6 Things to Consider when Marketing Learning to Leadership

How are you marketing your learning program to executives?

Getting in front of your company’s leadership team is kind of a big deal.  In fact, many learning and development professionals have never even had the opportunity.  Many rely on sending messages about learning initiatives “up the chain of command’, hoping those messages are translated effectively.

One thing I’m passionate about is marketing your learning brand.  Knowing who your key audiences (yes, plural) are, and communicating in a way that resonates with each unique audience is important for building a successful learning and development program.  Your leadership team is the most important audience to consider.  These are the influencers.  The decision-makers.  It’s pretty darn important that they know what you’re doing, and how your program impacts the bottom line.  They won’t necessarily be the ones taking a seat at a training class, but they are the ones who will be deciding your program’s (and let’s face it…YOUR) fate each year when budget talks commence.

If you haven’t given much thought to your Leadership Marketing strategy, fear not.  It’s not as unattainable as it might seem.  Here are 6 ideas to consider:

1.  Mind your metrics.  Think about what keeps your CEO up at night.  Make sure that your communications clearly align learning initiatives with business objectives.  Data matters.  Chances are, your CEO doesn’t care that the room temperature was appropriate for your training session.  Be mindful of the questions you ask in your participant/stakeholder evaluations; make sure they capture meaningful, relevant data that will help you tell your story.  A great resources is Measuring for Success: What CEOs Really Think About Learning Investments, by Jack Phillips and Patricia Phillips, experts in the Learning ROI space.  This book should spark all kinds of metric strategy inspiration.  I definitely recommend adding this one to your personal library.  You can take a peek or purchase it here.

2.  Cut out the middleman.  Who says you always have to go through your boss, his boss, her boss, and his boss (plus an admin or two!) just to have a conversation with a decision-maker?  Eliminate the frustrating game of telephone!  With your manager’s blessing (and help from the executive’s administrative assistant), schedule a brief meeting with a key leader in your organization.  Interview him/her on how your team can help meet organizational objectives, gain a higher level of input and involvement from the leadership team, and become a valued partner in driving business results.  Repeat this process with as many influential people as you can meet with.  I promise you, this will catapult your program’s visibility, not to mention your own.

3.  Be tangible.  Just like everyone else, company leaders are swamped with email.  Many of these emails do not make it past the “admin filter”, so the likelihood of your executives seeing every email communication your team sends about ongoing learning and development initiatives is pretty slim.  Find a way to get your message into their hands, literally.  One method that has worked well for me was to include a monthly calendar of events in their monthly leadership meeting packets.  This simple FYI contained the upcoming events and a brief description, just so the executive team was in the know about what was happening in the coming weeks.  The leaders could read it then, or take it away and read it at their convenience.  Either way, they had it in their hands.  They saw our brand name and logo.  They saw how active we were in the organization.  The descriptions were worded in a way that showed their value and alignment with objectives.  This exact strategy may or may not work for your company.  If not, just be creative – think about how you can go beyond the inbox to evangelize your program with key decision-makers!

4.  Get social.  Seek out key influencers on social media platforms.  Now, I’m not suggesting you friend them all on Facebook.  But maybe it’s more appropriate to connect with them on LinkedIn?  If they’re active on Twitter, follow them.  Comment on your company blog if your executives contribute.  Becoming visible in this realm will help your program gain credibility, as well as increasing your own professional circle.  And who doesn’t want that?

5. Find your champion.  You are likely to have some leaders who are more engaged and supportive than others.  Some will easily recognize the value of your program, and others will need to be sold over time.  Find the executives who truly believe in what you’re doing, and ask for their endorsements.  Other leaders will recognize value when it comes from a reputable, influential colleague and will begin to pay closer attention.  Will they enthusiastically drink your learning and development Kool-Aid?  Not necessarily.  But you will likely gain a step toward gaining their buy-in, which is quite a significant step.

6.  Avoid intimidation.  Don’t allow yourself to become intimidated by the high-profile status of your organization’s executive team.  Remind yourself that YOU and YOUR TEAM are the experts in learning, performance, and employee development.  Demonstrating your understanding the needs of every applicable audience will build your value and visibility as a trusted adviser within your organization.

I could probably write a long manifesto about why this is so important, but I’ll pause for now.  These 6 things should be at the core of your marketing strategy.  Think about your other audiences, and build a similar strategy for each of those groups as well.  For those of you who have experience with marketing a learning program to executives, please let us know…what has worked for you?  What metrics matter most to leadership?  Who are your champions?

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