Can Coca-Cola Salvage School System’s Brand Image?

Beverage conglomerate aims to turn tide through integrated PR, branding and marketing boost

Public-private partnerships are well established in various industries, but they represent a rare and new frontier in PR. But an endeavoring and ambitious collaboration between a major international corporation and a challenged public school district might be changing that.

Thoughts about synergy, mutual benefit and bringing out the best in each other swirled when PR and media pros learned that Coca-Cola was teaming with Atlanta Public Schools in an effort to re-brand the troubled educational district.

After all, Coca-Cola is an award-winning international conglomerate, heralded for its innovations and positive impact in marketing, PR and advertising. In recent times, the beverage giant has received the CLIO Brand Icon Award and the NASCAR Marketing Achievement Award, among  others. Plus, Coca-Cola has received distinctions for its efforts and effectiveness in corporate social responsibility and diversity from PRNews Online, DiversityInc and others.

Meanwhile, Atlanta Public Schools has been mired in controversy – the brand equivalent of a reputational blizzard. From a cheating scandal that rose to epic, national proportions to concerns about teacher quality, effectiveness, recruitment and retention, as well as general community apprehensions about school safety and security, the past several years have been no picnic for the beleaguered public school system. Moreover, a changing of the guard at the very top – with a brand-new superintendent – has parents and community observers just waiting and seeing what’s next.

What Is Coca-Cola Doing?

As reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Coca-Cola and Atlanta Public Schools leaders recently came together for a four-hour “brand visioning session” at the corporation’s Atlanta headquarters.

The meeting resulted from Atlanta Public Schools superintendent Meria Carstarphen’s visit to the company’s offices last year. She was inspired by what she saw and requested their help in regaining the trust and confidence of the Atlanta public.

Coca-Cola latched on to the opportunity to give back, and is providing its consultancy and strategy development pro bono.  While details about plans in the works have not been publically divulged, brand refreshes are typically comprised of several elements, including but not limited to:

  • New logo
  • New tagline or slogan
  • Reworked style standards
  • Modified organizational language
  • Elevated visual emphasis through displays, exhibits and signage

Re-branding efforts may also include internal training, a revitalized mission and vision, standardization of all creative and content assets, and more.

For Atlanta Public Schools in particular, given its recent and continued challenges, earning the trust of parents and families in the community is essential. As a result, the revamped messaging and brand promise that Coca-Cola and Atlanta Public Schools develop together must ring authentically, acknowledging the need to improve with an emphasis on how the future will feel, look and function.

An Undercurrent of Potential Gains

Based on current impressions and recent headlines, it is clear that Atlanta Public Schools could benefit from a re-branding boost. But what does Coca-Cola stand to gain from this showing of altruism and benevolence? The alliance between the two organizations may not look like a mutually beneficial win-win on the surface, but a deeper consideration beyond the surface reveals some worthwhile potentialities.

Enhanced Brand Image. Though Coca-Cola is assisting Atlanta Public Schools in improving its brand identity, the corporation, too, may be enhancing its own reputation in the process. Providing award-winning expertise to a troubled public agency for free says something about Coca-Cola’s corporate personality – its values, ethics and belief in a better tomorrow, a theme which has resonated throughout some of its well-received advertising campaigns.

Recruiting Benefits. Coca-Cola, based in the city of Atlanta, could indirectly strengthen its talent pipeline if the zoned school district where it’s located has a solid reputation. The quality of the public school system can be a major consideration for talented mid-career or senior-level job candidates with school-age children who may be willing to relocate for a career opportunity.

Bolstered Civic Profile. Coca-Cola raises its profile as a vested, involved corporate citizen by partnering with Atlanta Public Schools. Donating their proven expertise and talent to an initiative builds local goodwill, confers a positive impression among various publics and likely reinforces the possibility of other future public-private alliances.

Tell us what you think about the Coca-Cola/Atlanta Public Schools Association. Is this a new frontier in marketing and PR, one that stands to shift the way firms and companies do business? What are your predictions on the outcome of this collaboration? Share with us in the comments section below.

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