Marketing Your Learning Department – Beyond Free Lunch


You probably know the old saying, “Where there’s free food there’s an audience”.


This old adage is still probably true in a lot of organizations, and most of the L&D people I know still use it as a “hook” to get people into some sessions.  I find this to be an increasingly sad statement.  People who know me have heard me say on more than one occasion – the one thing L&D needs is a marketing department.  Yes, a marketing department. Today we are going to discuss a variety of ideas to take your L&D marketing from “Free Lunch” to something that your customers will not be able to resist.

The Zig Ziglar saying goes: “You may have the best product in the world, but if you can’t sell it, you still have it”. You have excellent content sitting on the shelves (or within your LMS)? Great classes sitting half empty and being cancelled? Most likely it’s not because you aren’t serving coffee and donuts, it’s because you haven’t properly marketed your product. I can hear the chorus now…”I send email announcements, I send around sign-up sheets and I even post flyers in the break room!

Well a great big WOO-HOO but here are some email stats:

Note, the worst time to send email is between 10:00pm and 9:00am

The best time: 9:00am to 10:00am

Did you know this important piece of information? If you didn’t, you haven’t done your market research and you need to…now.

If you are building your marketing campaign around emails, are you sending them at the right time? Targeting the right people and behaviors? Including a solid “Call to Action”? We fail in marketing Learning and Development because we do not see the end-user as actual, real-life customers who have buying behaviors. Unless your courses are mandatory, your customers determine if your product is worth their time. Not in a WIIFM (what’s in it for me) kind of way – you need to answer the question that crosses their mind after clicking the email…“So what” and “Now what?”


Because we are Learning Rebels – we are going to think beyond marketing your courses through simple text based emails.  We are swinging for the cheap seats!

marketing plan

First start here! Create a Marketing Plan: As with anything, it’s good to have a plan. A marketing plan will help you target and focus your thinking on some of the ideas listed below.  A well thought out plan will help you to know: 1) who your target customers are, 2) how you will reach them, and 3) how you will retain your customers so they repeatedly “buy” from you. Done properly, your marketing plan will be the roadmap you follow to get unlimited customers and dramatically improve the success of your department. Here are some Marketing Plan templates to help get you going:

Ideas to help put your plan into place: 

Blog:  If you don’t have one, start one.  This is the best source of information you can provide to your customers about L&D and do us all a favor, DO NOT place the blog within the confines of your LMS system. Forcing people to jump through hoops is sure to keep people away.  Starting a blog is remarkably easy, and if you share the writing duties, keeping it fresh will not be a problem. Once you decide your goals and content, you need to decide where to host.  Here is an article comparing WordPress, tumbler, and blogger.

Blog Bonus: Include a sign-up form which asks people to subscribe. This will allow them to receive automatic email updates and special “for members only” content. Remember, you are using this to market your department.  Include L&D updates, course updates, project up dates, thought of the day, trivia contest and give-aways. This is important because once you hook them, you need a plan to keep them coming back.

Infographics – Build interesting infographics which hooks the “buyer”.  If your “buyer” saw this infographic: advertising your communication course, don’t you think they would be more likely to sign-up and attend? Great news! Building infographics is surprisingly simple. Here is a list of tools to help you:

Video Intro:  Create a short, clever video introducing upcoming features.  People will be talking about your course and will want to know more. You can add the video to the blog, post it into a newsletter, send it via email, upload to intranet the possibilities are endless. Added bonus is that nowadays you don’t have to hire someone, whip out your hand held video camera and go to town.  YouTube is filled with wonderful tidbits on how to create quality video.

Slides as a hook:  Create a slideshare account to share previews of your courses, or incorporate the deck into your blog.  Create a deck that is 5-6 slides tops (Don’t make me hunt you down because you created a deck filled with bullets, text and bad clip art). Use a product such as Haiku Deck ( to create beautiful tasty bites about your courses or classes. Be sure to include a “call to action” on the last slide.

CALL TO ACTION: Always, always, always create a call to action in whatever marketing materials you create.  Sign up for the course here, call me here, seats are limited if you are interested click here, want to learn more email here, have questions? Click here.

Direct Marketing:  Direct Marketing isn’t dead and a flyer on the lunch room refrigerator isn’t going to cut it.  Key here – DESIGN.  Time to bring in your actual Marketing department.  You want to send out targeted emails.  Not one email sent to an entire corporate distribution list – that’s the equivalent to spam.  Seriously, bulk emails of this sort is corporate spamming. Target departments where you know there is a benefit.  The sales team is usually up for a good communication course, so target them through an email merge.  Create a clever subject line, include your infographic or video, plan the timing and catchy content answering the “So what?” question and off you go.

Marketing Department:  Out of ideas or don’t like any of the above, fine. Then offer to buy your marketing contact a martini and pick their brain over happy hour. One simple question, if the L&D department were a “Marketing Campaign” how would they approach it?

Remember, your marketing is your brand.  How do you want your L&D department perceived in the organization? One that provides needed, interesting and innovative content or one that only comes in out of the dark to create safety and other fun compliance training? I once was speaking with a supervisor of a retail store, I asked, “Do you have a training department?” the answer?  “I think so”.  I think so. Don’t let this be your department.  Create a marketing (and communication plan) that advertises the great work you and team create for the organization.

donut And there you have it.  A “Rebel” way of creating a marketing plan with tools (and resources) that will get people to your workshops, classes and assorted e-learning courses without the hook of food. Of course that’s not to say that you should stop serving those bacon topped maple donuts.  No, not at all.


Shannon Tipton

Shannon Tipton

As Owner of Learning Rebels, Shannon Tipton is a skilled learning strategist, content developer and International speaker. Shannon has over 20 years of leadership experience developing successful learning strategies and infrastructures for training departments within organizations in North America, Europe and Korea.

Shannon works with people and organizations to develop learning solutions that brings actual business results. Recognized as bringing real-world expertise into the learning field, Shannon integrates technologies and social learning tools to strengthen workplace alignment, enhance collaboration and increase learning connectivity.

As author of “Disruptive Learning” Shannon frequently speaking at conferences across North America and Europe and ranks as one of the top 100 L&D influencers on Twitter (@stipton).

6 thoughts on “Marketing Your Learning Department – Beyond Free Lunch”

  1. Excellent points Shannon, and a lot of food for thought. Perception is reality, and if you’re not adding value by providing products that people want, or see of benefit (re: call to action), or you’re constantly anonymously spamming colleagues, then you’ll just be seen as a cost that annoys people… Special thanks to the Haikudeck resource as well!

    • Thank you Doug! You hit the nail on the head. Perception is everything, and first you have to get the word out there about your line-up. At this point you are “killing two birds with one stone”. Look at us… we are advertising something important, interesting and will provide you with a valuable solution. There is no perception of product if product is hidden deep in the dark corners of your LMS system. (I love Haiku Deck too. Easy, and makes such eye pleasing presentations).

  2. Great article with lots of practical marketing ideas! I especially like the final one — serving bacon topped maple donuts — perhaps to generate registrations for a “Healthy Eating” workshop! Erm… maybe not.

    • Isn’t it funny that we all say we want more healthy options yet the carrots and bran muffins are inevitably the last choices on the food table? 😉


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