A Fantastic Education Marketing Program: An Army of Students Selling Your Product

Can you imagine being able to implement selling on a grand scale with a highly scalable channel? Keep reading and I’ll tell you how you could mobilize an entire market segment as your education marketing channel at minimal cost! It’s a concept you can adapt to many situations. I call it the Academic Marketing Program, but you can call it what you like.

Marketing to Schools With Local (Free) Talent

I popularized the concept of school-based marketing channels when I was responsible for education marketing programs at Apple. First I built a program called ACEs (Apple Consultants for Education) which leveraged teachers as our channel partners. Then we launched a student rep program on college campuses. Later, another channel concept took flight. This one is still my favorite, but I can't take credit for the idea: the program was modeled after a successful formula that was used for many years with college advertising majors. We implemented this strategy at Apple with college students, but twists on this concept could work well with high school students who are taking business or communications classes. 

Student Teams Develop Marketing Plans for Your Product or Service

Here's how it works. Student-teams form mock advertising agencies. They develop a marketing plan for your product, and then implement their plan as part of a for-credit course. But unlike a real school marketing firm, the students work free of charge on your behalf (actually, for their course grade!). Your company is the client, providing the same expectations, time, and budget constraints that you would if you were hiring a real promotional agency. You supply information, feedback, and a budget so teams can actually implement their ideas. The agencies compete within teams at their own school or with student teams at other schools. You select a panel of judges (usually sales and marketing professionals) to evaluate their plans and results. The teams with the winning plans earn prizes and recognition. Depending on your level of investment and the judges’ credentials, the program offers tremendous PR and sponsorship opportunities. 

A Great Channel Program for You.  A Practical Career Experience for Students.

Why do school administrators allow such a program? Why do students participate so enthusiastically? Why would a teacher dedicate a semester or an entire school year to help promote your product? There is one very good reason. Educators want to provide students with opportunities for real-life experience and with exposure to potential employers. It makes the curriculum relevant. Work-study programs and internships are increasingly part of the school day, and students are encouraged to participate.

At Apple, the results of the Academic Marketing Program exceeded our wildest expectations. Students designed and implemented creative promotional campaigns that generated millions of dollars in sales. Their “agencies” were able to tap resources that neither Apple, as an outside, for-profit organization, nor faculty, could touch. They were able to convince prospective buyers of the benefits of Mac technology. It was the ultimate extended sales channel. The students and teachers were big winners, too. Students received valuable experience working with a real company. Instead of bagging groceries or busing tables at a restaurant, they received valuable business experience. They had an opportunity to showcase their ideas to professional marketing executives. It was fun competing with one another. They had the chance to be part of an exciting, relevant, hands-on experience. In fact, the school administrators who approved the project consistently graded the program a solid A.

How to Make This School Marketing Program Work for You

This is one hot channel marketing program. But, like any channel strategy, making a program such as this work requires multilevel sell-in, careful planning, precise execution, and a commitment of your time and a financial investment — small on the scale of typical channel costs, but not free. You’ll need a teacher who is the champion to manage the program on a day-to-day basis, you’ll need promotional dollars for the student agency to manage, and you’ll have to allocate a budget for rewards. A few hours upfront are required to plan and select the schools you want to work with. Then you’ll need time for agency reviews and support. What’s the bottom line? For a few thousand dollars and a few days of management time, you will have a killer program, possibly the most leveraged sales channel initiative I’ve ever experienced. 

What flavor of the Academic Marketing Program could you use to promote your  brand and products? I think you’ll agree, the possibilities are almost endless, but you do need to plan carefully and devote the proper resources. Here are a few tips that will make your program run smoothly: 

  • Allow six months to plan your program and select the best schools to work with.
  • Allocate at least a month for sell-in. Make sure you have strong support from teachers and administrators from the get-go.
  • Make sure you have a teacher who is the champion, and who is 100-percent committed to a successful outcome.
  • Fully engage the student agency as if it were a professional firm for hire.
  • Judge agency performance, give constructive feedback, and make recommendations.
  • Send follow-up letters and congratulatory notes to the teachers who were involved, any department chairs, the school principal, and other stakeholders.
  • Give participants award certificates or letters of recognition from a company executive.  

Are your sales constrained by inadequate channel resources? Is your marketing budget limited? If so, I encourage you to try a version of this winning program. It will turn students into an incredibly powerful yet low-cost marketing team!      


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About the Author

Glen McCandless is president of Focus Marketing Inc., a business development firm that specializes in the educational technology market. Glen has over 25 years of experience helping companies efficiently and effectively sell and market technology products and services to K-12 and higher education buyers. For more information, please contact sts-info@agile-ed.com.

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