SAM talks to Donald Baird about the America’s Schools Program

Talk about a win-win proposition. Who wouldn’t want to associate their brand with something as wholesome and all-American as helping to bring textbooks, art, music and sports to their children’s schools? Aussie Olympian Donald Baird, Founder and CEO of the International School Licensing Corporation, has devoted over twenty years of his life to developing revenue generating programs for schools, school districts and athletics. As any good coach will tell you, one key to success is having a great game plan.

With that in mind, Baird has been laying the groundwork for the America’s Schools Program since 1984, developing partnerships with school boards and schools districts throughout the United States. The hardest part is over — 14 states representing 80 percent of the country’s population have signed on to the program. SAM caught up with Baird recently, as he was about to launch his pitch to the Fortune 500.

SAM: To a marketer, the America’s Schools program appeals on a few different levels. You have the partnership marketing where you’re sharing the expense and the promotional efforts with a lot of different companies, and, the philanthropic aspect is still a bit unusual.

DB: It is unusual. We’re putting the entire educational family under this one identifiable mark. [the America’s Schools logo] … We’re not one of the 30,000 companies trying to get a foothold in education, we’re working with education for education.

SAM: How?

DB: We are … developing what is going to be the biggest, most powerful marketing vehicle this country has ever seen. … a system that will enable national advertising dollars to affect the well being of a local school. Every school is going to be treated exactly the same. The money is distributed to each individual school based on population.

… I did not want to stand in front of a major corporation unless I could explicitly tell them that we have the school systems signed on. We met in Tennessee and 14 states, representing 80 percent of the country’s population, convened [to establish] the America’s Schools National Business and Licensing Board. Eventually it will be structured from all 50 states.

SAM: It sounds like a tremendously ambitious program.

DB: It is. If you can envision something it can happen. … All you have to do here is basically just have a half a million people believe in one thing. That’s all.

SAM: Now that you’ve conquered the schools, what about marketing this to corporate America?

DB: We are at a point where we can sit down and present the program with all the confidence in the world. The first company that’s going to see [our presentation] is Coca Cola. We have to show corporations that I am going to change what I do on a national basis. One of the challenges we had with each individual state, was that they had to sign a contract of a minimum of 12 years, some of the contracts are as long as 26 years. The reason for that is to show solidarity.

SAM: That makes sense.

DB: … a minimum of 50 cents on every dollar had to go back to the local school districts. That’s before any money went to any of the bodies that were helping to put this together. We’re looking for corporate partners, not sponsors — people … that are going to be impacted by a corporate relationship with the educational system.

SAM: With Coca Cola, do you have a certain percentage in mind that you’re asking for these partnerships?

DB: What it’s going to be is a minimum. We spoke to people [on the boards of] five Fortune 500 companies … and asked them hypothetically … would you, for the exclusive relationship with this program on a nationwide basis, be interested in the program, how would you go about getting involved with it, and the third thing, which is would you be turned off by the fact that it would be 25 million up front annual fee. In every case they said they would be excited.

SAM: Are you going to be doing any kind of promotional campaign, besides having signage in the schools?

DB: We have a deal with Viacom [who owns a number of media companies, including CBS and MTV] …Where there’s available billboard space, they are giving us the space. They want to work with us and help make this work.

By the fifth year, in our budget, we will be spending 50 million in advertising alone, that’s all funded by the individual corporations. … Our objective is to make this symbol more recognizable than the Olympic rings and Nike put together — in one-eighth of the time it took them to establish themselves.

SAM: And what’s the timetable that you’re looking at for the core group of partners?

DB: By September/October we’re hoping to put in two to three. Within 2 years we hope to have 12 put together.

SAM: Have the school boards given you any kind of guidance in terms of the types of corporations?

DB: No tobacco, nothing religious, no alcohol, all the typical things. The final list of companies has come from that national board … already pre-approved.

SAM: Is it meant to be a non-profit model?

DB: No, it’s not. Anyway, that’s what I keep telling my investors. It’s gonna take some time. If you’re talking 25 million and you’ve got 12 companies, you’re basically talking about 300 million in annual revenues that are going to be created. Obviously we have a certain threshold or a certain dollar amount that we’ve got to make in order to be profitable in order to make it work.

… 76% of the entire country said that if price and quality are equal, they will buy something that supports a cause over buying something from a competitor — if it’s for a cause that they can relate to. Their family is the most important cause …

SAM: That’s absolutely true.

DB: If we can positively affect the hearts and minds of these people, their pocketbooks will follow, just out of natural human instinct. We’re gonna hit the hearts and minds of everybody in this country. It’s gonna be unbelievable, unlike anything that anyone’s ever done before. It’s gonna be like a virus across this entire country.

SAM: The part that’s going to be of the most interest to our readers is the corporate angle, that’s still evolving. Our readers are going to be most interested in how that whole arrangement will work.

DB: They’re gonna pay money to have a relationship with us, and we’re gonna be directing every check that comes out of it to the schools. The education system … it is the airport of life. Everybody has to go through school.

SAM: What was your inspiration for coming up with this program in the first place?

DB: Frustration. … There is absolutely no reason why a girl or boy should be deprived of a full education for the lack of money. The money exists. … That’s the inspiration. If I can imagine it, it can be done. And luckily enough there are some great people out there who feel the same. Our board of directors rivals any Fortune 500 company in this country.

If we do this right, when they write the book of the history of marketing and sales and advertising, I think there’s gonna be at least a paragraph on the America’s Schools Program.

Originally published in SAM Magazine in July 2001.

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