Education Market Comeback Underway
Jul 21, 2021
By Bob Stimolo
For the first time since the pandemic struck, there is convincing evidence that the school market is making a return to a new normal. In our most recent quarterly survey of school marketers, respondents forecast a 15% sales increase for full year 2021 sales. The majority of participants expressed the belief that sales would begin to improve by summer and that the Biden administration policies would contribute to improving sales.
A number of school marketers created and amended products to accommodate remote teaching. These companies generally fared better through the pandemic than those that could not. The consensus in the education community is that students learn better in class than they do at home. The majority of school districts have established goals to return to in-class teaching. We expect to see significant movement in this direction beginning with the opening of schools this coming fall.
Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief
In mid-March, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel A. Cardona announced the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) which included $122 billion in funds for “State educational agencies and school districts to help safely reopen and sustain the safe operation of schools and address the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Nation’s students.”
In a letter to Chief State School Officers, the Education Secretary wrote “This includes using funds to … address the many impacts of COVID-19 on students, including from interrupted instruction; implement strategies to meet students’ social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs; offer crucial summer, afterschool, and other extended learning and enrichment programs; support early childhood education; invest in staff capacity; and avoid devastating layoffs at this critical moment, ensuring that all students have access to teachers, counselors, and other school personnel to support their needs.”
You can find the State Allocation Table for these funds on the Department of Education website www.ed.gov.
This is the most positive news for school marketers since the pandemic began. It suggests a number of steps most school marketers should consider for the coming “back to school” promotion season.
Time to Renew Promotion and Sales Cycles?
The majority of school marketers market through some combination of sales reps, direct mail and email. The sale of many educational product lines requires time to go through district and school budgeting and approval processes. Many of the sales that will come to fruition in late spring of 2022 will result from promotion efforts made in the fall of 2021. If you fail to plant the seed of your sale this fall, you run the risk of failing to make the sale next spring.
Reach Out to Former Customers
Reestablishing your relationship with prior customers should be a number one priority. These educators are the most likely to respond to your promotion efforts. Your best prospects are likely to be among the other teachers in your customer schools.
Districts and schools in more affluent communities often have the most discretionary funds. Prospecting in the more affluent of communities should yield better results, in spite of federal programs such as ARP ESSER.
The Challenge of Educational Marketing
Selling into education is a challenge. Virtually every purchase made in the institutional environment is subject to competition, and requires the support of multiple educators. Your sales message must make the argument that the benefits of your products and services outweigh their cost. In most cases, the sales argument must sway classroom teachers as well as an array of school and district administrators.
The challenge we face is over whether to invest in the market now in order to generate sales over the next school year. If we move too quickly, our investment may not give us the return we are looking for. If we do not move quickly enough, we may postpone our own economic recovery into another school year.
At SMRI, we can see the uptick in promotion activity as the education market begins its recovery. If the ARP ESSER funding has the same kind of impact that we saw from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 under President Obama, the 2021-22 school year should go a long way toward putting the education market back on its feet.
Bob is president of School Market Research, a full-service direct marketing agency. Sign up for our quarterly survey of school marketers and learn how your company compares to the competition. Only participants receive the complete results. Go to https://www.smriinc.com/survey.html.