The challenges of marketing business training
By: Nicole Jooste

South Africa has a massive skills shortage. We need to train more people, so the messengers tell us, but what too few reveal is how important it is to select the right person for appropriate training - to do otherwise is money down the drain. In marketing skills and executive training, too many training organisations rely on mass emailings and not enough on educating clients about how to appropriately select staff to go on training.

On our executive management courses at AstroTech and business support training courses at BizTech, we too often hear from trainers that a receptionist has been stuck in a Finance for Non-Financial Managers course because the human resources manager believed that if as many people were sent on courses, regardless of who or what, he or she would retain his or her 2008 budget plus in 2009.

Not a substitute

One of our top BizTech courses is Graphs, Statistics and Numerical Reporting for PAs and Administrators; it is exceptionally popular but too often we find those sent on the course lack basic numeracy skills and can't cope with the course content. Training courses are not a substitute for a lack of basic knowledge or education; they enhance and advance existing capacity.

We also find many companies are influenced by price and the number of days a course runs; it is very, very difficult to impart high level knowledge in a single day. Because of this, we have noted over the past two-to-three years that in-house courses are exceptionally popular. But too often companies don't respect their investment in training and PAss will often pop their heads around the door “with an important message” for someone on the course.

Short-term crises should not take precedence over long term strategic planning or profitability, especially in the current global economic downturn.

In marketing our courses and training, we have a strong media awareness component with consistent press releases and articles to educate the public not just about courses on offer but how to get the maximum benefit from advancing the knowledge base of their workforce and executives.

Strong media component

A strong media component means we can adapt and focus on day-to-day hot issues that have an impact on the courses which are requested; for example, rising levels of debt mean that our course on the National Credit Act sees a very high demand.

And the skills crisis impacts on us too; we find it difficult to find high-level presenters. All of our presenters not only have excellent interpersonal skills but have worked at top levels in the industry they train in, whether as financial consultants, human resources practitioners, tax lawyers or travel and tourism experts.

We stress key advantages like the fact that most of our courses carry accreditation with national bodies such as SETAs and our high-level BEE rating ensures they get points on BEE score-cards too.

Despite the lip service given to economic growth, not enough companies see training as a high priority for their company and employees find it difficult to get the training approved, although they often acknowledge their own short-comings and want to uplift their skills and knowledge.

Companies would rather send their employees on a short one-day course for half the price than have their employees out of the office for two to three days, even though we give a month of phone consulting as a backup to anyone who has been on a course in the preceding month.

Competition for advertising

Another challenge of marketing skills training is the competition for advertising. When I started in my position, I received an overwhelming amount of telephone calls from media companies giving lavish promises about the treasures advertising would bring. Every publication sounded like a good idea - a brilliant marketing strategy! Who knows how much time, money and effort has been spent on adverts that did not affect our profit in a positive way.

Marketing is not cheap, nor is it easy. There are so many variable to consider, so many factors all playing a role.

We have found that a sustained public relations strategy through the media builds brand awareness faster and with great credibility than a host of ads, but too, a PR campaign needs to be bolstered with the wise placement of ads in carefully targeted media. Radio and television are good for the ego but print is what people remember.

In 2009 marketing is going to be sorely tested; it will take every bit of ingenuity we all have to build and advance our brands in cost effective ways.


Nicole Jooste is marketing manager for AstroTech ( and BizTech (, as well as AstroTech Conference Centre in Parktown, Johannesburg. Contact her on or tel +27 (0)11 453 5291.