Recruiting Students in Hyper-Targeted Neighborhoods


Uncommon Schools operates urban public charter schools that close the achievement gap and prepare students from low-income communities to graduate from college. They operate 55 schools, serving 21,000 students in neighborhoods throughout New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.

Uncommon has multiple campaign objectives, from top of funnel awareness to downstream efforts such as driving leads and applications.



The Outcome

The ‘20-21 recruitment campaign helped over 10,000 low-income families in Uncommon’s regions become aware of, and take the first step to connect with, the opportunity to enroll their child in an outstanding free, public charter school in their neighborhood.




Direct applications with a $269 CPA

Leads acquired with a $49 CPL

Total applications via new programmatic test partners

The Challenge

Uncommon Schools has a narrow geographic footprint, only accepting students that reside in the city in which each school is located.

Due to the specific target audience and small geographical footprint, we knew the audience we needed to reach would be small, increasing how frequently our ads would be served. Our challenge was to reach and convert each region’s target audience while maintaining a low cost per lead and cost per application—dispute the high frequency.

Additionally, with the uncertainty in education due to COVID-19, we were faced with new and unexpected challenges. New schooling formats and changing school start dates caused parents to have more questions than ever before while thinking about enrolling their kids in schools.

The Strategy

While the narrow geo-footprint and target audience were consistent with prior years, budgets increased significantly. This allowed us to launch on new platforms, including programmatic partners, Dstillery and Gimbal, and school directory sites, as well as test a variety of targeting tactics across all channels.

Throughout the campaign, we tested a number of ad formats, copy, and messaging themes as we set out to reach our target parents.

We established a weekly reporting cadence, enabling us to keep a close eye on performance and optimizing on a regular basis.


In order to reach the exact neighborhoods, we tried several different platforms, ad formats, and placements—finding the most effective mix. We tested platforms beyond social and paid search allowing us to find success with programmatic partners using custom audience, contextual, and endemic targeting on relevant white list sites. And of course, geo-targeting – we even geo-fenced certain school buildings.


Due to the small target audiences, we implemented an ongoing message-testing strategy to align with what was happening in the market. We introduced timely copy, such as the promise of free laptop ads, and mentions of remote learning resonated well with parents during the pandemic.

In order to use data to influence our decisions, we gathered frequent reports allowing us to quickly gain learnings and focus only on the tactics that were driving the best results. We optimized on a near-daily basis.

The Results

Our efforts with Uncommon School resulted in 98% of the ‘20-21 school year applications were directly tied to trackable marketing efforts, compared to 55% typically.

The campaign helped drive a total of 9,787 leads and 1,044 direct applications.