5 Reasons Why Brands Should Bond With Education

CMO Spotlight: Lori McFarling, Discovery Education

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Discovery Education CMO Lori McFarling.
Discovery Education CMO Lori McFarling. Credit: Discovery Education
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If you've ever worked for a brand, your team at one point probably entertained a sponsorship opportunity. Maybe a sports team or a popular event made for a good brand fit. But was education ever on the table?

Here to make the case for partnering with educators is Discovery Education CMO Lori McFarling. Her company, a division of global media giant Discovery Communications, creates high-quality digital content for K-12 classrooms and, in sum, takes learning to a new level. "We believe in the power of media to enlighten and educate," McFarling says.

McFarling and her team collaborate with Fortune 500 companies and other organizations to bring programs in historically underfunded areas -- think science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and health -- up to 2016 standards. The benefits of partnerships to children and educators are many, but the brands also earn a boost for their involvement. Here are five smart reasons why more brands should raise their hand and participate in education this way.

1) Making a difference!

Students today learn in an environment that's hungry for a little extra help -- a fact that McFarling and her team know well. Luckily, many in the private sector are knocking at Discovery Education's door, hoping to extend that much-needed assistance. "It's gratifying to see [them] step up to support young people with mentorship, project-based learning opportunities and resources in areas that are traditionally underfunded," McFarling says. EA Sports/Madden, for example, partnered with Discovery Education on a program that leverages football to engage children with the math behind the game. "In this case, the magic of sports really helped open their minds to math and science," she says.

2) Establishing expertise

Traditionally, the private sector enters the upper levels of learning, where the stakes are seemingly higher and the funds flow more freely. Yet no less important is the need for expertise at the very foundation of a student's education. "It's really exciting to see these folks coming into the education sector with a genuine desire to serve their communities," McFarling says, "and to leverage their expertise to support teaching and learning." It's also a win-win-win. Not only do children associate the brand with its core subject, but involvement exposes students to advanced industry knowledge. For Discovery Education, being able to positively impact the work of America's educators demonstrates its own expertise in education.

3) Graduating your brand

Aside from contributing know-how to a good cause, the brands see benefits from a nobler association, which McFarling says is an increasingly common practice. "Improving student outcomes is becoming a meaningful part of many organizations' brand profile," she says, "and we are pleased to help them accomplish their goals in a meaningful way." By building innovative programs, Discovery Education helps its partners drive authentic engagement and optimize what McFarling calls the school-to-home connection. "It's very grassroots and unique," she says, "especially for our brand partners who've seen real value by associating their brand to an issue that everybody in the country cares about: education."

4) Fostering future employees

Some benefits will manifest in the years and decades to come. Brands like Siemens, Lockheed Martin and Alcoa, for example, partner with Discovery Education to drive learning in fields that are directly related to their business, but which require early nurturing. As McFarling puts it: "Those organizations are authentically connecting their brands to efforts to support student achievement in science, technology, engineering and math, and are connecting their efforts to their pipeline and workforce-development strategies." In other words, it's an opportunity to streamline the hiring process by helping future employees gain core skills.

Take the 3M Young Scientist Challenge, a prestigious middle school science competition. In the quest for $25,000, competitors are paired with real-life mentors at 3M. Young Scientist Challenge winners have gone on to win 30-under-30 acclaim, present their work to Congress and meet the president. "3M has been smart about their consistent investment in education," McFarling says. "And it's paying off not only with the impact they are making in the classroom, but also with those that they'd like to entice as future employees." She cites a 2016 survey that placed 3M, for the first time ever, at the top of millennials' choice of dream employers.

5) The ROI

Each brand looks for different KPIs in their programs, but the true ROI might not be countable -- and that's a good thing. "At the end of the day," McFarling says, "the measure of our success is based on the success of teachers and students. If they win, we all win." She continues: "The one metric they all share, however, is the desire to connect their brand to meaningfully impacting today's youth while supporting the success of all learners…and isn't that the most important measurement of all?"