Marketing Your Language Program 101

The basics to successful promotion of your courses

Sarah Elaine Eaton, M.A.

As government and institutional funding for language programs decreases, it becomes increasingly important for schools to spread the word about their courses in order to maintain enrollments and keep new students coming through the doors. This includes post-secondary institutions, private language schools, non-profit organizations and any other school offering language programs people pay for. The problem is that most language program coordinators and managers have little experience or training in marketing. They juggle administrative (and sometimes even teaching) duties with student recruitment and program promotion. Most know that student enrollment is a priority, but making time and allocating resources for marketing their program take a backseat to more pressing needs. Some believe that business terms and ideas such as 'marketing' have no place in education.

The problem is, the need to market and promote programs in order to keep enrollment flowing is a challenge that does not - and will not - go away.

It is important to note that there are different kinds of marketing. Remember that marketing and selling are two different things. Selling focuses on closing the deal, often as quickly as possible. Marketing is about developing an image and a presence in the market place and ensuring that people know about your school. Marketing is a longer-term activity and requires an investment of both your time and your energy.

Another problem facing many language schools is a little or no resources to promote programs. I have seen budgets for numerous schools that never mention marketing, advertising or promotions. Instead, expenses are lumped under headers such as 'office expenses' or worse, 'miscellaneous'. It seems that language program managers are between a rock and hard place. On one hand, there is pressure to increase enrollment; on the other, managers are given little to no financial support to meet that goal.

So what do you do?

Ultimately, you may need to educate your superiors about the fact that if they want to increase enrollment, they'd better dedicate some resources to marketing. But that takes time, because it requires a shift in thinking. That shift is one from thinking like a teacher or an administrator, to thinking like a business person. That means you may have to market on a shoe string while you lobby for more resources to be allocated to your cause. You may first have to show your superiors that you know what it takes to promote your program.

The trick is to try new ways of polishing the school's image, building your rapport with prospects, students and the community and finally, getting your name known.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Use the KISS principle in all your marketing materials.

The KISS (Keep it Short and Simple) principle applies both to the amount of content and its presentation in your marketing materials. The first step is to eliminate unnecessary words. Next, review your document to ensure that the words are short, simple and easy to understand.

Avoid colloquialisms in your international marketing material.

For example if you were an ESL student, what would you think if you read, 'homestay families will look out for students' in a brochure? Does that mean 'keep vigil over them' or simply 'protect them as their own parents would'? Review your marketing materials to ensure they follow the KISS principle. You will find that students are more interested in your program because they understand what is about.

esl@? Make your e-mail address easy to remember.

Having a long, complicated e-mail address can turn prospects off. They may write to a school with a simpler address just because it is easier and looks more professional. Although they may have the intention to write to all the schools, the ones with the simplest address my get the first opportunity to hook students. Your e-mail address should be as simple and straightforward as possible.

If your current e-mail address is not simple, I recommend getting an updated, simpler version. Keep your old e-mail address for a minimum of two years. Lots of people may still have it listed somewhere. If you get rid of the address, you may lose them. Instead, have all mail from the old address forwarded to the new address. That way, you will be sure to get any mail sent to you.

Host an open house.

An open house is an excellent way to educate people in your community about your program. Host it when classes are in session so visitors can tour your facilities to see students and teachers in action. Refreshments are a must for any open house, so be sure to order enough snacks and beverages for the entire duration of the event. Send invitations to colleagues, host families, former teachers and staff, prospective students who may live in your city and alumni.

A great time to host an open house is on the anniversary date of your school or program's opening.

Let your students market for you - Collect testimonials from students and get their permission to use them.

Testimonials from graduates of your program (complete with their photos) can have a huge impact on prospective students. These are the words of their peers, possibly even their countrymen. Prospects will tend to believe testimonials and respond to them on an emotional level. In turn, this can increase their desire to enroll in the program.

You want testimonials from a good cross-section of your student population. You want both men and women from various age groups and different countries to provide you with testimonials. If you have specialty programs, such as a teacher-training program, gather testimonials from participants of those programs, too.

Publish the testimonials in your brochures and on your website. Remember to update them at least once a year.

Imagine how implementing these ideas could impact your program. But don't stop there. Put the ideas to work. A speaker I heard once said, 'Until you put your ideas into action, you're just hallucinating.' I encourage you to take action sooner, rather than later. Stay focused. Stay positive. Most importantly, persevere! Your dedicated, strategic action and efforts will lead to results and increased enrollment for your program.

© 2003 Sarah Elaine Eaton