From the importance of loving what you do, to releasing your inner entrepreneur, the English UK Marketing conference was packed with inspiration and practical advice to help ELT centres thrive.
Around 120 delegates joined the event, attracted by a mix of big names and industry experts sharing insights around digital reach, different markets and much more.
Opening the conference, English UK chief executive Sarah Cooper said: "The industry is in a happier place than last year… and as those of you in our QUIC statistics scheme already know, there's been some really good recovery throughout the industry, so that's fantastic. It confirms what we've heard through the year, and that's down to a lot of hard work, clever marketing and product development.
"It's beginning to look as though there is a better political atmosphere around students, and the data we commissioned for a government inquiry into international students makes absolutely clear that our industry is nothing but positive for the UK."
First speaker Linda Moir had the room spellbound as she described how she had built outstanding customer service first at Virgin Atlantic and then among thousands of volunteer Games Makers at the 2012 Olympics. She said she had learned two vital keys: "How you are inside your organisations is exactly what your customers and students will see – and that comes from you as leaders of organisations. The second thing is having a collaborative culture, where everybody gets a say - the organisations doesn't always go with it but everyone gets the chance to collaborate," she said, adding that employees are also brand ambassadors: "It's all about the love about what loving what you do and feeling really proud. That's how you develop amazing service and a reputation for great customer experience."
Nicole Kennedy of Studio Cambridge said the talk was one of the best she had heard. "It was inspirational, but that sounds corny. My whole sales team is here, and it lifted them."
Sahar Hashimi, who jumped ship from a high-flying career in law to set up a chain of New York-style coffee houses with her brother, closed the day in equally inspirational style, outlining the six habits of entrepreneurs and emphasising her belief that "every single one of us has the entrepreneurial gene… it's activated in some, in others stifled."
"Entrepreneurship is making a huge fool of yourself until you get it right," she said, concluding: "There are opportunities for us - rekindling these skills could be a golden and wonderful future for us."
Practical information to help UK ELT centres make the most of those opportunities came from a series of specialist strands, including on digital marketing and different markets. Delegates could hear about opportunities in the Japanese market – where the expert panel talked about potential growth in juniors and the senior market. Shoko Doherty of Celtic talked about the importance of emphasising quality for the senior market, and also offering junior courses in the last two weeks of August which is often the first opportunity for Japanese school students to travel, while Kevin McNally of TIS summed up the discussion that safety, quality and perhaps tradition should be the focus of marketing to Japan.
A busy panel session on transnational education found Steve Phillips of British Study Centres Steve talking about aligning overseas centres with the core operation, while Matthew Anderson of TVET talked of a "gap" for British branded providers in countries where only a fraction of the population could afford to study in the UK.
Hannah Alexander-Wright, launching the English UK/British Council market report into Thailand, had a series of revelations to share including the importance of using Thai social media platforms and of understanding that "the student makes the choice… but the parent makes the decision."
She said ELT centres needed to do different things for agents, parents and students. "Agents want relationships, responsiveness, discount and commission. Students want digital stuff, parents want to know the institution is academic, and about safety and pastoral care. The students research, the agents mediate and the parents trust the agents. Some schools are very good at some things but they need to tick all three boxes," she said.
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