State Policy Network
Communications case study: Alabama Policy Institute calls attention to Alabama’s poor education system through #Deadlast campaign

Last fall, the people of Alabama received some discouraging news: their state was dead last in K-12 education. The National Center for Education Statistics’ 2019 “Nation’s Report Card” found Alabama to have the worst performing public education system in the nation.

The Alabama Policy Institute (API) knew something had to be done, and the same old approach to education wasn’t going to cut it. The real solution lies in setting policies that break the status quo and give Alabama’s children the quality education they deserve. To inform the public and elected officials about the critical reforms needed in state education, API launched the #Deadlast campaign.

SPN: Tell us about the nuts and bolts of your campaign.

API: The 2019 “Nation’s Report Card” by the National Center for Education Statistics reported Alabama as dead last (or 52 out of 50) in the nation in math, and near last in reading. API’s #DeadLast campaign sought not only to inform Alabamians about the critical reform needed in state education, but it also proposed several items to achieve such reform. API called for better leadership, better management of education funding, increased school choice, and increased teacher incentives.

Most notably, API first created a video poking fun at the fact that Alabama is no longer even above Mississippi in its education ranking (as Alabamians often use the phrase “Thank God for Mississippi”). API used this video along with corresponding graphics in a strategic social media and online advertising campaign. These ads inspired individuals to go to our campaign landing page. There, our audience was able to learn more about Alabama’s failing school system in a simple, approachable format, and they were encouraged to sign a petition demanding a refreshed approach to public education. Ultimately the humor and accessibility of our ads and our website drove and enabled our audience to easily join the cause and participate in our #DeadLastinitiative.

SPN: Who was your target audience?

API: Our audience was most broadly the people of Alabama. It was critical for API to educate as many people in our state on our education system’s failure and to ignite individuals to have some response other than apathy. We also specifically targeted certain demographics through our online advertising strategy. Ads promoting #DeadLast were targeted at individuals with children or grandchildren, as they would be the ones who are especially sensitive to the impact of our state’s education ranking on their loved ones. Our goal was to drive individuals, after seeing our ads, to watch the entirety of our #DeadLast video and visit DeadLast.org to learn more about the current ailments of Alabama schools. We collected petition signatures after individuals clicked to the #DeadLast landing page.

SPN: Describe your results. How did this project impact your audience?

API: Our #DeadLast video generated over 280,000 views and over 125,000 clicks. Our DeadLast.org website collected 1,000 email addresses through our petition, boosting API’s owned audience. The term “dead last” was also picked up and used in several media stories and made its way into the language that the Alabama Governor used when discussing education.

This project informed and inspired our audience to press for change. The most immediate action taken alongside our #DeadLastcampaign—outside of education of the general public and garnering support of our online petition—was supportive work for Amendment One on the March statewide ballot. Amendment One was a proposed a change in how the leadership of the state’s education system is elected. It would end our current model of a popularly elected state school board in favor of one appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state senate. As it is currently designed and managed, the state board of education is doing very little to improve the quality of education in the state. Amendment One will allow professionals and other highly trained and qualified folks to oversee our state school system. 

API released several op-eds in statewide media outlets, drawing attention to #DeadLast and encouraging support of Amendment One. Additionally, other organizations and associations throughout the state consulted with API’s research to craft Amendment One support campaigns of their own.

Ultimately, Amendment One did not pass. However, API never hesitates to bring up our #DeadLast ranking and work whenever justifying our support for education reform in Alabama. This campaign has been, and remains, especially effective at appealing to reason in evaluating any education reform up for discussion—it truly has given API a platform from which to work in calling for better education in the state of Alabama.

For their work to educate elected officials and the public on the pressing need for education reform in Alabama, the Alabama Policy Institute is a 2020 SPN Communications Excellence Awards Finalist for the Influential Marketing Campaign Award.

Categories: State News
States: Alabama
Organization: State Policy Network