Reward teachers, raise revenue

How a Michigan paper honors ‘Amazing Teachers’

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For a newspaper that routinely writes stories about teachers and emphasizes education coverage, creating an Amazing Teachers recognition program was an extension of that commitment.

"There were good synergies in what we could do on the newsroom side and what we could do on the advertising side," said Orestes Baez, president and publisher of Holland Media Group and The Holland Sentinel in Michigan.

The program in its first two years has been successful enough that this year it will be expanded to nine other GateHouse Media newspaper properties in Michigan. The program allows the public to nominate outstanding teachers and a committee created within the company selects the winners, eight this year in Holland.

The Sentinel holds an awards banquet and presents gift cards to the winners. "Teachers end up spending money of their own for supplies and whatnot," Baez said. The gift cards are a way of putting some money back in their pockets.

Newspaper revenue comes from selling sponsorships of all kinds, from the tables at the banquet ($250) to the platinum tier (thousands of dollars). The most recent event brought in $9,000 in revenue from 21 sponsors, all of them local small businesses, Baez said.

In Holland, people wishing to nominate an Amazing Teacher visit www.hollandsentinel.com/amazingteachers, where they fill out forms and explain why the teacher is exceptional and deserves an award. The Sentinel uses a Second Street contest platform for the program. The paper recognizes all the nominees in print before the awards banquet.

The program encompasses elementary through high schools in the major public and private districts in Ottawa County. Holland is located near Lake Michigan southwest of Grand Rapids. The Sentinel is a six-day daily, Tuesday through Sunday, with a circulation of about 12,500.

The event is linked with the city's annual Tulip Time Festival, held the first week of May when the tulips are in bloom. Baez said some 400,000 to 500,000 people attend the festival. The banquet is held in late April and the winning Amazing Teachers participate in parades during the festival.

"We use that as a cross-promotion opportunity not only to accentuate the brand but also to help with sponsorship and visibility," Baez said.

The publisher said it's important to engage the newsroom in the program. "In most of my markets, education is a big thematic component of what we like to write about." The Sentinel also keeps in close touch with the school systems.

"You've got to engage the administrations of the schools," Baez said. "So we print posters promoting the event, and as we start to get nominations we put names on there that have already been nominated. We give them to the superintendent of schools to post in their schools to encourage more participation."

Baez also recommends assigning an in-house "promotions champion" in the advertising department to the project. That person minds the details, such as keeping up with the nominations and reaching out to the other districts if teachers in one district seem to be getting more than the others.

Here are some other tips from Baez:

  • "If at all possible, don't charge for the dinner. Have it sponsored. A lot of teachers don't make a whole ton of money."
  • Keep the event short, especially if it's on a school night. Baez said the teachers who have given feedback appreciated that things moved along.
  • Start early seeking sponsorships. Some businesses contribute through community program budgets rather than advertising budgets and need more lead time for those decisions.

Nominations are open now for the upcoming Holland school year, and a couple of teachers have already been entered even though most schools are not yet in session. "We're using what we've learned and done in Holland and doing it the same way in the other markets," Baez said.

For more information, contact Orestes Baez at obaez@gatehousemedia.com.

Jane Nicholes

Jane Nicholes is a regular contributor to the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association's eBulletin and is a freelance writer and editor based in coastal Alabama. She is an award-winning veteran of more than 30 years in the newspaper business. Reach her at jbnicholes@att.net.

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