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Special Project

Special Project
From the 1st Annual Shorty Social Good Awards

Taking On The Arizona Teaching Crisis

Entered in Pro Bono


Tucson, Arizona, continues to rank last out of 12 western metropolitan statistical areas for the median annual wage for secondary school teachers, but the problems go well beyond inadequate pay. With worrying numbers of good, experienced teachers leaving Arizona, there were at least 1,000 vacant teacher positions yet to fill in Arizona just weeks before the beginning of the 2015 school year. Teacher workforce surveys have proven that the frustration felt by Arizona's nearly 70,000 teachers is real. Teachers feel that they're not valued or respected by the community, not being trusted to do their jobs without micromanagement, and that the after-hours time commitment required of them has become overwhelming.

To address these problems, Tucson Values Teachers (TVT) has implemented a number of signature programs and conducted some serious—and seriously distressing—research (including those aforementioned surveys) into the plight of the state's educators. In early 2015, Havas PR CEO Marian Salzman took on TVT as its volunteer executive chairman and recognized that as a newcomer to the state, the best weapon she had was her professional stature and our agency, which opened its Phoenix office on Valentine's Day 2015. In this way, TVT became a pet project of Havas PR's, and we donated every dollar and every hour of our service to ensure that 2015 was a banner year for this important nonprofit.

Our mission: Help our teachers, which will help our schools, which will help our children, which will help Arizona's employers, which will help Arizona's economy.

Strategy and Execution

There are problems with the education system that Tucson Values Teachers can fix—by implementing teacher development programs and showing respect and appreciation through awards and monetary prizes—and problems that it can't. But just because there are things like poor pay that are out of this nonprofit's hands doesn't mean it won't stop talking about it—loudly—until someone who can fix it does. Constructive disruption is what our agency calls it, and it was at the heart of our strategy for Tucson Values Teachers. We were outraged by the results of those teacher workforce surveys (conducted in 2013 and 2015 and showing little progress between the two), and we wanted the larger Tucson community to be outraged, too. Surveys of Arizona taxpayers had shown that the state faces residents' apathy to address the impact of these realities on the state's most valuable asset: its children.

Funded by the Southern Arizona Leadership Council (SALC) and the University of Arizona's College of Education and fielded by local agency Strongpoint Marketing, the surveys were put to use in Havas PR's media relations push in variety of ways. Using data from the 2013 survey, we began by developing an op-ed program to raise visibility for the mission of TVT—proving to teachers first with words and then with actions that Tucson does value its teachers, a fact that our research showed teachers don't feel. By drafting and strategically placing columns in the Arizona Daily Star, Tucson Sentinel and HuffPost, we effectively put a megaphone to the conversation in local and national media.

Even before the new survey of Arizona teachers was complete in 2015, we made plans to pitch it strategically. We packaged key findings for release in two formats—a splashy, well-designed and digestible executive summary and an overview presentation that would be of concern to all of our target audiences. In both our reports and our media outreach, we called attention to the facts: poor pay in comparison with other states and even other cities in Arizona, low community respect for the profession, and the vast amount of time and personal money teachers allot to their profession, among other abiding issues. For instance, to dispel the myth that the upside of teaching is shorter working days and long school holidays, we reported that teachers work 60 hours per week on average and only 40 percent of this time is spent teaching in class.

Meanwhile, we activated a band of community partners, each donating their services and/or monies, to plan the inaugural Let's Talk Ed summit and awards ceremony that would inspire greater awareness in the community, raise an enormous sum for teachers, and reward them handsomely through the inaugural Raytheon Leaders in Education Awards. In the months leading up to the summit, we encouraged ticket sales by producing a save-the-date postcard and four sell sheets, each targeted to a different audience.


With only the first three columns of our op-ed campaign in spring and summer 2015, total impressions exceeded 45.6 million, and fundraising around the resulting buzz raised more than $300,000 for TVT, including a large grant to fund a teacher-retention program. We also secured yearlong coverage that positioned TVT as a thought leader on the education crisis in outlets such as The Arizona Republic and Arizona Public Media.

In the fall, our attention shifted to the release of the newest teacher workforce survey. The materials we drafted and designed and our pitches to key local outlets earned placements in the Arizona Daily Star and Arizona Public Media, and the survey continues to be sourced in articles about education in Arizona.

We ended the year by working feverishly to make the first Let's Talk Ed: Teacher Workforce Summit, on Jan. 7, 2016, the phenomenal success that it was. Among the community partners we helped bring in, Making Action Possible (MAP) presented its Dashboard Project, illustrating Tucson area teachers' paltry salaries. All told, 590 tickets were sold. We helped raise $119,000-plus for teachers, schools and teacher retention initiatives. And during the summit, the first Raytheon Leaders in Education Awards were given to honor three exemplary teachers with a $2,500 prize and matching monetary gift for their schools.

Our agency helped put Tucson and the state of Arizona at the center of a national discussion about what needs to be done to change the collective mindset that this crisis is not fixable.


Entrant Company / Organization Name

Havas PR North America, Tucson Values Teachers


Entry Credits