Market and Promote English Programs Collaboratively

By Dr. Sarah Elaine Eaton
You do not have to market your ESL program alone! Not only is this ineffective and exhausting, it is impossible. Marketing is not a solo sport.

So many language program administrators and managers seem to think that they have to promote their programs all by themselves. Nowhere does this seem to be more true than in community-based or public education programs for languages. Time and time again I run into ESL program administrators who desperately want to promote their programs locally, and even internationally, but they don’t because they are overwhelmed and the job simply seems too big.

You do not have to promote your English as a Second or Foreign Language program alone! Not only is this ineffective and exhausting, it is impossible. Marketing isn’t a solo sport, especially not in education.

While it is true that marketing is comprised of a variety of activities such as developing your curriculum and classes, setting your price, establishing distribution channels (e.g. agents), market research and analytics, and promotion, you can break them down into smaller, more manageable tasks so you can tackle them more easily.

Let’s look at program promotion, as this lends itself well to collaboration, partnering and community engagement.

The first step is to get yourself out of the mindset that you have to do it all yourself. Ask people for help. Ask them to attend your events or give a guest lecture in your class. And if that makes you uncomfortable, ask for their advice, as for suggestions, or even get their opinion. There’s no shame in asking other teachers, administrators, parents, colleagues, or members of the community for help.

Think about it. If someone asks for your help, what do you normally do? You try to help them! Unless you are being too pushy or asking too often, then more often not, others will respond to a genuine request for advice or collaboration.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Call up a teacher at another school and ask if you can have an inter-school event like a talent competition or speech contest.
  • Invite a local English-speaking author to do a reading at your school. Better yet, call up the local independent bookstore or library and ask when their next author event is. Then ask for permission bring along a group of your students. Your students go on a field trip, meet a native English speaker and you have effectively created an alliance with your local library or bookstore.
  • Invite English-speaking guest speakers into the school. Showcase them and their work. I guarantee they’ll mention your school’s name in their conversations over the next week.
  • Ask parents, colleagues and other teachers for their input on how to promote your programs better. Even asking, “Could you give me some ideas…?” is a powerful question to start with.
  • Get in tune with your community. Is there a local film festival that includes English films? A cooking school that offers classes in American food? Churches that offer services in English?

The bottom line is this: collaborating and partnering with other individuals and organizations is a powerful way to promote your English program. It also creates interesting experiences and opportunities for your students. And when students are challenged in new ways that include authentic language experiences, they too become advocates for the program. Ask with a smile. Be genuine. People will help.

Written by Dr. Sarah Elaine Eaton for Teflnet October 2010
Author of 101 Ways to Market Your Language Program, Dr. Sarah Eaton is an expert on the management and marketing of language schools. She coaches school directors on how to manage more effectively and market more powerfully. Visit her blog at
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