Working Collaboratively to Market Local Schools and Neighborhoods—Madison, Wisconsin
“At Home In Madison” Project
Madison REALTORS® knew they had a problem when one of their affiliate members, Home Savings Bank, told them the results of a customer focus group. Despite having one of the best school districts in the nation, many families relocating to the area were not giving Madison a moment’s thought as a place to live due to a commonly-held belief that all central cities have poor public schools. “This bias against the Metropolitan Madison School District was frustrating,” says Kevin King, Executive Vice President of the REALTORS® Association of South Central Wisconsin (RASCW), “because on any objective measure Madison schools have an excellent record to share with prospective new students and their parents.”
But Madison REALTORS® weren’t the only ones who were being hurt by this misperception, so were Madison schools, which were clearly losing out on quality students. For that matter, so was the city of Madison, which was seeing strong middle class families—along with their tax dollars—bypass it for the suburbs.
Madison REALTORS® and school administrators concluded the problem was the city wasn’t getting its story out. Not only has Madison been named “best place for education” by Money Magazine, but it has the highest ACT scores in the state; record-level SAT scores; experienced, award-winning teachers; and a record-winning number of national merit scholars.
Understanding they had a marketing problem, the RASCW joined with the Madison Metropolitan School District, the city of Madison, and Home Savings Bank to launch a two-school pilot to demonstrate a mechanism for getting timely information into the hands of homebuyers about Madison’s award-winning schools and vibrant neighborhoods. The benefits of the program were so obvious, that after the first year, it was expanded to include all Madison elementary, middle and high schools.
At first the data was available only in paper form, but quickly it was shifted to a public website (athomein.com), which was much less expensive to maintain and easier to keep current. Now on the “At Home In Madison” website, REALTORS® and their clients can find detailed information about every public school in the city, including performance data such as average SAT and ACT scores. Also provided is a “principal/parent contact” roster so potential homebuyers can arrange for a school tour or talk to another family who has children at a particular school. “What’s great about At Home In Madison,” says King, “is you get this same set of data for every one of the schools in the whole city, and it’s organized so you see a high school and all the feeder schools going into it.”
A clear win-win for everyone, the metropolitan school district loves the program because it acts as a frontline advertiser for the public schools. The REALTORS® love it because it provides answers to the question uppermost on the minds of most homebuyers: what’s the quality of the local schools? The program has been extremely successful. In fact, the statewide teachers union and state department of public instruction are now interested in taking the model to other major metropolitan areas in Wisconsin.
- Carol T. Everett is the owner of Everett Consulting Services based in Washington, D.C