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Marketing a New Magnet School

Greater Hartford Public Safety Academy — Capitol Region Education Council launches a new magnet school designed to prepare children for public service careers.


In the 1996 landmark civil rights decision of Sheff v. O’Neill, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the state had an affirmative obligation to provide Connecticut’s school children with a substantially equal educational opportunity that was not substantially or materially impaired by racial and ethnic isolation. To help the State of Connecticut achieve the benchmarks specified in the Sheff settlement, the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC) created interdistrict magnet schools that allow students to focus on specific talents or interests while studying a challenging core curriculum in a diverse environment. Parents and guardians have the opportunity to choose a school for their children that may focus on science, technology, global studies or the arts.



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Post Card

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Progress did not meet goals. And the case to reduce racial isolation in Hartford returned to court early in 2008. In May of 2008, the state authorized CREC to launch a new magnet school designed to prepare children for careers in public service. It was to open in the northern part of the state after Labor Day for the 2008-09 academic year. CREC had four months to find a location, hire teachers, supply the school and recruit students. They asked First Experience Communications to develop and implement a highly targeted student recruitment campaign. A key component of which, was direct mail. We had two months.


Background review of the Sheff settlement; One-on-one interview with the assigned Public Safety Magnet School director; Focus group meeting with CREC’s implementation team; Demographic analysis of population mix in towns in northern part of Connecticut; Investigation into future demand for more public safety professionals in Connecticut; Review of comments/ feedback from parents and caregivers of students attending other CREC magnet schools.

Quote identified from the United State Department of Education:

“Great careers don’t simply happen. That is why it is important for your child to make career plans. You are the best person to ensure that you child is making wise career choices.”

Primary objective: Enroll a minimum of 150 students (75 from Hartford) from the Greater Hartford region in the public safety academy by promoting the benefits of a career in public safety and the value of an educational experience at the academy. Budget for direct mail campaign: $4,360 (10,979 records of parents with children 10-14 years old. The strategy for promoting the magnet school was to:

  • Differentiate the public safety academy educational experience from a school district education via value marketing by promoting the magnet school’s diversity, global outlook, focus on specific areas of learning, and dedicated teaching staff.

  • Position the value of introducing students to specific career and job opportunities via a more robust hands-on learning experience and comprehensive academic education.

Creating a compelling message to reach discreet audiences included:

  • It’s never too early for your child to think of a worthwhile career.

  • By 2015 there will be over 1500 additional jobs available in the security field waiting for your child when s/he graduates and the Public Safety Academy has the program that will get them there along with a top-notch academic experience.

  • Career opportunities include becoming a police officer, fire fighter, emergency paramedic, homeland security, correction and many others. Starting pay in today dollars, range from $33,450 to $56,200.

Primary Target Audience for Direct Mail: Parents/ caregivers of middle- and high school-age students (11-14 years old) living in Enfield, Windsor Locks and East Windsor, Connecticut (10,979 records on direct mail list)


The direct mail postcards showed a collage of diverse public safety professionals. To boost recognition, the newspaper ads run in local publications carried the same graphic. Headline was written to build a sense of urgency for response: “It’s summertime, but it is never too early to think about your child’s education and career opportunities.” The message: “Don’t miss the opportunity of a lifetime for your child…” directly addressed what research had shown to be a primary influencer/ motivator for parents and caregivers in making decisions about their child’s education.


Mailing list review of our target areas (Enfield, Windsor Locks and East Windsor) showed 10,979 records of households with children age 11-14. To save cost, we printed 25,900 4-color fronts and 11,690 backs at first pass, in case messaging needed to change. The second card in the direct mail campaign mailed two weeks after the first mailing. The mailings were completed on time and within budget.



The student recruitment campaign achieved what CREC officials had believed to be “impossible.” In two months, the campaign generated enough student enrollments to meet the Sheff mandates for white and minority student participation. And the Public Safety Magnet School opened on time for the 2008-09 academic year.

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