October 31, 2016

How Brands Do Good in School

by Renegade

Both of my older brothers learned to diagram sentences from Mrs. Armitage, an unforgettable 7th grade English teacher at Heinz Kaiser junior high in Costa Mesa, California.  Not I. By the time my turn came around, this diminutive Southern-born chain-smoking firecracker with the gravelly voice that turned a-r-m into “airem,” was already suffering from lung cancer which meant we had a substitute teacher most of that year.  I don’t recall that women’s name but I can point to that class as the time I shoulda coulda woulda learned grammar. Instead, I went through 5 more years of being corrected by my mother, learning what sounded good but never quite nailing the rules of basic sentence structure.  To this day, I still finding myself pondering the use of “me” and “I” or “good” and “well” only to find resolution by speaking them out loud and then imagining my mother’s response!

So you would be totally justified to ask if my headline, “How brands do good in school” is grammatically correct? My mother would have made me change “good” to “well” which is all well and good BUT the “good” here, of course, speaks punnily to all the good things brands are doing in partnership with Discovery Education.  And that my friends is the good story we should be focused on, all dangling prepositions aside.  To do that, let me introduce you to my new good friend Lori McFarling, CMO of Discovery Eduction.  I got to know Lori through her inspiring presentation at the Incite Corporate Marketing Summit and I’m delighted to share part of our preparatory conversation here and now!

Drew: Can you give me a little background on Discovery Education?

Lori: Discovery Education is the leader in digital content for Kindergarten through 12th grade classrooms, serving 4.5 million educators and over 50 million students, and is transforming teaching and learning worldwide with immersive digital textbooks, multimedia content, professional development, and the largest professional learning community of its kind. The educators we partner with integrate our services into teaching and learning in ways that create modern digital learning environments that support the success of all learners. A part of the global media company Discovery Communications, we believe in the power of media to enlighten and educate.

Drew: How does translate into your work with brands?

Lori: We collaborate with Fortune 500 companies, foundations, associations and other organizations to create meaningful standards-based educational content that supports historically underfunded disciplines such as science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), health and wellness, and others. In this way, we are powering our partners to positively impact education on both a national and local scale. It’s really exciting to see these folks coming into the education sector with a genuine desire to serve their communities and to leverage their expertise to support teaching and learning. Improving student outcomes is becoming a meaningful part of many organizations’ brand profile, and we are pleased to help them accomplish their goals in a meaningful way.

Drew: Really interesting. Let’s get a bit more specific.

Lori: Working with our partners, we’ve built innovative programs that help drive authentic engagement, optimizing the school-to-home connection. It’s very grassroots and unique, especially for our brand partners who’ve seen real value by associating their brand to an issue that everybody in the country cares about: education. There are many needs in education today and it’s gratifying to see the private sector step up to support young people with mentorship, project-based learning opportunities and resources in areas that are traditionally underfunded.

Drew: I suspect sports brands would want to partner, right?

Lori: We work with a number of sports brands such as EA Sports, the NFL, the US Tennis Association, the Tiger Woods Foundation and others. For example, with EA Sports/Madden, we created a unique program that leverages the thrill of football to help young people understand core math concepts, revealing the math and science behind the game to engage kids in key concepts that they need to know. In this case, the magic of sports really helped open their minds to math and science.

Drew: Also, I’d imagine a number of brands would want to be involved in the sciences.

Lori: We have great fun collaborating with innovative organizations like 3M, Siemens, Lockheed Martin, Alcoa and others who are passionate about building the next generation of STEM leaders. Those organizations are authentically connecting their brands to efforts to support student achievement in science, technology, engineering and math, and are connecting their efforts to their pipeline & workforce development strategies. By way of example, we have a deep partnership with 3M centered on inspiring young people to use science to solve everyday problems. Through a nationwide middle school competition, the 3M Young Scientist Challenge, we just crowned Maanasa Mendu, America’s Top Young Scientist. She is a 13-year-old who invented a way to use solar and wind energy to create power. How cool is that?

Drew: Let’s dive into the 3M case.

Lori: Sure. 3M’s brand positioning is “Science. Applied to life” and their core focus is the application of science to improve the lives of people around the world. They also look simultaneously at how to build their pipeline of future employees, and are committed to highlighting the importance of innovation and science, and inspiring those traits and interests amongst America’s students. Discovery Education has partnered with them to create the 3M Young Scientist Challenge, which is the premier middle school science competition in the country. In this challenge, students compete to win $25,000, but most importantly, they are paired with real-life mentors at 3M over the summer to work on their innovations that, literally, can change the world. We’ve had winners of the 3M Young Scientist Challenge named by Fortune Magazine as Top 30 under 30 for their inventions. Students have been featured on the Ellen Show, Fox & Friends, and ABC Nightly News; they have met the President, as well as presented to members of Congress and more. This kind of earned media supports 3M’s overall brand profile as an organization committed to the use of science to change the world.

Drew: I love this program. What else can you tell me about it?

Lori: 3M has been smart about their consistent investment in education. And it’s paying off not only with the impact they are making in the classroom, but also with those that they’d like to entice as future employees. For the first time, 3M topped the charts as the #1 place millennials consider to be the cool, dream place they’d like to work, according to the 2016 Millennial Career Survey from the National Society of High School Scholars. The marketers at 3M engage millennials and their families in initiatives that they care about.

Drew: What are some of the keys to success when working in your space?

Lori: Bottomline, from a brand perspective, you need to engage with educators authentically, and need to do so in a manner that supports young people everywhere, not just in certain zip codes. Discovery Education provides educators in schools across the country with core curriculum and content that relates to the real-world with tools, resources, and professional learning opportunities that respect their expertise, helps them meet the challenges of their jobs, and celebrates the potential of every child, everywhere. I feel that our intimate knowledge of the education space, and our deep connection to educators, really has driven our success.

Drew: I’d imagine teachers, in particular, are tough gatekeepers.  

Lori: At the end of the day, the measure of our success is based on the success of teachers and students. If they win, we all win. We are excited to see the number of companies that are reaching out to us to have meaningful dialogue about how they can best leverage their organization’s expertise to help support education. We all know that regardless of where you live, providing support, tools and opportunities to our young people is one of the most important things we can do. To that end, yes, educators should have very high expectations for the kind of support that best sets their kids on the path to success. We rely a great deal on our teacher community, which is the largest of its kind. They work day in and day out with our nation’s kids and are very vocal about how corporate America can best partner with them on their important work.

Drew: I’m curious how you designed programs that get actually home to the parents.

Lori: All of the programs that we build with corporate partners are available to students, teachers, families and communities at no cost. They support real needs in the classroom and are implemented and activated through educators. We know that learning continues after the bell rings and that parents and caregivers play a critical role in the learning process, so for the majority of our programs, we create parent and family extensions that are also free of charge. To complete the circle, we utilize a variety of engagement platforms, whether it’s TV, online, social or other, to help build awareness and encourage parents to check out these initiatives.

Drew: How do you encourage your partners to measure the effectiveness of these programs?

Lori: As I said earlier, our first and most important metric is the value that teachers and students place on the program’s impact on youth achievement. Second, each partner has their own unique goals and metrics that are important to them as an organization. We work closely with our partners to crystalize what measurements matter, and then build our initiatives with those in mind. We don’t have a cookie-cutter approach to measurement. Everybody has different KPIs that they look at. The one metric they all share, however, is the desire to connect their brand to meaningfully impacting today’s youth while supporting the success of all learners…and isn’t that the most important measurement of all?