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The Cyber Future

If you’re at any number of public places in Pennsylvania during the school year, perhaps you’ll witness what Joe Lyons describes as “The Sea of Orange” – dozens or even hundreds of school children clad in orange shirts imprinted with a white bell. You might guess it’s a field trip, but it’s not the school you’d expect. The kids, after all, attend virtual school. “We’re very dedicated to the social development of our students. It’s part of our mission,” explains Lyons, executive director of communications for the Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School (PAVCS).

The sea of orange reveals just one major way the face of education is changing.  Online K-12 learning is a $300 million market representing over 1 million students and growing, at an annual rate of about 30%. The PAVCS alone enrolls 3,800 and holds events across the state, including a “Discovery Days” event that functions both as a year-end celebration and the school’s open house/enrollment kick-off. During those events, the school hands out a variety of logoed merchandise, including imprinted apparel, journals and visors. In addition, the school advertises in print, radio, television and Internet media.

“Charter-school laws in Pennsylvania require that you install open enrollment,” says Lyons, “which means that you have to be open to everyone. The way they ensure that is that we are all required to do marketing.”

Virtual charter schools may represent the wave of the future, but it’s quickly becoming the reality of the present. Students across the country and world now enroll full-time or can supplement their normal classes by taking additional ones online.

For Mike Connor, president of school consultancy Connor Associates Strategic Services, online learning has arrived. “In terms of mastering educational content, it’s going to be more cheaply delivered and delivered toward the way a kid learns through online learning,” he says. “I think that’s going to change the whole ball game.”

Technology Strikes

Schools were always believed to be beyond the effect of recessions, and colleges flourished in the past decade, increasing enrollment of 18- to 24-year-olds in the U.S. by 4% from 2000 to 2008. But both public and private schools have begun to flinch. “Education used to be recession-proof, at least until the last economic downtown,” says Fritz McDonald, vice president of creative strategy for Stamats Inc., a leading higher-education marketing firm. “But in this particular recession, endowments took a huge hit, and obviously state budgets have taken a huge hit, and those two events are having a huge impact on the college and university world.”

One study by the American Association of Colleges and Universities (an association of private colleges) "predicts that by 2025, half of all the private colleges or universities in this country are going to have to close, merge or change their missions if they're going to survive,” says Mike Connor, president of Connor Associates Strategic Services, a school marketing and planning consultancy. “That's a pretty sobering fact because we're only 15 years out from that."

As a result, schools must visibly change the ways they market themselves. McDonald points out that colleges have become conservative with their marketing plans, yet they’re adopting social media at a faster rate than Fortune 500 companies. “They’ve been in the old recruiting model for a long time, and what they’re going through is a kind of sea change because of digital technology,” he says. “They’re confronting the fact that, for example, the Web is becoming the hub of their marketing and recruiting.”

Yet, it’s still proven that promotional products have a lower cost-per-impression than even prime-time television, with just 0.5 cents per impression as compared to TV’s 1.8 cents. When social media is paired with promotional products as a marketing strategy, several audiences can be conquered at once.

Connor sees value as becoming even more important for schools to justify, starting with what he terms “internal marketing” (word of mouth among a school’s current students and parents) and coinciding with regarding the entire school as a marketing organization. “They just can't claim it,” he says about schools’ demonstrating their value. “They can't just say, 'We're the best.' They got to be able to prove it."

The task for schools is going to be incredibly difficult as they grapple with what exactly constitutes a 21st-century curriculum. The standard brick-and-mortar school is no longer the only game in town. Home schooling is increasing by 15% per year. Charter schools now enroll over 1.5 million students in more than 5,000 schools. Independent study, online education, specialty schools and more all threaten the current order of education. “Education is going to be available anywhere, and from a variety of different sources,” proclaims Connor.

Learning to Grow

Even in the big-time world of college athletics, the new Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center made a monumental splash. With a price tag of $19 million, the Syracuse University practice center garnered national attention – not only for its fancy accoutrements, but for the $3 million individual donation that came from the school’s national-championship-winning alumnus and the facility’s namesake.

The dedication for the building was packed, featuring the men’s and women’s coaches, current players, Anthony himself and 250 donors and invited guests. To commemorate the event, which took place in September 2009, Syracuse put out a call to several promotional product distributors to solicit ideas. Creativity ultimately won the day when one distributor presented his idea: a navy mug with a picture of the building and the university’s trademark “S” logo. The kicker: special ink that caused the image to change when the mug is filled with liquid.

The Melo Center dedication showcases all the best qualities of a successful promotion in the education marketplace. The never-ending slate of events. The multitude of departments and student groups. The constant emphasis on marketing and recruitment. And lastly, a reward for strategies that go beyond just the cheapest price.

A business study conducted in fall 2009 found that nearly half of educational institutions expected to spend more on marketing in the second half of 2009 than the previous year. (The next-closest industry was only 27%). Nearly two-thirds (64%) of schools increased or maintained their promotional product spending in 2009. And out of all the industries surveyed, the education market had the highest number of respondents who believed promotional products deliver a positive return on investment.

Promotional marketing in the education sector is typically steady, because the market is believed to be a recession-proof one. “I don’t think it’s as adversely tuned into the peaks and valleys of the economy,” says one promotional products distributor. “I think it is more stable. Yes, during down times they may have fewer students. But they don’t eliminate departments, and their budgets may be reduced, but they’re not eliminated.”     

Not only is the face of school marketing changing in the digital revolution, but the very idea of what constitutes a school is being radically transformed. The result is great challenges for those who fall behind the curve – and tremendous opportunity for those who can forecast the future of education.

Schools’ schedules are jam-packed with events. “There’s always something on a college campus that they want to commemorate,” says an account executive for an ad specialties company that works with schools like Texas Tech, Loyola-New Orleans, Auburn and many more.

A huge variety of items cater to educational institutions, thanks to the number of people involved and the wide range of individual preferences. When it comes to alumni groups and administrators, “They’re very concerned about how their logo looks, and they’re looking for classics,” says a rep for a custom-apparel company. “They’re looking for mugs, stainless-steel thermoses, things they know will last five or 10 years and alumni will look at and say, ‘Yeah, that’s something I want.’ ”

In comparison, the rep adds, “The students are looking for what’s hot now.” In translation, that means fashion that’s in tune with the times and tech toys that appeal to students’ electronic interests.

Lego Lovers Crowded Expo Center for Merch, Memories

Lego enthusiasts of all ages crowded into the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, PA, on April 21 and 22 to enjoy Brick Fest Live!, which bills itself as the #1 Lego event in the U.S. The show featured feats of artistry and engineering, including detailed cityscapes, working miniature rollercoasters, a life-size statue of Darth Vader and a lovingly rendered replica of Vincent Van Gogh's "Starry Night" – all crafted from the colorful plastic bricks that have been a toy chest necessity for decades.

The event was also an opportunity for vendors to peddle Lego-themed merch, from vintage building sets to apparel and accessories decorated with actual Legos. At the official Brick Fest Live! Booth, attendees could purchase a $20 #BrickSwag box, which included a T-shirt, flashlight keychain and a mystery minifigure. Other booths were selling caps modified with Lego baseplates, allowing wearers to customize to their heart's content. Several entrepreneurs had crafted hair clips, bracelets, earrings and bow ties out of Legos. There were even brick-shaped pillows and molded chocolate lollipops.

The Pennsylvania Distance Learning Charter School also set up a booth at the expo to share information about its virtual summer camps. To help build goodwill and boost name recognition, the school was giving away a slew of promotional products. Children could spin a wheel, and receive a branded foam stress brick, backpack, temporary tattoo, chip clip or other prize.

Brick Fest Live! heads next to New York City in July, then stops in Pasadena, CA, in August and Houston in October. Check out some of the highlights from the Philadelphia show below.













Hawaii Bans Certain Types of Sunscreens

Hawaii's state legislature has passed a bill that bans sunscreens containing chemicals that can reportedly damage coral reefs – a new regulation that could impact sales of branded sunscreen.

Senate Bill 2571, passed on Tuesday, prevents the sale and distribution of sunscreen that has oxybenzone and octinoxate, unless prescribed by a licensed healthcare provider. If Governor David Ige signs the legislation into law, the prohibition would take effect Jan. 1, 2021.

Should the ban become law, promo distributors and suppliers could no longer provide sunscreen containing the blacklisted chemicals in the Aloha State. What's more, the Hawaiian ban could resonate to the U.S. mainland, possibly influencing some would-be buyers of branded sunscreen to seek natural options that are perceived as better for the environment – or to avoid purchasing sunscreen altogether in fear their brand will be perceived as a polluter.

Found in popular sunscreen brands like Coppertone and Hawaiian Tropic, oxybenzone and octinoxate contribute to coral bleaching, studies show. For example, a recent study from the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology found that chemicals in sunscreen kill coral and result in DNA damage in larval and adult stage coral. The impact on DNA limits coral's ability to grow and develop healthily. Coral bleaching was reportedly a cause behind widespread destruction of Australia's Great Barrier Reef. According to researchers, about 14,000 tons of sunscreen glop onto coral reefs annually. Sunscreen concentrations were found to be among the highest in the world on the beaches of Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Certain environmental organizations praised legislators for passing the bill.

"Hawaii's reefs have been slowly dying over the past 20 years, and that death spiral has been accelerating with the impact of El Niño-induced mass bleaching events and increased local pollution impacts from both tourism and development," Craig Downs, the executive director of the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, told The New York Times. "Everyone has come together to support this legislation, from local nurses and doctors, to resorts and airlines, as well as the entrepreneurial spirit of new sunscreen companies to supply reef-safer products."

Of course, the ban had opponents, too. Traditional sunscreen manufacturers pointed out that the chemicals are FDA-approved and important ingredients for protecting people from skin cancer. Ban opponents also included the Hawaii Medical Association. The association expressed worry that the prohibition could encourage people to reduce the degree to which they wear sunscreen – a concern given the heightened risk for skin cancer that comes with not using sunscreen.

Forbes reports that mounting public pushback against sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate has opened the door for a niche market focused on natural sunscreens made in Hawaii. "Tourists and locals on the islands can find Kōkua Sun Care Hawaiian Natural Zinc Sunscreen, Mama Kuleana Reef, and the mainland All Good products," wrote Geologist Trevor Nace for Forbes. Of course, chemicals found in sunscreens are far from the only pollutant causing problems for coral reefs. Ocean warming, agricultural runoff and sewage dumping also are weakening and killing reefs, research shows.

Promotional Products Opportunity: Canadian Premier League Reveals Official Logo

Canada is ready for its own kickabout. And now it has some branding in place to show it means business.

The Canadian Premier League is expected to begin play in the spring of 2019. It will be a FIFA-sanctioned, top-level, Canada-specific fully professional soccer league. While play hasn't begun yet, the league recently revealed its official logo – a crest of attractive green and blues.

As the CPL explains, Canada's people and natural beauty inspired the crest. Certainly some thought went into it:

"The North Star acts as a guiding light for the game of soccer in Canada, acting as a beacon for talent within our borders. The four rings portray a soccer ball, our coasts, and the earth formed out of a stylized time lapse of a star field. The maple leaf is comprised of many parts, which is a reflection of the diversity within our country."

Some soccer fans were already chiming in to say that the CPL logo is superior to the crest for Major League Soccer – the top professional soccer league in the U.S. MLS features several Canadian teams, too.

The CPL also released an all-red version of the league emblem. Teams will wear the crest of red – Canada's traditional color, of course -- on their uniforms on Canada Day. They'll also don the red logo during the Canadian Championship and when playing in the CONCACAF Champions league – an international tournament that features professional clubs teams from North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

The CPL expects to begin play with 8 to 10 teams. Teams will reportedly be owned and operated, at least in part, by a mix of National Hockey League and Canadian Football League ownership groups. The league aims to foster and enhance Canadian soccer talent, as this promo video details.

For promotional product distributors, learning about the CPL's crest is an interesting case study in how a logo can be crafted to invoke the intended essence of a brand in a way that resonates with target audiences. What's more, it's a heads-up that there could soon be new opportunities to provide branded merchandise for teams in the forthcoming professional league. So far, it's confirmed that there will be teams in Hamilton, ON and Winnipeg, MB. Reports suggest there could be teams in Halifax, Calgary and the York Region as well, among others.

Even if you don't score orders directly with teams, distributors and/or decorators could hit the back of the net on any number of ancillary promo deals, such as providing scarves and T-shirts for fledging supporters' groups or soccer-related swag for pubs that want to be the go-to spot for fans to watch CPL matches. No doubt Canadian footy fans are already excited:

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