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Using theme and branding as marketing tools


This lesson prompts students to examine the ways to use theme and publication branding as a marketing tool, using a slideshow case study about Grand Blanc High School. Students consider their own publication brand and how it might be improved.


  • Students will evaluate why maintaining a positive publication brand is a necessary component of entrepreneurship in journalism.
  • Students will explain how to use theme and branding to involve an audience and improve audience “buy-in,” thus increasing sales and engagement.
  • Students will analyze and critique how students at Grand Blanc High School have applied theme and branding techniques to involve their audience and improve “buy-in.”
  • Students will complete a processing activity for how they might use theme and branding to market publications and media products to their own audience.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.7 Analyze various accounts of a subject told in different mediums (e.g., a person’s life story in both print and multimedia), determining which details are emphasized in each account.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.2 Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source.


120-140 minutes (two 60-70 minute classes)


Slideshow: Publication branding slideshow presentation

Handout: Publication branding notes

Handout: Publication branding processing activity

Case study rubric

Processing activity rubric

Lesson step-by-step

Day 1

1. Warm up — 5-10 minutes

Distribute the note-taking guide and prompt students to answer the opening questions:

(1) “Think of an actor or reality television star who has largely lost credibility with the public. What did that person do to build their following? What kinds of actions destroyed their relationship with their audience?

(2) If your non-journalism classmates were to describe (1) your staff and (2) your publication in 3-5 sentences, what do you think they would say?”

After students answer these questions, prompt them to discuss their answers with a partner.

2. Pair reporting and discussion — 15-25 minutes

Call on partner pairs to share their insights about the question, then shift the discussion to the following questions:

  • To what extent is a positive view of a publication and publication staff necessary to a publication’s success?
  • How does social media play a role in establishing a publication’s “brand,” the face they portray to their audience?
  • What other interactions do we have with our audience that form our “brand”?

Prompt students to answer the third warm-up question, “Based on our initial discussion, why is publication branding important?”

3. Introductory slides and homework — the remainder of the class

Show the introductory slides about how to use theme and publication branding techniques as marketing tools to make an audience feel involved and to improve audience “buy-in” to media products. Then, go through the examples of these techniques, prompting students to complete the chart. This process should take the rest of the class. For a homework assignment, consider having students complete the last column of the chart on their own, or print several of the examples from the PowerPoint for students to analyze on their own at home.

Day 2

1. Slideshow introduction — 5 minutes

Explain to students that the case study for the day is more visual in nature, and thus will be shown via slideshow instead of read. Students should keep track of the examples and techniques they see and consider whether or not they would be effective at their own high school.

2. Slideshow — 20 minutes

Show the slides devoted to the Grand Blanc High School case study, pausing to discuss how each example uses branding to involve the audience and improve “buy-in.” Consider using the case study rubric to grade this work.

3. Processing — remainder of the class

Give students the rest of the class period to complete the publication branding processing activity. Students who are not done should complete the assignment for homework.