A few years ago, when I visited Michigan, I spoke with about 80 district superintendents. The most common complaint from them was the money they had to spend every year advertising themselves in a fierce competition with other districts. The money follows the child, so larger enrollments meant bigger budgets. Each district, they said, typically puts about $100,000 into campaign to poach students away from neighboring districts.

They thought this was a huge waste of resources, since they also had to hire people to design their marketing materials.

This study reviews the practices of branding and marketing schools in a competitive environment.

The charter chain that does it best is Success Academies, which targets its audience, sends out mailers, and blankets the neighborhood with notices to parents. Its goal is to have more applicants than places, so it can advertise that it has a long waiting list.

When Success Academy opened its first school in Harlem, it had a marketing budget of $325,000. The public school with which it competed had $500 to print flyers and brochures.