CAMPAIGNS: Education PR - UT teachers said the gloves are off

Client: Utah Education Association (Murray, UT)

Client: Utah Education Association (Murray, UT)

Client: Utah Education Association (Murray, UT)

PR Team: Razor (Salt Lake City)

Campaign: Education Shouldn't Be Scary

Time Frame: October-November, 2000

Budget: dollars 8,100

It's an old saw: politicians campaign on the importance of education, but no one wants to spend money on teachers, books or schools. Utah is no exception, says Dave Clifton, former director of the now-defunct PR department at Salt Lake City's Razor advertising firm.

Razor was hired by the Utah Education Association (UEA), a teachers' union, to publicize the downtrodden condition of Utah's public schools.


UEA's October 5 convention was used as a peg. Clifton says the main strategy was to convince Utah citizens and their legislators that school resources, teacher salaries and school safety were abysmal. It was a call for more funding.

'UEA historically has taken a bit more of a kid-glove approach,' said Clifton.

In 1999, the UEA tried to gain support for similar priorities through billboards and lawn signs, resulting in a one-time payment from the 2000 legislature. 'This time,' Clifton said, 'UEA decided we were going to take the gloves off.'

On a tight budget, Clifton tied several related messages - low teacher salaries, ancient textbooks and poor building conditions - to the underlying funding issue and exclusively targeted local education reporters. He also used a Halloween tie-in to generate good October coverage.


In early October, he produced a cutting radio commercial with a man explaining the deteriorating state of Utah schools while his own grammar slowly deteriorated.

A similar newspaper ad was also printed, alerting readers to the number of students at risk.

Clifton arranged seven radio interviews with top UEA officials. The interviews resulted in several morning-drive-time spots and an hourlong weekend program.

Immediately before the October 5 convention, Clifton had the association's Web site redesigned to include more easily accessible press materials.

During the convention, Clifton sent out releases giving an overview of its agenda. He also arranged human postcards for state legislators. Pictured on the cards were a crowd of teachers and students with placards at a local high school.

Halloween was used to warn of 'frightening facts' gleaned from a teacher survey about eroding school conditions. The 'scary survey' included plastic skulls and pumpkins that were sent to 25 education reporters.

Among the scary facts: one teacher uses a map that shows hydroelectric dams still 'under construction.' Those dams were completed in the1950s.

Another teacher works in a classroom where the encyclopedia lists Richard Nixon as president.

In early November, Clifton released a survey of out-of-pocket expenses teachers pay to maintain their classrooms. The survey was followed by a report on what Clifton describes as the failures of the state legislature's Funding of Public Education Task Force.


There were numerous stories on the funding issue in The Salt Lake Tribune, The Deseret News and the local CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox affiliates.

The scary facts and teacher out-of-pocket surveys, says Clifton, were the biggest hits. Razor claimed 310 column inches of coverage of the campaign plus 350 minutes of radio and television airtime.

Mark Mickelsen, director of communications and PR for the UEA, says the campaign made education a bigger issue in state election races. While Mickelsen praised the initial radio spots, he was critical of Razor's report on the state task force. He says the task force's history was too boring for local media.


For New Year's Day, Clifton and his assistant received pink slips from Razor President Bob Hess and his partners, who said that PR didn't match their 'creative mission' as an advertising firm. Clifton contends that the moving force in the decision was the firm's failure to secure a multimillion-dollar contract with the Utah Transit Authority last year, a contract that spurred the creation of the PR department in the first place.

Other Razor clients were interested in having the agency expand into PR, but they conceded that, had it won the UTA contract, Razor's PR department would still exist.

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