Best Branding/Re-Branding Campaign

Tacoma Public Schools’ rebranding draws on internal changes to win new public support

Tacoma schools prove the truth that superior rebranding must rely on an organization’s new internal realities in order to dramatically and permanently change the public’s mind about it.

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The winner of the Best Branding/Rebranding Campaign category in PR Daily’s 2014 Nonprofit PR Awards is the Tacoma Public Schools and their agency, JayRay Ads & PR.

The Tacoma Public Schools system had been suffering from low public esteem for years. The district faced one-sided newspaper reporting, its own academic underachievement, years of skimpy budgets, and its “clunky” website. It changed things by setting itself two goals:

  1. Increase public understanding among parents and district stakeholders of how TPS’ innovative programs and schools had closed the “achievement gap.”
  2. Change the conversation about TPS by communicating higher test scores, better graduation rates, and other improvements.

TPS initiated a rebranding internally that included:

  • A new series of online math videos for students and parents that matched instruction in the new Common Core math classes being taught in Tacoma schools
  • A new requirement that all eighth-grade students take algebra, so more students would have the skills to pass college math
  • A new standard that dictated all high school students would take the SAT exams (in 2012, only 48 percent of TPS students took the SAT; in 2013, 95 percent sat for it)
  • A redesigned website

Externally, TPS was equally imaginative. It promised Tacoma, “We will graduate at least 85 percent of our students by 2020.” It also rebranded itself as “the only innovative school district in Washington state,” and redesigned its logo and business papers as well as its Spotlight newsletter. TPS crafted clear, bold messages that revealed the new direction of the district on all platforms, and showcased its new personality—“innovative, nurturing, relentless”—in articles, images, and design.

The results:

  • Three months after the rebranding, a $500 million bond passed with 69 percent voter approval, the biggest percentage ever to endorse a bond or levy in the district’s history.
  • There was no negative publicity from media, civic leaders, or parents about TPS’ rebranding.
  • TPS saw a shift in perceptions of the district, as evidenced by several supportive newspaper editorials.

Congratulations to Shari Campbel and Brandi Monson, who directed this aggressive, savvy rebranding!

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