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Catholic schools’ advertising hits mark

When the principal of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Omaha gathered with family and friends at Christmas, one topic arose often – the positive impact of the archdiocese’s $2.6 million marketing effort for Catholic schools.

"It’s great to have a campaign validating Catholic schools," Sandra Suiter said. "For those who attended Catholic schools or have students in Catholic schools, it has become a source of pride and validation of the choices they made."

Announced in a "soft-launch" in December to bring a positive message about Catholic schools to newspapers, billboards, television, radio and social media during the Christmas season, the campaign will pick up speed the week of Feb. 16 and run through the spring as parents think about where to enroll their students next year.

Suiter credited the Catholic Schools Office and Omaha-based advertising firm Bailey Lauerman for "pinpointing what our schools are all about, that they teach the "biggest subjects."

Those subjects include faith, discipline, character and kindness, words emblazoned in the campaign’s advertising on images of textbooks, rulers and pencils.

Going beyond Catholic schools’ documented academic success, the campaign is emphasizing development of those traits as important aspects of a Catholic education, said Patrick Slattery, superintendent of schools.

And while on one hand the campaign is designed to bring more students into Catholic schools, another plus is reminding people who already are part of Catholic education that what they are doing is important, Slattery said.

"It has become a source of pride for parents and staff, seeing this campaign," Slattery said. "That’s a great benefit as well."

And the effort is touching people across the community, if 9,000 first-time user hits to its website is any indication, Slattery said.

"I think that’s a pretty neat statistic, considering we only just got started," he said.

The marketing effort itself got a recent boost – the archdiocese’s Ignite the Faith capital campaign gathered more than $52 million in pledges, 30 percent more than the $40 million goal. That means each of its initiatives is receiving about 30 percent more than budgeted, lifting the school marketing allowance to $2.6 million from $2 million.

Annie Grace, a Bailey Lauerman brand strategist leading the effort, said the smaller-scale launching of the campaign in December brought Catholic schools to people’s minds – and there is more to come.

"The idea was to have them reflect on the importance of religion in their lives, what they want for their children," she said. "We’re very encouraged by what we’ve seen, from our online data and conversations we’ve had with people."

It’ll return bigger next month, with similar messages repeated more often, she said.

Also beginning in late-winter or early spring, Catholic School and other officials will meet with school parents across the archdiocese, encouraging them to be grassroots ambassadors in their neighborhoods and wider communities, Grace said.

That will be an important part of the campaign because school parents often are the best advocates for Catholic education, Slattery said.

"We’re excited," he said. "We’ll work on full implementation of the campaign, including the parent ambassador program."

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