LAUSD Set to go into Ad Biz

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(Courtesy of The Daily Breeze.com)

The next time you see a van on the freeway sporting an ad for a big-box store or a delivery truck promoting the latest box-office hit, the message may be brought to you courtesy of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

With the state’s yearslong financial crisis taking the district deeper and deeper into the red, the school board has decided – very reluctantly – to plug some of the holes in the budget by selling advertising space on dozens of LAUSD vans and delivery trucks.

“If public funding was funding public education, we wouldn’t be out looking for ads,” said school board member Steve Zimmer.

“It’s a sign of the times – literally,” Zimmer said. “It’s basically a bake sale. And we have to decide: Should schools have to do bake sales to have a library? Should we have to turn to these kinds of methods for after-school and arts programs?”

With no resolution to the state’s yearslong budget crisis, the school board felt it had no choice but to loosen the district’s ban against using school property for advertising.

Members voted last Tuesday to contract with Texas-based Alpha Media, which will recruit advertisers and – after getting the board’s OK – transform about 100 delivery trucks and 30 or 40 vans into mobile billboards.

Revenue from the ads – potentially $4 million annually – will be funneled into the general fund, with the goal of using it to pay for extra-curricular activities.

School buses are exempt.

Mark Hovatter, the district’s procurement chief, said the ads are the first significant effort in the district’s nearly yearlong campaign to generate revenue through commercial sponsorships.

While Alpha Media specializes in transforming school buses into mobile billboards, Los Angeles Unified officials insist that school buses will not be part of the deal.

Board members are equally adamant that they have control over the content to ensure the ads are consistent with the district’s mission and message.

“We’re essentially hiring a dating service to find the right matches for us,” Zimmer said. “The actual advertising will still come back to the board for approval.”

Michael Beauchamp, president and CEO of Alpha Media, said he understands LAUSD’s concerns about content and will be judicious in setting up partnerships with the district.

Potential advertisers include colleges and universities, professional sports teams, auto brands or dealers, banks, big-box retailers, wireless phone carriers and local doctors and dentists, Beauchamp said. Restaurants – but not fast-food joints – and movies or TV shows that are appropriate for youngsters are also on the list.

A national trend

In the three years since he launched his company, Beauchamp said, the public has become increasingly tolerant of seeing commercial messages on public school property.

“Communities are fully aware that districts are facing tough times,” he said. “Rather than raising taxes or laying off teachers, districts are looking at other ways they can bring in money.”

In opening the door to advertising, Los Angeles Unified is joining other public entities and school districts that have resorted to commercial deals to bolter their sagging budgets.

In Los Angeles, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority shrouds its buses, light-rail and subway cars in ads, a campaign that last year generated nearly $28 million. City officials have given preliminary approval to a pilot program that would sell ad space on 500 of L.A.’s 774 trash trucks.

The Jefferson County School District in suburban Denver has brought in about $500,000 over the past four years from a local bank that advertises on its yellow school buses. The district expects to reap an additional $90,000 under a new three-year deal that will put ads for a nonprofit education savings plan on student report cards.

“The message has to match our mission – is it appropriate for kids?” said the school district’s spokeswoman, Melissa Reeves.

Colorado’s largest school district was especially sensitive to the issue, Reeves said, after learning of the controversy that erupted in 2008 in Seminole County, Fla., where McDonald’s paid to print messages on report-card covers offering a free Happy Meal as a reward for good grades.

School bus ad anger

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, whose outrage contributed to McDonald’s canceling that promotion, has launched a nationwide campaign seeking laws banning ads from school buses.

Franck Vigneron, a marketing professor at California State University, Northridge, called LAUSD’s advertising effort an “acceptable but unorthodox” way to generate badly needed revenue.

“No one has a printing machine for money, so we have to use the resources available,” he said.

Any criticism the district may face for allowing advertising on its property should be dampened since school buses are excluded from the plan.

“The key is the selection of the ads,” he said. “The advertisement must be consistent with the district’s goals and philosophy.”

 

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