Mark Smith ‘Casts a Vision’ to Support his Woodshop Program

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 This veteran woodworking instructor discusses the multiple benefits
of marketing his program.

Mark Smith isn’t bashful about tooting a horn loud and often to call attention to his high school woodworking program.

“I’ve learned that you have to cast a vision of your program outside your classroom so that the superintendent, school board, community and local industry sees what you are doing and after a while they get it,” says Smith, woodworking instructor of Reed-Custer High School in Braidwood, IL. “Not blowing their horns is probably the biggest mistake woodworking teachers make. When the money crunch happens, no one wants to keep their program off the block because no one knows what they are doing.”

To cast a vision of his program, Smith regularly sends out press releases and posts them to several popular social media channels.

“I’ll put out a press release at least once a month,” Smith says. “It might be about a material donation to our program or about one of our students getting an internship. I then post the release on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn. After a while, if you don’t know what’s going on with our program, then you’re probably not using any of those platforms.”

Over the years, Smith has built up a press release database that now numbers nearly 500 strong. Contacts include local media, national woodworking publications, industry and private supporters, school district administrators, school board members and anyone who expresses interest in keeping informed about what’s going on in his classroom. In addition, Smith has amassed some 6,000 LinkedIn connections, 600 Facebook friends and 575 Instagram followers.

Recent PR Examples
With approximately 100 students enrolled in one of his seven woodworking classes structured around the Woodwork Career Alliance’s Skill Standards, Smith never runs out of things to promote.

In one of his recent press releases, Smith publicized a gaming chair designed and fabricated by a student in his program. The LinkedIn post succinctly summarizes the student’s accomplishment.

“This RCHS Industrial Technology student designed in AutoCAD, toolpathed in Mastercam, and machined on our Thermwood Model 43 CNC Router this no hardware, knock down gaming chair for his independent student class.”

The post ends with this call to action, “Looking for future skilled employees? Contact us and begin building a mutually beneficial relationship.”

Another press release pays homage to Reed-Custer’s EDUcation™ membership in the Woodwork Career Alliance. (Smith, is a member of the WCA Education Committee and participated in developing the WCA’s Skill Standards.) Again, the cut-to-the-chase LinkedIn post reads, “Franklin International and Woodwork Career Alliance Support Reed-Custer High School’s Industrial Technology Program with Glue Donation.” The post includes a photo of a Reed-Custer student holding up a container of Franklin glue and concludes with this plug: “Industry supporters make it possible to offer great educational opportunities to our students. You can visit http://rchsit.weebly.com/program-supporters.html to see all of our industry supporters. If you would like to support the industrial technology program at RCHS, contact us at: mark.smith@rc255.net.”

Taking the Stage at AWFS Fair
Smith was gearing up to deliver multiple seminar presentations in the Teacher Track at the AWFS Fair in Las Vegas when he was interviewed for this article. “Marketing Your Program – How to Get Started!” is the title of one of his sessions set for 9:30 a.m. Friday, July 19.

The presentation will cover why and how to market an educational woodworking program, including how to write press releases, leverage free social media channels and making industry connections.

“One of the premises of my presentation is that no one is ever thanked too much,” Smith says. “Because people donate stuff to support our program, I make sure that we thank them in numerous ways. Of course, I send them an email thank you, but I also mail out a certificate of appreciation. If any of our recent donors are exhibiting at the AWFS Fair, I plan to stop by their booth and hand them the certificate in person and arrange for a picture to be taken. That becomes the basis for a press release.

“The second premise is the importance of networking. Way back in 2000 I was attending a regional woodworking show in Milwaukee and met Jerry Finch, then a woodworking instructor at Oshkosh College. “Jerry became a mentor of mine. He taught me the importance of promoting your program and the skills of your students. He altered the course of my professional career. Now I tell my students all the time that you can be the best in the world in something, but if nobody knows it, how are you benefitting? How are you creating opportunities to expand your horizons?”

To illustrate his point about the importance of casting a vision for his program and networking, Smith says, “It really all comes down to making connections and getting your name out there. Ultimately people are sitting in a meeting somewhere and the topic comes up of starting a woodworking internship program, donating excess material or partnering with a local school on a training program. There’s a good chance that someone will raise his or her hand and say, ‘I know this guy named Mark Smith who teaches woodworking at Reed-Custer High School. He’s always sending me stuff about his students’ projects. Let’s work with him. Let’s help his kids.’ A lot of time that’s how it works. It’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. If you are always casting your vision, networking and putting your students out front, eventually opportunities will present themselves.”

Measuring Success
“I measure success of my marketing program in multiple ways,” Smith says. “One way is how many of my students go into industry. Every year we have kids who begin careers with woodworking companies and others who participate in internship programs. I love the woodworking industry and I’m proud that so many of the kids I teach do so, too.

Smith says a second measurement for gauging success of his promotional efforts “is the number of industry professionals who are willing to come in and talk to the students about their careers or talk about their products. Every year we get several. It’s a big deal because these people are busy.”

“I think when a company is willing to give technical support, a material donation or whatever, that it is another indicator of success,” Smith continues. “I think the list is more than 100 items long of what we have received from industry. That’s kind of a badge of honor for us because if someone is willing to give us something of value, then we must be doing something right.”

“Yet another important indicator is how the school administration and school board view our program. If they view what we are doing positively, then that’s a huge plus because they don’t have the time to come down and see for themselves.”

Free Advice
Smith is happy to share his experiences to help other teachers more quickly establish a successful marketing program. But he doesn’t have a lot of time to deal with those that whine they don’t have the time to do so.

“When I talk to a teacher who says, ‘I don’t have time for that,’ I think maybe they need to get more efficient or better organized because I think you have to have an extra two hours over the course of a month. I think they see all of the things that I’m doing and think, ‘Holy cow, that will take me five years just to set all of that up.’ And it’s true. You have to slowly develop and build it as you have time.

“I have to remind them that what I’m doing wasn’t built in a day. I’ve built my marketing program over 20 years, really since the time I met Jerry Finch. He talked to me about how to do these things and I started to do them. I started with press releases with a small list and over time, I built that list adding one contact at a time. After a while it takes on a life of its own because the kids help me do it. Sometimes the kids put together the press release or sometimes I use one of their pictures. It really becomes a team effort.”

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