A local business purchases advertising space on a vehicle that thousands of children — a sizeable pool of potential clients — ride every school day.
Robison Orthodontics hopes it is smart business.
The Mesa Unified School District hopes it is desperately-needed free money.
The district has put space for sale on each of its 454 buses, hoping to tap an already-available resource to raise revenue in the wake of $85 million in budget cuts over the last three years.
“We wanted to step aboard and help out the school district,” said Patti Meyer, public relations manager at Robison Orthodontics, which has offices in Mesa and Gilbert. “We feel it’s a chance to help out with the community.”
Mesa Unified is the state’s largest school district, serving about 69,000 students.
Three advertisers — Wing Orthodontics of Mesa and Mesa Community College are the others — have combined to buy space on 65 buses. The ads have yet to be unveiled.
“We don’t have an exact date,” district spokeswoman Kathy Bareiss said, “but those buses will be rolling soon.”
In December 2009, the district changed its policy to allow advertising on buses, mimicking a growing trend across the country. Colorado, Florida, Texas and Washington are among the states that permit school-bus advertising, and Ohio, New Jersey and Utah are reportedly among those who are considering it.
Jefferson County School District, the largest in Colorado, has a three-year, $500,000 contract with First Bank of Colorado for advertising on 100 buses.
Locally, the Paradise Valley Unified School District has sold advertising since 2007. Ads on about 25 buses have generated $30,997 in revenue during the last two years, a district spokeswoman said.
“I don’t think we have a (revenue) goal right now,” Bareiss said. “In Arizona, there are few districts dipping their toe into the bus ad market, we don’t know what to expect. After the first couple of years, we should have a better understanding of what to expect. Interest is there, so that’s great. We’ll see where that takes us, after the word gets out more.”
The Mesa district hired Media-Aim, a Phoenix-based advertising firm, to sell the bus space.
“You’re not trying to reach school kids,” said Media-Aim president Jim O’Connell, who sells space for districts in Scottsdale, Phoenix, Tucson, Lake Havasu and Yuma. “You’re trying to reach the community. Signs on school buses are advertising that most people are going to see every day.”
Rates for a 10-feet-by-2-feet signs range from $225 a month for three months to $214 a month for an entire school year. The per-sign cost is lower for larger orders.
Meyer said that the buses were an attractive ad strategy for Robison Orthodontics because it could choose routes close to the Mesa office.
“Any good advertising is smart, but the fact that it’s going on the buses of school-age children helps us a lot,” Meyer said. “We can pick the buses for a segment of the population that typically needs orthodontic treatment. So, it was a wise decision. We could narrow down our marketing.”
For some, advertising space on school buses is akin to ad space on the outfield wall at Wrigley Field in Chicago — certain things should remain untouched. In other states, concerns have been raised that children might be forced to ride buses with commercial messages their parents do not approve of.
Bareiss said that the Mesa district has taken steps to ensure “appropriate” advertising.
“If we had faced the same situation 10 years ago, there might have been some hesitation,” Bareiss said. “I think, given the budget realities, the board felt that was a good way to increase revenue rather than trying to cut from educational programs.”