Education

Wichita school board to consider hiring marketing firm, rebranding district

USD 259 administrative building on North Water
USD 259 administrative building on North Water File photo

The Wichita school district plans to hire a marketing firm to help gauge its reputation and suggest new branding strategies.

School board members will consider a proposal Monday to hire Gardner Design — a Wichita-based, nationally recognized firm — to conduct a marketing study and possibly design a new logo and marketing materials. Estimated cost: about $44,000.

“We’ve never really stepped back and said, ‘OK, where are we at?’ ” said Wendy Johnson, director of marketing and communications for the Wichita district.

“Our overall goal is to have … someone impartial go out and talk to all different kinds of stakeholders and then come back to us and say, ‘This is where we’re at. This is what we know. And these are your opportunities moving forward.’ That’s what businesses do,” Johnson said.

“For people who suggest that we need to operate like a business and employ business strategies: Businesses tune into their customers, do market research, are active listeners all the time.”

Bill Gardner, whose firm specializes in corporate identity, grew up in Wichita and graduated from North High School in 1975. His firm has done work for Kroger, Cessna Aircraft, Learjet and Wichita State University.

He said he’s “really kind of tickled about the opportunity” to help rebrand Wichita schools, in particular because of its position in an ever-expanding education marketplace.

“With the influx of private schools, suburban schools, charter schools – there’s a huge amount of competition out there,” Gardner said. “Just like a business, a school system has to think about, ‘What do people think about us?’

“This (effort) is really about looking at the general marketing and brand of USD 259 in general, how they’re perceived against other parties, and what can be done to put them in their optimal position,” he said.

If the board approves the agreement Monday, Gardner said his firm would begin with research and strategic analysis, meeting with groups of parents, students, faculty, local business leaders and others to collect feedback about the district.

A new branding strategy could include a new logo, “but that’s going to be the minor portion of this,” he said.

The Wichita district’s logo – a bright red apple intersected by a row of green paper-doll children – was developed about 20 years ago. It is emblazoned on the side of the district’s administration building, as well as on its website and most communication materials.

Johnson said the time is right to consider rebranding because the district recently contracted with a new company, Schoolwires, to overhaul its school websites.

“We are in the process of transforming the district’s digital footprint. … So timing-wise, if there are changes to be made visually, it’s a great time to do it,” she said.

The district also will open a new comprehensive high school next year – a new Southeast High School at 127th Street East and Pawnee – and plans to move its offices to the current Southeast High. Last month the district sold its downtown administration building to a developer who plans to turn the building into loft apartments.

Johnson said she hopes a new marketing study and revamped strategies could help the district better highlight everything it offers.

“The perceptions that some people carry about our schools and our district are not the reality, and certainly that’s very frustrating,” she said. “I’m hoping that we learn more and can address ways to overcome some of those perceptions.”

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.

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