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New Mich. Advertising Business Helps School Budgets

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With massive cuts from the state government sending most local school districts into crisis mode, one Bloomfield Hills company is aiming to lessen the blow on district budgets through the use of advertising.

"I don't want to suggest that we are the solution, but we can be a nice partial solution," said Sam Curcuru, president and CEO of Alternative Revenue Development.

In the beginning of 2009, Curcuru was among Michigan's unemployed. He was working in the advertising industry, overseeing national automotive advertising, when he found out the bad news.

"My office was closed down, and I sat there and said, 'What is it that I want to do?'" Curcuru said. "I knew there were so many others in the advertising community without jobs. I wanted to stay in Michigan. I thought, 'What can we do that puts our talents toward good use?'"

Thinking about the economic upheaval that prompted his own job loss, he also thought about the struggles schools are facing.

"I started exploring the idea of helping school districts with the development of new revenue streams. I went to a few districts and asked them if they would be interested, and I got a very strong response for the positive," Curcuru said. "Little did we know then that this fall, there would be two significant (budget) cuts from the state."

Curcuru did some research, contacted out-of-work friends for help and now his young business is regularly fielding calls from interested school districts.

"Some days we receive half a dozen inquiries from around the state," he said.

Of his staff of 12, all but one person was previously unemployed because of layoffs or job terminations. Even the one person who was employed was underemployed, only working part-time before joining Curcuru's business.

Advertising within school districts has long been a controversial topic. Parents don't want their kids subjected to advertising in a learning environment, and districts generally agree.

But a new revenue stream, especially one that could save a few programs or even pay for bus transportation in difficult economic times, can certainly look like an attractive option.

With Curcuru's business plan, though, districts don't have to choose between money and the integrity of the learning environment.

"Our intent is not to target the kids," Curcuru said. "Students are students and they should be in a learning environment and not have that bombarded by advertising."

Curcuru's business includes four different media for advertising, none of which are within the classroom.

One is direct-to-home mailings such as school newsletters, parent-teacher organization communications and district newsletters.

Another is new media and technology, using things such as social networking sites, cell phone texting and even Bluetooth technology. Curcuru gave an example of how on some college campuses during football games, everyone in the crowd with a Bluetooth-enabled phone receives an advertising message at one point in the game.

"There's no reason why we can't do the exact same thing," Curcuru said.

The third medium is district and school Web sites, where banner ads can be added at the top of the page. As part of this medium, Curcuru also is launching an e-commerce site that includes 415 national merchants.

"If a person makes a purchase while on our site, a certain percentage of that purchase comes back to us in the form of a cash rebate ... that sits in a fund and goes back to the school districts," Curcuru said.

The fourth element is on-campus signage, which Curcuru said is only available for high schools. Banners would be created with anywhere from 12 to 25 participating sponsors' logos.

"We only want areas in the high school where the community comes and attends events, like athletic fields, performing arts centers, media centers and gyms," Curcuru said.

Curcuru said he's thoroughly enjoying his new job because it gives him the opportunity to help school districts in the local area.

"The energy, excitement and knowledge that we're making a difference makes us forget about those other jobs," Curcuru said of himself and his staff. "It gets our heads off the pillow every morning."

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