America’s 14,000 public school districts function independently, but each sets its own schedule for the five principle elements of the buying cycle. The initial part of the buying cycle generally occurs in mid or late spring and is dedicated to determining the needs of the upcoming school year. Then, approximately four months are spent in planning and establishing the budget. The third phase encompasses the presentation of the budget to the board of education.
Upon the board’s approval, the bidding process begins, and selected publishers, manufacturers, facilities planners, and dealers are invited to submit bids for specific products. The final and longest portion of the cycle is devoted to reviewing supplier’s bids, studying each product or service, making final decisions, and issuing purchase orders.
Source: District Administration
Some districts operate with no schedule at all, while others are unequivocal as to when one phase ends and the next starts. Regardless, year-to-year budget planning and purchasing cycles overlap.
However, most school districts do not consider their buying cycles untouchable. They often insert a new product or service into their planning, and if one product is considered roughly equivalent to another, they usually are free to make the substitution. The most frequently offered reasons for change are: product availability, manufacturer’s reputation, service capability, and price. Each site and school district’s buying cycle is unique.
It is important to consider the school buying cycle when marketing to school districts and their decision-makers. Oftentimes, catalog, product or e-campaign pushes throughout the early spring (January through March) receive the best response. If large purchase items are offered later in the year, orders may be postponed until the following year after administrators have incorporated the item into their budgets. Products intended for teachers are best marketed during the weeks following school closure, and the weeks before the next year begins.
In terms of education trade publications, many outlets produce combined summer issues because of the buying cycle, and the fact that most schools are closed. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that most trade publications are sent to the printers four months prior to the issue date. This means that when attempting to reach audiences in January, information should be provided to the outlet no later than October of the previous year.
Keeping the school buying cycle top-of-mind benefits your marketing and PR campaigns, and bolsters sales results.