Back-To-School – a $76 Billion Proposition?

Jennifer Golbus photoBy Jennifer Golbus, Senior Account Supervisor
I recently saw a press release from the National Retail Federation that claims Americans will spend an estimated $75.8 billion on back-to-school supplies this year. Wow – no wonder every consumer brand wants “in” on the back-to-school coverage that proliferates the media in August and September each year!
As a publicist, I appreciate the back-to-school media craze, but as a working mother of two grade school children, I am at best amused. Here’s why:
With no disrespect to the brands screaming their benefits at me –40% off!  Top rated pencil boxes! – I really don’t care unless you are solving my problem of back-to-school overwhelm. Oh, and speaking of that, there are all of those articles telling me what I’m supposed to do with all of my free time: 17 Ways to Ease Back-To-School and 8 Essential Back-To-School Tips. These articles contain such helpful nuggets as “get everyone to bed on time” and “talk to your child about what to expect.” Really? I’d like someone to inform these well-meaning reporters that there is simply no way to “ease my child seamlessly back into school” so please stop making me feel bad! Ugh. I’m on back-to-school overload!

From a personal perspective, my biggest challenge when it comes to back-to-school is time and the seemingly impossible list of uber-specific school supplies provided to parents only days before school starts. The list includes the requisite shoes, clothes, backpacks, soccer cleats and uniforms, binders, fuzz balls (I didn’t make that up), decorative tape and carabiners – and so on. And this is all on top of mountains of forms, meet-the-teacher day, helping with homework, and worst of all, two weeks of sleepless nights and cranky kids while everyone re-adjusts to school life. Oh, and then there’s work! Hah.

So, back to the articles that proliferate in the media telling me how great their products are. I’d love to see an article that says, “Let’s face it. All parents dread back to school. We get it. We’re here to make your life easier.” In fact, my colleagues and I are always talking about how to make our media pitches more effective. The over-arching theme is to make it relevant. For example, instead of talking about how a backpack is so great, or how some educational board rated your mechanical pencil, group your products with others that would be relevant to my kid. In other words, solve my problem and I might buy your product.
Amazon’s new “school list” feature is a great example of this. It allows teachers to make a specific list of products they want your child to have in their classroom. All I have to do is hit “add to cart.” Brilliant!
From a media standpoint, I’d love to see funny, “real life” articles about the tantrums, homework meltdowns, parent fails, late forms, tardy slips, 30-minute lines at Staples and last-minute shopping at 9pm that accompanies back-to-school. Make us normal working parents feel understood instead of preached at!

How have you made your back-to-school pitches relevant this year? Leave a comment below or email [email protected].

4 thoughts on “Back-To-School – a $76 Billion Proposition?

  1. Jennifer – well said! As a mother yourself, you certainly speak from experience and as a PR pro, it’s always important to remember that news stories (and the ones we pitch) should help solve a problem. Great post. Cheers, David

  2. Jennifer,
    I love this blog! It is all about how the consumer feels and addressing their needs in a relevant way. Being overt about showing some empathy seems to be a good approach in many instances.
    Sean

  3. Jennifer,
    I love the honesty of this blog. I think people forget how crazy things can get when it comes to the back-to-school rush. The articles you mentioned give quick tips, but don’t really capture the bigger picture of “is our back to school article making lives easier for parents?”
    -NS

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