Marketing an Early Childhood Program to Urban Families

Posted on 14. Jun, 2010 by in Education, Portfolio

Hartford School Readiness Program Public Service Campaign Reaches Diverse Audience

Recognizing the correlation between participation in a early childhood program and improved academic performance later on, The Hartford School Readiness Council initiated the Hartford School Readiness Project and contracted First Experience Communications to inform the community of the importance and availability of school readiness opportunities by creating a public service campaign that will reach the various audiences affected by the program.

Case Study


We were contracted to work with Hartford Children First Initiative, the Hartford, School Readiness Council (businesses, early childhood providers, community-based organizations, city government, etc.), the City of Hartford, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, and the Hartford Public Schools to:

  • conduct research and facilitate focus groups and interviews with key audiences (Early Childhood Leadership, Community Leadership, and Parents) in order to develop and precisely target key communications themes and messages;
  • create a sustainable public service and community relations program to raise awareness of the opportunities in preschool programs and build trust about the quality of care and instruction that children will receive while attending the programs. Tactics included: articles, white papers, legislative updates, billboards, bus ads, print ads, scripts, brochures, and staff training.

Brochure 1

Brochure (Spanish)

Brochure 2


  • To inform the community of the importance and availability of school readiness opportunities, creating an integrated marketing/communications strategy that will reach the various audiences, e.g., young parents, referral community agencies, community groups, etc., in order to enroll as many 3 and 4 year-olds as possible in a 1999 marketing/public relations campaign.
  • To increase enrollment from 590 children to at least 1000 children for the school year 1999-2000.
  • Create an environment of trust between parents and programs.
  • Create a referral alliance among civic, cultural, religious, parent, health and community groups who would be willing to share information with parents and families and be willing to share information about potential participants with school readiness programs.
  • Produce specific promotion and marketing materials, such as brochures, advertising, etc., that promotes the programs and encourages families enrolling their children in school readiness programs, offer marketing services and technical assistance to other city school readiness programs that need to increase enrollment in their programs.
  • Create a sustainable communication and public relations plan to encourage on-going and additional funding for the city’s school readiness programs.


Challenges and Assumptions: Early childhood programs are often perceived by parents and families as a baby-sitting service with low-paid, non-professional staff. The Council believes that most of the new school readiness programs have been filled by families who already understand the value of such programs and had been waiting for new opportunities to arise. We now need to reach parents and families who are not traditionally connected to early childhood services. This is a very difficult task requiring sound research and creative outreach methods.

Primary Research — Following a focus group with representatives from the School Readiness Council Leadership to define the information the research should produce as well as the criteria and direction for this project, we conducted focus groups and interviews with five separate groups of parents and community agency audiences. Over 80 parents made up of a diverse and representative group of Hispanics, African-Americans and other minorities were either interviewed or asked to participate in focus groups. Their input provided us with their perceptions and experiences in early childhood programs along with their expectations for this new program and the messages that they believe would be effective in recruiting the families of 3 and 4 year olds for this program. A focus group of representatives from community groups (health, social service, education, etc.) assisted us in identifying messages and media delivery vehicles for creating an effective internal referral network.

Secondary Research — There has been substantial research on the brain development of children under the age of five. The Council provided us with the following reports: The Connecticut Commission on Childrens’ assessment of existing programs; Connecticut Voices for Children — Children and Families in the New Economy; and Aetna Foundation Child Health Data Center — An Assessment of the Hartford Preschool Population and of Resources for Children and Families in Hartford, and Benton Foundation — Effective Language for Discussing Early Childhood Education and Policy.

Results/Expectations — The consensus among the focus group participants (Parents and Community Contacts) and Early Childhood leadership was to create more of an awareness of the value of early childhood school readiness, and communicate what a parent should know about Hartford’s programs. Along with the fundamental goal of recruiting three and four year-olds for enrollment, there are other purposes for marketing and communicating the school readiness program. This includes: creating trust between schools and parents, presenting the success of the program and illustrating the fun the child and parent will have by participating in the program. After meeting with the Superintendent of Schools, it became clear that he was committed to assigning 44 classrooms to the school readiness program for the next school year, so there will be plenty of open spaces for preschool candidates. By focusing upon the instructional/developmental value of the experience a young child will have in this program, as well as other opportunities for enrichment, it will be possible to both increase awareness and build trust.

Campaign Components

Internal Communication and Marketing

  • Targeted Groups: School Readiness and Early Childhood Providers, Referral agencies (health, social service, education, etc.), Parent facilitators (public school advocates), Parent advocate groups, and Educators
  • Goal: Be proactive by providing information to parents and guardians in a friendly and thoughtful way in order to enroll 3 and 4 year olds in the program and encourage parent involvement
  • Tactics: Training, training materials, and information literature

External Communication and Marketing

  • Targeted Groups: Parents, Educators, Referral agencies, Public Policy Officials
  • Goal: Reassure and encourage the parents and the guardians of 3 and 4 year-olds of the importance of enrolling their child in a school readiness program
  • Tactics: Creation of bilingual (English & Spanish) promotional materials: banners at school readiness sites, brochure, bus display, bus shelter display, billboards, weekly neighborhood newspapers, State of Connecticut Infoline Telephone system

Public Relations

  • Goal: Create a script and talking points to all professionals and support groups to talk about school readiness in a single voice using bona fide information provided by authorized officials.
  • Tactics: White paper, presentations and guest appearances with local radio shows, churches, civic groups and other officials

The campaign was rolled-out during the months of July, August and September using the above strategy and tactics along with support from the members of the partnership. Many of the providers of early childhood programs participated in a referral alliance among civic, cultural, religious, parent and community groups who would be willing to share information with parents and families and be willing to share information about potential participants with school readiness programs. We realized that the interpersonal relationships between these groups and the parents/guardians was critical to the success of the campaign. A major part of this public service campaign was to make enrolling a 3- or 4-year-old child as easy as possible for parents. The primary message that was used over and over was for parents to visit their closest elementary school for information and registration information, because we knew from research that the majority of these parents did not have cars and therefore would not travel far to get information. This strategy was so successful, that majority of the sites became over registered, which has lead to requests for additional funding resources to meet the need.


In February 1999, there were 592 children using School Readiness-funded slots. We knew that by the summer there would be an additional 360 openings and that they would need to be filled quickly in order to receive continued local and state funding. We were also hoping to demonstrate that there was a need for additional funding. One of the most valuable pieces of this project was the focus group research we did with parents. We found out that parents want these services and that they understood how important it was for their children to be in quality programs. However, we also discovered that parents found it very difficult to get basic information about the programs—where there were openings and how to register their children, for example. Not only did the focus groups help us design the campaign, we also used the research to show the Hartford School Readiness Council the need for creating a coordinated system of pre-K education for the city. They have adopted this goal and are currently working to create a consumer-friendly system. Through a media campaign and community outreach and public relations efforts, we were able to place 1,320 children in school readiness classrooms, an increase of enrollment of 728 children, a 123% improvement over the previous year. The public awareness campaign not only quickly filled classrooms, but also served as the catalyst for the community-based providers and the school system to work closer together and begin creating a better coordinated system. As of December 1999, an additional funding from the State of Connecticut was requested for and additional 819 slots. This request is currently under review by the state.

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