Changing Your School Brand and Other Misfortunes#Leadership
by Erin WerraRead time:
One reason might be the merging of two districts. Another may be the need to reflect growth in the region, which would include eliminating names or mascots tied to cultural identity. Regardless of the reason the decision to rebrand is made, the process is arduous and expensive—not to mention unpopular with factions of the larger community. Here are a handful of ways to go forth with change even when it’s difficult.
How to make rebranding your district as painless as possible
CommunicateOver the years we’ve all learned it’s impossible to overcommunicate in a school district. Announcing a plan to rebrand is no different. Before the public announcement decide which phases your rebrand will follow. Will folks have a hand in designing a new logo? Will you have people vote for their favorite new names or themes? Figure out the plan before letting the news slip, because when the pushback comes it will feel personal (more on that later).
Of course, the timeline will vary depending on different factors, but each step is choreographed, one after the other in a cohesive dance. First communication should go to the staff, who will hear feedback and can help clarify the process to families. Almost simultaneously, plan to notify the wider community. Once staff know the big news it will trickle out fast! But if parents and community members can possibly learn the news from the district directly, it's easier to keep everyone on the same page.
If you are planning to put new branding ideas to a vote, set some dates for initial submissions. Then things snowball nicely from there—the top contenders will go to a vote, the community picks a favorite, and the PR manager pirouettes off happily into the sunset. Right?
Not always. School branding is designed to be indelible from the student experience. So once the news is out that the logo (and maybe even names or mascots!) will get a new look, both positive and negative reactions are to be expected. This will take time to work through, so build in an intermission.
Why does changing the look and feel of a school matter so much, anyway?The short answer is belonging.
Belonging is one of the main human needs reflected in Maslow’s hierarchy. Belonging to something greater than ourselves, for some students, begins with a school mascot. For certain families, the decision to change is going to feel like ripping away a core part of their identities. The stakes seem higher because of how families feel when they are part of a group, in this case, a school district. Regardless of sports or extracurriculars, there’s a sense of carefully and deliberately cultivated pride. Taking this away is painful, even if the pains are growing toward something better for everyone.
Other considerationsThe process of updating the look, feel, and possibly name of a school district takes time and effort not only to decide on the new but to update the old. Once you start counting up the occurrences of school branding, the cost to replace adds up fast. Last year, one district estimated retrofitting only two of the most visible locations where their old logo was displayed—the gymnasium and marching band—would cost upwards of $400,000. Scale this cost way down to individual families and a similar expenditure is required. Consider the viability of a trade-in or upcycle program to ease the financial burden and jump-start the community buy-in to a new look. Some districts have opted for more literal buy-in, auctioning off memorabilia depicting retired logos to nostalgic alumni.
Keep conversation goingWhile it’s understandable that a school community will feel pride and ownership around their vintage mascots and branding (after all, that’s the reason for school branding!), that sense of belonging does not trump the process of outgrowing certain names and mascots. At the same time, the sense of belonging is important. It’s crucial to let folks have a say even if change is inevitable. Belonging makes it feel personal, but you can help by staying neutral and listening.
May all your school branding journeys be smooth and energizing!
PS: Here at Advancing K12, we are doing some rebranding too! It might look a little different (read: sharper and better) but it’s the same creative team synthesizing and reporting on the cool things districts like yours are doing with K12 school culture, technology, and leadership. Subscribe here if you haven’t yet!
|Erin Werra Edtech Thought Leader