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Pendleton School District buys time to talk

Antonio Sierra

East Oregonian

Published on November 8, 2018 12:01AM

Last changed on November 8, 2018 9:40PM

In between news broadcasts and pop songs, Pendleton School District Superintendent Chris Fritsch’s voice is now a regular presence on radios across Umatilla County.

Last week, Fritsch spoke about a Pendleton School Board meeting where he would discuss the strategic plan. This week, he planned to record a new ad about Veterans Day.

Fritsch isn’t making these comments as a part of a news story or talk show. Instead, the district is spending $10,000 to buy airtime on Elkhorn Media Group stations to spread positive messaging on Pendleton schools.

The radio ads are apart of the district’s recently adopted strategic plan, which has a goal to “Establish and maintain the Pendleton School District brand.”

While the district’s other three goals in the plan are meant to address academic performance, the branding goal is designed to boost the public’s perception of the district in town and beyond.

Fritsch said he convened a committee of school officials and marketing professionals last spring to discuss strategies about how to promote the district.

One of the committee members was a representative for Elkhorn, a La Grande-based media group that owns several radio stations that can be heard throughout the county. The representative suggested Fritsch buy airtime with Elkhorn to get the district’s message out.

Since mid-September, Fritsch has recorded a new ad each week promoting the district, which will run through the end of the year. Fritsch said sometimes the ads focus on specific events while other ads are more general topics on schools and education.

Pendleton School Board member Debbie McBee is another member of the district’s branding committee.

McBee said she often heard Walla Walla School District radio ads in Pendleton and was frustrated that there was nothing on the airwaves to promote the hometown district.

She supports the district’s foray into paid advertising because radio ads could reach an audience that don’t read the newspaper or learn about the district through other media outlets.

The district will distribute a survey to parents and survey members at the end of the year to determine whether the radio ads are reaching local audiences and if they’re effective in painting a positive portrait of the district.

McBee said that if the survey returns prove that the ads are ineffective, the district should stop airing radio ads and spend the money elsewhere.

The ads aren’t the only action the district is taking to better communicate and market itself.

The district now updates its website regularly with profiles on new teachers and other positive stories on the district. Fritsch said the district is also doing something similar, internally, by highlighting district achievements in emails to staff.

The district’s promotional push isn’t meant to just improve its reputation, but also to help reverse a longterm decline in enrollment.

“With the multitude of educational opportunities of the 21st century including private schools, charter schools and online schools, the Pendleton School District must be more progressive in promoting and marketing of our investment in our staff, responsiveness to student needs and our innovative programs that are available to local students and their families,” the plan states.

Some of the ways the district plans to measure the success of its branding effort include an increase in student enrollment and a positive trend in its migration data, which measures students enrolling versus students leaving.

Fritsch said he doesn’t want to use the ads to “cherry pick” students from other nearby districts, but McBee said the ads could help stem off enrollment declines while appealing to parents who commute into Pendleton for work but live with their families elsewhere.

And the district’s branding effort is far from a finished product. McBee said the district is developing full-fledged communication and marketing plans that will include new initiatives.


Contact Antonio Sierra at asierra@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0836.


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