Raw, Unfiltered Story Telling

Newton Learning Center is a private school for children with Autism or similar learning differences established in 2008 in Reno. The school has faced several challenges in recent years due to the housing shortage and subsequent rise in rent and housing costs in Reno, the turbulence with the executive leadership of the Washoe County School District and the firing of the two heads of Special Education in the district, as well as the district’s well-known and documented issues with managing Special Education students. With declining enrollment, the school was in danger of closing for the 2019-20 school year. In Plain Sight Marketing was hired by Second Start Learning Disabilities Programs, NLCNV’s parent company, to launch a 6-month campaign to help with student recruitment.

Research and planning

Situation: Newton Learning Center Northern Nevada is a private school in Reno, Nev., serving children with Autism or similar learning differences. NLCNV’s mission is to provide individualized learning plans to students to help them catch up to their current grade level’s educational standards and to prepare them to re-enter the public school system. Washoe County School District came under intense public, state and federal scrutiny for lack of compliance with special education laws and an abysmal 29 % graduation rate for special ed students in 2015. In 2018, the district’s special education team was again rocked by scandal and, in early 2019, the superintendent and her two appointed heads of special education were fired by the school board. Local lore in Washoe County is full of stories of poor perception of special education programs in the area, and of resistance from WCSD to refer students to private schools like NLCNV, as doing so would forfeit state education dollars and redirect them to private schools. Families distrust education professionals in the county and report constant struggles in finding quality education for their children. NLCNV faced an existential threat – bring up enrollment, or face closure by its parent company, San Jose, CA, based Second Start Learning Disabilities Programs. SSLDP hired In Plain Sight Marketing to recruit interested families to increase inquiries and school tours by 50% through a 6-month campaign.

We conducted both primary and secondary research to understand the perception, morale and attitudes of NLCNV parents, staff and school district personnel, interviewed staff, board members current and former parents and students, as well as the competitive landscape, news reports about the district and performed a comprehensive review of WCSD demographics.

Our target audience: Parents and grandparents of children with special needs and IEPs in targeted areas; primarily women age 25-65 who tend to make most of the decisions relating to education in the family

Goal: Establish NLCNV as the primary education choice for helping children with Autism achieve grade level in academics and re-entry into the Washoe County School District

Newton Learning Center Objectives:

  1. Secure a minimum of six paid media placements for family impact stories and four earned media placements about NLCNV programs across print, online and broadcast between 11/2018 and 5/2019
  2. Increase inquiries to the school by 50%
  3. Increase the quality of inquiries to create a net gain of actual school tours by 50%
  4. Attract 100 attendees to the Know Your IEP Rights event in February through promotion
  5. Attract 50 attendees to Autism Awareness Month Jamboree in April through promotion
  6. Increase social media engagement by at least two comments/shares per post; increase Facebook page likes by 20% and Instagram followers by 20%
Raw, Unfiltered Story Telling
Visit the NLC Video Story Library
Young boy telling his school story

Our strategy:

Tell student and family impact stories to make the reader “see” their family in the stories posted in select paid online media sources, This is Reno and Reno Moms Blog. We created testimonial videos with former and current students/families to show the impact NLCNV has had on their lives. We promoted events geared toward families with children with autism.

  1. Promote Know Your IEP Rights seminar with local legal experts in February after first-semester report cards have been distributed through family impact stories, social media, flyers, etc.
  2. Promote Autism Awareness Month Jamboree in April in honor of Autism Awareness Month through family impact stories, social media, flyers, etc.
  3. Push family impact stories/videos through Facebook ads to target demographics

Timeline: November 1, 2018 – May 31, 2019, for planning through execution


The media campaign far exceeded our expectations – responses to family stories went viral in some cases. Events did not draw expected crowds but garnered earned media placements in addition to our paid media placements. We met our stated objectives for inquiries and tours, and the 2019-20 student enrollment nearly doubled.


  • Eight family impact sponsored posts across two selected online platforms
  • Eleven family testimonial videos (http://www.secondstart.org/testimonials/)
  • Two event promotions through sponsored Facebook posts, flyers, social media and press releases
  • Two Facebook video ads
  • 66 organic campaign-related Facebook and Instagram posts


  • Five earned media placements across broadcast, radio and online news sources in addition to our 18 paid media placements (Objective 1)
  • Inquiries to the school increased 56 % to 117 inquiries against a goal of 40 % and 105 inquiries (Objective 2)
  • School tours increased 55 % to 18 tours against a goal of 50 % and 15 tours (Objective 3)
  • Know Your IEP Rights event only attracted 25 attendees but generated two earned media placements across online and print media in addition to our two paid placements (Objective 4)
  • Autism Awareness Jamboree event attracted 20 attendees but generated two earned media broadcast placements and one radio story that included a family impact story, in addition to two paid placements (objective 5)
  • Facebook fans grew from 168 to 283, a 41% increase; 56 campaign-related posts with 7,144 reach and 1,056 engagements for an average of 6.76 engagements per total engagement rate against a goal of 2 per post; and the click-through rate was 9.94%. Organic video posts had a reach of 833, with 492 views. (Objective 6)
  • Instagram gained 92 new followers, a 54% increase; the audience was 74% female, age ranges 45-54 had the highest reach with 14,000, followed by age 25-34 with 9,000 reach; post engagement was 617 for an average of 5.67 engagements per post (Objective 6)

Paid Media Analytics:

Facebook Ads:

  • Two video ads were published in the period 11/1/18-5/31/19
    • Family story 1  had 581 through-plays (prior to loading pixel, no website data available)
    • Family story 2 had 8,384 views, with 250 views over one minute; 39 through-clicks to the NLCNV website, and 22 shares. 97% of the audience was women, the average age was 38

Sponsored Posts:

  • This is Reno – four sponsored posts featuring family impact stories
    • 1597 Shares from This Is Reno website; 699 shares and 1,588 Facebook clicks
    • Reno Moms Blog – same four sponsored posts featuring family impact stories
    • 329 page views from Reno Moms Blog with 436 engagements
Visit the Newton Learning Center Video Library