CAMPAIGNS: Education PR - Hyping literacy in low-achieving CA

Client: California Office of the Secretary for Education


PR Team: Porter Novelli (LA)

Campaign: READ California

Time Frame: September 2000-June 2001

Budget: dollars 1 million

Suppose only 20% of adults could read well enough to work, shop or bank.

California was headed that way two years ago, when only 20% of the

state's fourth-graders could read at or above grade level.

Read California - the result of legislation signed by Gov. Gray Davis -

sought to change that by using PR and advertising to encourage

schoolchildren to read every day outside of class.

The state's secretary of education chose New York-based Porter Novelli

to handle the PR.


The goal was to make kids feel that reading can be interactive, engaging

and fun, says Michelle Kurland, VP at Porter Novelli. This year (the

campaign also occurred in 1999-2000), more emphasis was placed on

reaching adults - parents, business executives and community members -

to support kids' enthusiasm for books.

'Businesses are going to be hiring these kids at some point,' explained

Lisa Fisher, director of Read California in the governor's office,

adding, 'These are our children. We owe them.'


The program focused on Sacramento, San Francisco, Fresno, LA and San

Diego. Readapalooza Too, an interactive, multimedia comedy show toured

schools from October 10 to December 8, reaching more than 30,000


Audience members were plucked to play 'Who Wants to Win a Million

Words?' a spoof of the famous game show, and to vote on who among young

readers' favorite literary characters should be president and vice

president. The kids elected Harry Potter to the top office and Clifford

the Big Red Dog to the deputy spot.

The on-stage antics were a shoo-in for TV and local newspaper coverage,

Kurland says. 'Shots that were picked up in city after city were so

visual, with the huge blow-up stage that looks like an open book,' she

recalls. 'They really captured the moment and the kids having fun with


To put young faces on the campaign, 12 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders

were selected to make up a Page Flippers-Kids Advisory Council. In

mid-February, the council kicked off its 'Reading Adventure,' in which

members would race to host library card sign-up rallies and book drives

in their hometowns. Local library and literacy advocates attended.

A 14-member, multi-ethnic advisory counsel of newspaper editors and

reading experts oversees the literacy effort. Ten corporate sponsors,

including Barnes and Noble Booksellers, Scholastic and Hewlett-Packard

back the program with funding, book giveaways and reading lists. Porter

Novelli sends them newsletter updates regularly.

Parents can receive information on how to promote reading at home and

can download tips from


By late February, media impressions totaled 754 million. The campaign is

credited with improving reading scores by as much as 5%, according to a

test given by the governor's office.


'Read California is in the budget for next year,' Fisher says. Next

year, more effort will be directed toward teenagers.

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