Ten top things about the 2021 English UK ELT Marketing Conference
Flavilla Fongang. The personality! The attitude! The fun! And buried in all of that, the neuroscience brand expert's original take on marketing based on the workings of our reptile brain. If ever there was a closing plenary designed to put a smile on your face, this one was it.
Takeaway message: "Show your customer as the hero, think about their pain and desire – what are they suffering from? Provide new solutions, demonstrate the gain, tell a great story of what people accomplish. Remember to use information at the beginning and the end, and use visuals and emotion." (Flavilla Fongang, 3 Colours Rule)
The joy of being understood. Richard Bradford's slides included a hand-drawn cartoon of a despairing marketer surrounded by competing ideas from colleagues: opening a pub in the basement, launching a TikTok channel and selling an English for Young Astronauts course. It got one of the biggest laughs of the day.
Takeaway message: "Manage internal expectations, and make sure there's a marketing plan that's written down, shared and consulted on." (Richard Bradford, Disquiet Dog)
MUM. Who knew about MUM, Google's new Multitask User Model and apparently the next way in which the search engine is going to turn the lives of marketers upside down? So transformational is MUM going to be that she turned up in both Richard Bradford and John Heffernan's presentations. MUM also turns out to be good news for language centres because it will provide the best source of information on any given search, translated. Which means Brazilian students looking for IELTS courses in London will start seeing your content (if it's the best) rather than information from local agents offering to find them a course.
Takeaway messages: "What changes is the number of students you can reach – and that gives you lead time to think about it now and hopefully start squirreling a bit of cash away for a bigger marketing budget next year." (Richard Bradford, Disquiet Dog)
"Artificial intelligence is evolving MUM: it's a major sea change and the search is almost saying I know what you want before you do." (John Heffernan, Red Live Media)
EAT. Not the (delicious) conference lunch, but how your content needs to satisfy Google: expertise, authority and trust. John Heffernan also let us into the murky world of other things you need to do to win on Google: there's core web vitals, which means SEO is no longer a standalone part of marketing and that you need to pay attention how fast your website pages load, how mobile-friendly your site is, whether it is HTTPS and the quality of your content.
Takeaway message: "The mantra is that if you're writing content for the sake of it and not adding value, I advise people to leave it alone." (John Heffernan, Red Live Media)
Email isn't outdated. "Why email, why now?" asked marketer Archie Pollock. He reckons it's one of the most cost-effective ways of marketing currently because everyone has an email address, it's one of the most direct forms of communication and that at a time when budgets are cut and teams reduced, ROI can be very strong. "Engagement with email has increased by 78 per cent. There's a lot of opportunity for business growth. Are we making the best of all the opportunities available?"
Takeaway message: "Follow best practice, use marketing personas and key messages. Use email in a variety of different ways and be sure to use what works for you. Don't treat everyone the same. Use analytics to measure the success of your campaigns." (Archie Pollock, HEM)
Good news? Thankfully there was quite a lot of this. English UK chief executive Jodie Gray announced that following the success of PRELIM, an initiative where 17 English UK member centres supported the development of over 2,000 English language teachers around the world, funding for a bigger and better PRELIM 2 has just been secured. Other opportunities include a BC initiative to build UK-Vietnamese ELT partnerships, with invitations for grant fund bids invited and a similar UK-Indonesian scheme in the pipeline.
Takeaway message: "With the changes to the international travel system coming in October, the light at the end of a long dark tunnel seems to be burning a little brighter." (Jodie Gray, English UK)
#WeAreOne.Even during the pandemic, 75 English UK member centres provided free tuition to 223 refugee students who went on to graduate with IELTS or OET qualifications necessary to allow them to resume their professional careers in the UK or enter university, which chief executive Jodie Gray said was "one of the most inspiring things I've read recently". English UK is now developing its partnership with the charity RefuAid which supported these individuals, and hopes that more members will feel able to offer tuition to help the 1,500 refugees currently on the waiting list.
: "When I hear stories like Wafaa's – a doctor who comes to the UK as a refugee from Syria and is enabled to work in the NHS by completing an English language qualification thanks to the generosity and expertise of an English UK member centre - it gives me actual goosebumps and immense hope for the future. If we can take that commitment and belief that our great industry does good in the world, and add innovation and a dose of collaboration it doesn't matter if we're making it up as we go along, we'll be just fine." (Jodie Gray, English UK)
What about agents? The panel discussion on the British Council/ English UK report into the European market threw up some interesting thoughts on the future of agent/school partnerships. Tregarran Percival of summer provider UKLC thought agents would need more support from language centres in years to come as they'd shed staff, including group leaders. Wimbledon School of English director Jane Dancaster thought it was unlikely that centres would choose to work with a smaller list of agents ("you don't want all your eggs in one basket") but thought there might be more loyalty in the industry now.
Takeaway message: "We feel loyal to the agents who were loyal to us. We all got to know each other better, including our pets, children and sitting rooms. From the enquiries coming in we think people are sticking to the schools they know. There's more loyalty in the industry now and that will stay." (Jane Dancaster, Wimbledon School of English)
Members rock. English UK members ran several fantastic discussion sessions, covering everything from sustainability and student concerns to balancing marketing and business needs.
Takeaway message: "It's good to think about the changes you can make and talk about them with students," (Chris Etchells, ELT Footprint UK)
Hugs, handshakes and elbow bumps: English UK's last fully face-to-face event was the previous marketing conference, held in February 2020 before the world turned upside down. This event, following a virtual StudyWorld autumn, was packed with people with smiles on their faces enthusing about how wonderful it was to actually rub shoulders with colleagues once more. And moaning about how uncomfortable real shoes are after 18 months of trainers, Birkenstocks and slippers.
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Takeaway message: "We got out, dressed properly, met new and old people, had the opportunity to reset our business and hopefully we'll be boasting about our growth figures in a year's time," (English UK Chair Mark Rendell)