For retailers who depend on middle class families to keep the bills paid, Back to School time should be low-hanging fruit for promoting positive PR. While there are sales in most stores, too few really take full advantage of the opportunity to strengthen connections with customers who are more than likely going to be looking for school supplies or thinking about back to school items and itineraries.
This year, big box retailer Target set its sights on helping teachers, many of whom come out of pocket to buy school supplies for many of their students, even when they don’t have the extra cash to spend. To help soften the blow for hardworking, generous teachers, Target offered a 15-percent discount on school supplies for about a week in mid-July.
The excitement about this discount highlighted a deeper social issue, and gave many groups the opportunity to take advantage of that brighter spotlight. PTAs, civic groups, teachers’ unions, and other groups used the Target sale to point out what they see as an issue bigger than a 15 percent savings can solve.
The issue these groups are using the Target sale to highlight is two-fold: teacher pay and parent expectations. These groups believe teachers do not earn compensation commensurate with their investment, and they believe many, though not all, parents do not contribute enough support, either emotional or financial, to their child’s education, expecting the teachers to pick up the slack.
These are, of course, contentious issues, and many people have strong, differing opinions. These issues came to a head this summer as many teacher groups across the nation staged walkouts and protests. These high-profile situations tended to cement people in whatever opinion they already held, as they drew deeper lines in the sand.
For those on the side of teachers and teacher support groups, it’s important to communicate in a way that those whose support they need are willing to listen. The Target sale was just such an opportunity. In many articles, comments, and social media posts, supporters tried to educate parents about just how much teachers typically spend each year on classroom supplies for kids whose parents either don’t or can’t buy them. Typically, these groups claim, teachers spend anywhere from $400 to $1,000 of their own money each year to supply other people’s children. While the action is appreciated, these groups say teachers would appreciate it more if they didn’t have to come out of pocket in the first place.
That’s a difficult message to put delicately. One on hand, it’s become “expected,” so expected there’s a (minimal) tax deduction for educational expenses. And, when something is considered “the norm,” any challenge to that “norm” will get some people’s hackles up. On the other hand, when people consider a teacher’s salary, and then are faced with the fact that they are also being asked to help support other people’s children, the idea that, just maybe, something should change here, is easier to communicate… especially if it’s not coming directly from the teachers.