Winning the Hearts and Minds of Youth

Recently, I was asked to write an opinion piece, entitled “Winning the Hearts and Minds of Youth,” for O’Dwyer’s PR Report (  The goal was to detail how to effectively market to youth.  But the lessons move beyond simple youth marketing.  They also have relevant application to education reform, where an increased focus on high school reform and transitions to college requires effective communication with the very students we are looking to educate and prepare for productive futures.

I won’t bore you with the full piece (if you’re interested, just email me).  But my three recommendations are important for marketing to youth, adults, and any and all interested in improving our educational offerings.  It comes down to three simple words — respect, preparedness, and diversity.

First, respect your audience.  Nothing is more frustrating than warmed over rhetoric or materials that were clearly created for someone else.  It shows a lack of respect and an absence of understanding.  Understand the audience and communicate directly with them, on their terms.  Can you imagine selling charter schools by using the same messages or brochures for teachers, school administrators, parents, and the business community?  Of course not.  We respect the actors in education reform too much for that.  Or we should.

Second, do your homework.  It’s Media Relations 101.  Find the right media, and apply the right messages.  It may mean moving out of your comfort zone, but it about reaching your audience.  If you are asking them to change their behaviors, you have to be prepared to do the same to convince them.  Instead of seeking coverage from NPR or The New York Times, you may have to look to YouTube or Flickr or MySpace. 

Finally, integrate and diversify.  There is no one-stop shopping in education communications.  We have too many stakeholders.  Too many demographic differences.  Too many histories to expect one-size-fits-all solutions.  Success comes from multiple activities hitting multiple audiences multiple times.  It is the only way we move from informing folks to changing the way they teach, learn, and behave.  Education conferences.  Radio coverage.  WOMA.  Blogs.  They all play a role in convincing a community (either geographic or demographic) to embrace a change.

Simplistic?  Of course.  Good communications usually is.  More importantly, though it works.  Such communications approaches should be non-negotiables for any education reform initiative.

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