How much should educational programs spend on marketing?

One of the major pitfalls of marketing plans for language programs is that directors and coordinators are given little or no budget to work with. Time and time again I have heard, “We have no money for marketing!” The reality is that you are going to need to spend at least some money, and probably a fair amount of time, promoting your program if you want it to grow and flourish.

There are varying theories about how much an organization should spend on marketing to be effective. It’s hard to know how to to budget. Here are a few tips for those working in the educational sector.

It is important for you to decide, together with your staff and school administrators or owners, how much you are willing to invest in it. Bringing all the players to the table may be a difficult task in itself, but if you are serious about marketing your program, you need to be serious about how much you really have to work with to get the job done.

Being brutally honest about how much of your resources you can allocate to marketing will help you target your dollars in the most effective way. The first step is sitting down with a calculator and figuring out exactly how much you have to work with.

One place to start is to look at your gross income for last year and use 10 to 20% of that for marketing. This may seem like a lot, but if you can grow your program another 10 to 20% (a safe estimate), you will have more than made your money back.

When I say 10-20%, this also includes the salaries or hourly wages of those working on marketing endeavours. So, if you have a marketing coordinator, that salary will be included here.

At the very least, you should know how much you are spending on marketing now. For heaven’s sake, don’t bury it in categories such as “office supplies” or some other budget line that makes it impossible for you to know what you’ve actually spent. Even if your budget categories are rigid and there’s no line for marketing, keep a separate tally somewhere in a file that you can refer back to. Every year, assess how much you’ve really spent on marketing and if it’s too much or enough. If you’re spending more than 25% on marketing and not getting the return you expect, then it may be time to change how you market, not how much you spend on marketing.


This post is adapted from “Idea #6: Be honest about how much you are willing and able to invest in marketing” in 101 Ways to Market Your Language Program

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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


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