Julia Stone is the Director of Communications at MIR, a leader in marketing through schools. She has worked in brand marketing in schools for 9 years and knows the impact this method can have on toy brands that take the time to align with education. She also hosts monthly webinars that teach companies everything they need to know about marketing toys through schools and preschools. You can reach Julia at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Richard: What is MIR, and what is its history?
Julia: At MIR, we have been creating in-school marketing programs across North America for 20+ years. We work with top toy brands to help them develop brand awareness and drive sales to parents through classrooms and childcare centers.
A few years ago, we branched our business into five specialized departments to offer our clients dedicated service. Those departments service family brands, entertainment releases, teen brands, and government organizations.
Our toy department, also known as MIR Play, is our most robust.
We also used to publish several magazines: Together Families, Canadian Teen Girl, and Kidsworld. While we don’t create these anymore, they were a great gateway into schools and helped us develop credibility with teachers and principals.
Richard: You create curricula and market through schools. Can you tell us how you do that?
Julia: Yes, we integrate brands into school curriculum by balancing the educational requirements of educators and the marketing objectives of our clients. We work with teachers and early childhood educators to create educational resources that feature our client’s brand benefits in a way that teachers value and use. Teacher lesson plans featuring our client’s toys are a cornerstone of this approach and one that we like to implement in almost all of our preschool, school, and daycare programs.
Richard: How do the schools feel about marketing toys in the classroom?
Julia: Learning through play is the foundation of early childhood education. The marriage between toys and early childhood learning is clear, and teachers recognize that. Plus, teachers always need more tools to help teach their students, and they love resources from toy brands.
Richard: Can you give us an example of a marketing program you have run for a toy company?
Julia: Playmobil is a quality, progressive thinking toy company we’ve worked with for many years in Canada. However, one of our favorite Playmobil school programs was created for Playmobil USA for their 1.2.3 Play system. Teacher lesson plans allowed students to exercise important developmental skills while living in a world of trains, farms, airplanes, and more. Each of these themes was connected to one of the available Playmobil sets, some of which were provided to classrooms for hands-on play. Then, parents were provided with art sheets for display on the fridge at home. On the front of the art sheets, kids would draw what they had experienced in class, and on the back of the art sheet was information about Playmobil 1.2.3 and that specific toy. Along with in-school signage, this was a really popular program that addressed every stakeholder of the experience in a holistic and fun way.
Richard: What are the benefits of marketing through schools? Do many toy companies currently engage in that kind of marketing?
Julia: Schools and child care centers are largely non-competitive environments. Considering learning-through-play is the #1 method of teaching for younger years, there are fantastic opportunities here to align with education and earn exposure to your toy brand.
Credibility is another big reason to explore in-school marketing. When a toy aligns with educational standards and is accepted by teachers, parents think, “if this toy is good enough for my child’s classroom, it must have real value.”
Having teachers as influencers is a massive departure from what marketers generally think of as “influencer marketing,” but teachers and educators really are the most influential people for parents and their children.
We also want to add that schools and childcare centers are real-world, viral environments. In this space and for this age group, brands can really take off and become schoolyard sensations.
Richard: How many schools do you have on your roster, what kind are they, and where are they located geographically?
Julia: The short answer is a ton of schools and daycare centers across North America.
Here’s the long answer:
In the United States, we have 108,065 large licensed preschools and daycares with 6,700,000 total enrolments. We also have 67,625 public elementary schools and 19,875 private elementary schools with a total of 32,800,000 students.
In Canada MIR has 11,715 large licensed preschools and daycares with 972,345 total enrolment. And then 10,100 public elementary schools and 210 private elementary schools. The total enrolment in elementary schools in our network is 3,420,000.
Richard: Obviously some toys were better than others in lending themselves to curricula. Can you tell us what makes for the best fit?
Julia: In our experience, most toys fit into school curriculum for younger years. This is because learning through play is the foundational education in preschools and kindergarten. As you get into older years, toys that focus on skills like STEM, languages, physical fitness, and social skills do very well.
It is part of our job to find the best fit into the curriculum for your brand.
Richard: Can you give us some direction on costs for a school toy marketing program?
Julia: The answer to this is like the chicken and the egg. Program cost will depend heavily on materials created, and locations reached. On average, a school campaign will cost from $50-$350 per location, and we generally deal with a minimum of 250 schools or preschools.