In 2021 Vera Creative was awarded the opportunity to lead the strategic communications and marketing plan for the City of Chicago’s preschool recruitment for the 600+ Chicago Public Schools and community-based programs. Our campaign built upon the existing brand equity we’d created and established previously for the City’s early learning initiative, “Chicago Early Learning”, and included the management of all of their social media platforms.
Our primary goal was to increase preschool enrollment, especially among “hard-to-reach” and underserved communities. The pandemic and the uncertainties surrounding in-person learning made this challenge more difficult, especially following a rocky year with recorded struggles with COVID-19 protocols and regulations in public schools. Enrollment in 2020 plummeted to historic lows — just 14,856 three and four-year-olds enrolled in Chicago. Still, we knew an emphasis on social media would help reach our audience, where they gathered with the increase in remote learning. We set out to build a go-to digital community for families with early learners, where they’d find value in engaging with the Chicago Early Learning account.
In addition to helping get more preschool-age children enrolled in an early learning program, we sought to also connect the early learning community to essential resources for families. We also strove to share clear expectations for what families could expect when sending their children back to school, communicate the value of early learning, and promote the events held by partners throughout the city like the Chicago Public Library.
We dictated the Chicago Early Learning social media campaign direction with current events and top-of-mind issues for our audiences. As COVID restrictions evolved, we pivoted with those updates to keep families informed along the way. Our content strategy also helped alleviate parents' fears about sending their children back to school as the pandemic raged on. Parents who were comfortable keeping their children out of school for another year wanted to know what they could expect when students returned to classrooms in the Fall. They also expressed uncertainty about whether their child was even ready for Pre-K, given the learning loss they have experienced in the year prior. We tailored content to address these concerns directly, and maintained community engagement to best guide families with questions and concerns.
CEL recruitment platforms via social media were actively shaped and informed by direct feedback from families. For example, social media campaigns featured parents we tapped as influential ambassadors, and their stories helped bridge the gap in connecting with other parents. This sort of family engagement online was strengthened by CEL’s centralized brand every step of the way. As a result, parents responded positively to the relevant and informative, and diverse content we shared to build their confidence around what could otherwise be an intimidating enrollment process. With their engagement, we were able to help resolve questions and concerns they had with their child’s application process and help get their child off of the waitlist and into their preferred programs.
Historical and ongoing seat capacity/availability data by neighborhood also informed how we connected with our audiences. We created social media ads through many hyper-targeted Facebook/Instagram audiences to boost awareness, follows/likes, post engagements, and link clicks to the CEL application page.
In 2021 we also launched a WhatsApp to connect more intentionally with immigrant families and families where English wasn’t their first language. This tactic allowed us to engage and guide individuals more directly who we wouldn’t have reached directly otherwise.
We helped the city achieve a 33.4% increase in preschool applications among 3 & 4-year-olds from the previous year for a total of 19,815 preschoolers enrolled.
Overall numbers across social to our hyper-targeted audience included:
3,782,408 - Total Impressions
115,512 - Total Engagements
20,763 - Total Clicks to Website
245,957 - Video Views
Beyond total numbers, we uncovered Chicago Early Learning’s enrollment as through our social media efforts contributed to disproportionately high enrollment rates among hard-to-reach communities. During the campaign, social media helped drive 70–85% week over week enrollment rates among Latino and African American children.
During our focus groups following the end of the recruitment season, an encouraging insight was shared with us by parents who enrolled their children that reinforced the value of social media as a critical touchpoint during families' preschool recruitment journey for Chicago Early Learning.
The conversations we had with families were also logged and reported to the Department of Family Services at the City of Chicago at the end of our Fall 2021 recruitment campaign. We shared parents’ challenges with enrollment.
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