Texas GEAR UP
Since 2001, AMS Public Interest has been collaborating with the Texas Education Agency on developing a wealth of engaging resources for the Texas GEAR UP project. This program is shifting the perception of education by increasing college awareness and readiness for underserved students in grades 7-12. The endeavor also targets educators, parents and community members to help build a complete college-going culture—and motivate all Texas students to aspire to and succeed in postsecondary education.
For the past three years, the AMS team has largely been focused on creating a comprehensive outreach campaign to showcase all of the amazing Texas GEAR UP resources and increase usage in every corner of the state. The AMS strategists took the original Texas GEAR UP persona through a complete rebranding process. Naturally, the best outcomes happen when market research is employed, so we started with in-depth focus groups with more than 100 students, educators and parents to find out what was truly going to resonate most with them—and help Texas GEAR UP stand out in a marketplace oversaturated with college-readiness resources. One of the key research takeaways was that the students wanted a brand they felt like they belonged with and a brand that spoke to them in an authentic voice—a brand that could inspire ambition in a natural manner.
So, a huge part of the rebrand was shifting the campaign’s focus and messaging in large part directly to the students themselves (as opposed to working through educators to gain access). The AMS creative team put their vast experience in working with students to use and completely redesigned texasgearup.com, redefined the brand’s voice, and tied the materials and message to a more pronounced career hook—using the attainability of a future dream job as a major incentive to get college-ready right now. Of course, the Texas educators themselves are still very much a key stakeholder, and they have their own dedicated section of the website, along with a plethora of very specific outreach efforts aimed at helping them help their students (including monthly newsletters, targeted e-blasts, participation incentive strategies, program-sharing videos, training opportunities and much more).
When rolling out the rebrand, the AMS team also launched TXGU’s social media presence. Within the first two years of its launch, the TXGU Facebook account received nearly 200,000 impressions, and the TXGU Twitter feed has been favorited and retweeted by everyone from The New York Times Learning Network to Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls (with a whole lot of education experts in between). A prime example of content marketing based on a comprehensive editorial calendar, the social platforms have been an incredible way to engage students in an ongoing dialogue—just with a spoonful of cool, wacky or amazing sugar to help the college-prep medicine go down. The main texasgearup.com hub also features blogs for students and educators, and the daily blog entries have helped rack up the page visits for the website since its unveiling.
At the most recent GEAR UP state conference in the fall of 2014, AMS created the “Texas GEAR UP Lounge,” an interactive space where every conference attendee could experience a wide array of resources that AMS has created. Everyone who visited the lounge was given a “passport,” which was stamped for every station visited (to earn GEAR UP “Swag Bags”). Included were stations where visitors could: Sign up for the Texas GEAR UP newsletter, watch our series of edgy career-story videos aimed at TXGU students and a series of program-sharing videos targeting TXGU educators, fill out a “Share Your Story” survey (which could be featured on the website, on social media or in future videos), take the “Discover You” quiz to identify your ideal career, and share photos of the career results via different social media platforms.
But most importantly, the lounge experience spread the word about a promising new direction for Texas GEAR UP. It also gave conference attendees a chance to engage with the new resources and take them back to their communities and classrooms. During the lounge event, we experienced a statistically significant spike in website and social media usage across TXGU platforms that exceeded client goals and expectations.
The response to the rebrand and new Texas GEAR UP materials has been overwhelmingly positive from educators, students and TXGU teams members all around the state. (Word has even spread well beyond Texas, with campaign engagement happening nationwide, from San Francisco to New York to Miami—and a whole lot of places in between.) The strategic minds at AMS have also developed a toolkit of fully customizable marketing tools that TXGU grant projects around Texas can use to help introduce and further explain their specific localized efforts to their participating students’ parents and community members. And this is all really just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to Texas GEAR UP outreach—our team is currently building a strategic plan to roll TXGU resources out to every educator and student across Texas over the next two years, regardless of whether their schools are direct GEAR UP grant recipients. Eventually, every student in Texas will feel empowered to chase the future of his or her dreams.
Number of cities/people in TX interacting with current TXGU campaign via social media and website
This campaign is an ideal example of the fresh, teen-focused, innovative perspective that the AMS strategic and creative teams bring to branding, messaging and marketing projects. The talented thinkers at AMS have been able to engage an incredibly diverse mix of audiences through the TXGU campaign—meeting stakeholders where they are and telling the story that they want (and need) to hear to inspire action and passion. Forward thinking has been an absolute requirement for success with this project, and that’s something that our entire team brings to every single endeavor.