is happening in the world around them and therefore do not need any reminder that these are “difficult times” or that there is a virus out there. Indeed it would appear that advertisements that make no mention of the virus generally do better quite a lot better than those that do.

This turned out to be the case even with hand sanitiser. Everyone knows where there is an emphasis on hand sanitiser – there’s no need to use the word “virus” over and over again.

The situation at home

Teachers were of course very aware that different children had different home situations, and some while some may well have had access to a very modern computer with fast internet connection, others most certainly did not. Therefore the provision of materials for pupils and students with internet and other materials for those without, worked well.

However it was generally better to focus on one of these two options per advertisement. One advertisement offering a digital approach to learning, with a footnote leading to a separate advert for materials for pupils or students without such support, could work well. And obviously this approach could be reversed in the next advertisement.

As always, if you would like to have a look at a proposed advertisement to teachers and/or school managers before you send it out, we will be happy to do that. Just email with a request for our creative team to offer our thoughts. There is no charge.

Tony Attwood