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Echo Park and Silver Lake schools learning from Madison Avenue

Oct 10, 2018

Bus bench ad on Los Feliz Boulevard

They have handed out flyers, posted notices on Facebook and given countless campus tours. Now, two schools serving Echo Park and Silver Lake have teamed up to try a new approach to attract attention and students: bus bench ads.

Ads promoting Elysian Heights Elementary and Mayberry Street School have been installed on 30 benches from Atwater Village to Chinatown. The month-long, $4,000 campaign was launched late last month as both schools seek to promote new magnet programs and enroll students for next year’s kindergarten classes.

The ads proclaim “Discover the Magic of Mayberry” and “Experience Elysian Heights.”

The bus bench ads reflect the public schools’ most recent attempt to catch up with charters and private schools when it comes to marketing and advertising. The techniques associated with selling consumer goods are now being applied by local schools of all types to help fill seats as the pool of school-age  children has been shrinking — especially in gentrifying neighborhoods like Echo Park and Silver Lake.

“We are being asked to be PR managers and to take care of advertising,” said Mayberry Principal Jessica Niessen.

Niessen’s marketing challenge is to get parents to take a tour of the school and find out more about its Spanish dual language and communication arts magnet programs. She turned to bus bench ads after discovering that street banners and billboards were way too expensive.

But in order to her stretch her budget, she approached Emilio Garza, Principal of Elysian Heights Elementary, about sharing the cost of an ad campaign.  Garza, who wanted to promote his new visual and performing arts magnet program during the kindergarten enrollment period, agreed. One of his student’s parents ended up designing the ad.

“Its seems to be having an impact,” said Niessen. “We are getting contacted.”

Look for public schools to continue to look to Madison Avenue and other sales-driven businesses to keep classrooms filled.

“Things are changing as we are trying to compete with the charter schools,” said Garza. “We have to be creative about how we reach out to parents.”

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