May 2009 issue

Agency News
Agency Survey
Market Report
Special Report
Course Guide
City Focus

Contact Point:
Request information from our advertisers

To view this page as a pdf file click on this button.

If you do not have Acrobat, you can download it from Adobe for free

Back issues

Status Survey

Link to our site

Get a Free Copy

What are agents?

Calendar of events
Useful links
Language Travel Magazine
11-15 Emerald Street
London, England
T: +44 (0)20 7440 4020
F: +44 (0)20 7440 4033
Pacific Office
T/F: +61 (0)8 9341 1820

Other products

Decisive marketing

With the explosion of Internet marketing, today’s marketeers have a larger box of marketing tricks at their disposal. But where do agents fit into all of this? How do successful educators enhance their global exposure? Whatever strategy is decided, companies must know their market sectors and plan well, as Gillian Evans discovers.

The sheer range of marketing tools available to language schools and agents has never been so vast. There are, of course, all the traditional marketing methods such as mailings, press advertising, attendance at industry events; but in recent years, the Internet has taken centre stage. Indeed, broadcasting one’s wares has never been easier with the proliferation of web-based marketing techniques. But, despite the high-tech world we live in, the recipe to success has not changed over the years. As Alfredo Martinez of El Cuelebre school in Spain says, “First you need to be honest and professional and have very good courses. Then it is a question of making this visible all over the world.” Word-of-mouth recommendation remains one of the most important marketing media for language schools the world over. It not only helps them attract students but also quality agents. “We believe in quality which means taking good care of the students as well as of our agencies,” says Tiziana Di Dedda of Dilit IH Rome in Italy. “The famous ‘word-of-mouth’ [recommendation] from students who enjoyed their time with us still counts.”

Michael O’Grady, Director of Byron Bay English Language School in Australia, points out that with the proliferation of social networking online, news now travels fast. “These days with the Internet, you have to be a good school/service provider. Reputation travels very easily via Facebook and happy students.”

David Oancia at Hansa Language Centre (HLC) in Canada reports that 27 per cent of last year’s enrolments came through word-of-mouth recommendations. “We have discovered that by working at achieving an extremely high student satisfaction rate, we almost always get increased numbers from that particular region or market segment,” he comments.

While word-of-mouth recommendation is something that naturally occurs if you’ve done a good job, many language schools go out of their way to make a lasting impression. Daniel Pietzner, Director of Omnilingua in Italy, says that one their most successful marketing strategies has been to organise weekly evening garden parties at the school for the students and local residents so they can get to know each other. “As a result,” says Pietzner, “students often decided to extend their stay and [it has] increased the word-of-mouth publicity [the school generates].”

Targeted marketing
Despite the importance of personal endorsement to a service industry such as language travel, a highly targeted marketing campaign is also vital. Pietzner advocates identifying a niche and focusing the marketing on that area. “[The most important aspect of a marketing campaign is] to focus on something precise – for example, promoting a certain course type or encouraging a certain age of potential students, etc – it is then easy to see if the campaign was successful or not,” he asserts.

Like Pietzner, Oancia believes that targeting a campaign to certain target audiences is “of paramount importance”. He explains, “By breaking down and fully analysing each segment of the ESL market, HLC can successfully design programmes that fully meet our clients’ specific needs.”
Steve Phillips, Director of Internexus at Regent’s College in the UK agrees, adding, “Generic [marketing] campaigns don’t work.” To ensure the school’s campaign is focused on the right area, Phillips advocates a “good level of primary and secondary research prior to any campaign starting”. For this, he says, “local agents can be used or your own research, usually Internet-based”.

Oancia recommends detailed planning before the execution of a marketing venture. “By fully understanding the market and its components, you can successfully gauge the needs of your clients in respect of your abilities,” he explains. “This step is also extremely important in terms of executing differentiation techniques and therefore allowing you to position yourself in the most effective manner possible.”
Blair McDonald, Director of Braemar College in Canada, agrees. “The most important aspect of the [marketing] plan is that it is well researched, the campaigns are fitted to the markets in question and that the execution of the plan is properly sequenced and funded – there is nothing like a late shipment of materials to ruin an otherwise good campaign.”

Importance of agents
While word-of-mouth recommendation and a carefully planned marketing strategy are undoubtedly important, the lynchpin of success for language schools is agent partnerships. Gavin Eyre at International House Cape Town in South Africa, says that the steady flow of students they receive through agencies – 70 per cent of their total enrolments – is more reliable than through any other medium.

“Developing a great agent network is extremely important in any business, but especially in a service industry such as education,” agrees Oancia. “The more capable you are of doing this, the greater the volume of your business will be.”

According to McDonald, agency partnerships have been their single most effective marketing strategy. “Our relationships with agents move to ever higher levels of effectiveness and trust,” he adds. “The result is more and better quality referrals.”

Sourcing new agencies
Working with established and trusted agency partners is one thing but how do schools go about attracting new agents? Oancia advises advertising in agents’ magazines as this “sends a clear signal of willingness to develop these contacts in a serious manner”. Greaves agrees. “Our advertising in trade press such as Language Travel Magazine is key to our success in attracting quality partner agents.”

Visiting agents in-country and attending agent workshops are other ways of making contact with new and existing agent partners, although McDonald highlights that workshops require “rigorous follow-up” to ensure their effectiveness.

For the newer destinations, workshops are an invaluable tool for getting that location on the agent’s radar, as Eyre asserts. “We find [workshops] very effective especially with a destination such as South Africa as we are still in our ‘destination’ marketing phase,” he says.

Agent support
Once a partnership has been set up, most schools go the extra mile to support their agencies. This includes visiting the agency itself, providing up-to-date brochures, photos and DVDs of the school, creating agent-specific pages on their website, putting together an agent manual, attending seminars and arranging fam trips.

Many schools regularly assess their agent relationships and rely heavily on surveys for feedback. Study Group annually analyses surveys from around 900 agents. “Their feedback is invaluable to us to ensure that we understand what is important to them and whether we are meeting their service expectations,” explains Greaves. “The results are shared throughout our company and used for training and development in the coming year.”

Red Leaf Programs and Tours in Canada conducts a survey with a select group of agents, and holds debriefing meetings to see “who worked well with us and who did not”, says Cam Harvey. “One can never get enough feedback from clients and partners!” Based on this assessment, relationships are occasionally terminated, but more usually the payment policy is revised. Harvey explains, “We categorise our agents and if an agent moves up a category based on increased numbers and effectiveness of the working relationship, we will be more flexible with them.”

Another way that some schools support their overseas agents is by setting up satellite support offices in the agent’s region. For example, Study Group has a network of these offices that provide services such as student interviews, exhibitions, marketing materials and local advertising. The English Language Centre (ELC), Division of Continuing Studies at the University of Victoria in Canada has also just started employing such regional personnel.

The ELC’s Marketing Manager, Christina Gambrell, reports that the appointment of a Liaison Officer in Brazil, whose remit is to support agents, make university contacts, presentations and attend fairs, amongst other things, has been the most successful marketing initiative to date. “Our revenue from Brazil increased by 100 per cent during the first term because of [our liaison officer’s] enthusiastic activities and assistance,” she reports. “She trains new counsellors, keeps in touch with existing and new agents, and reports back to me on a weekly basis.” This has been so successful that the centre has just hired another Liaison Officer in Mexico City to represent the university at fairs, source new relationships and identify new agents. “Essentially, these new staff obviously speak the language, understand the culture and represent an ongoing presence for the University of Victoria,” says Gambrell.

McDonald mentions a direct relationship between advertising in agents’ brochures and increased referrals. “Often there’s a link between advertising in an agent’s [catalogue], attending its student fairs and/or seminars and the number of referrals expected,” he relates, adding, “We have found that one ‘deep’ connection where the agency and its staff know our school and programmes is more productive than 10 ‘shallow’ connections.”

Oancia concurs with McDonald, saying that intensive relationship building can yield a greater output. “As in all businesses, the cost of acquiring a customer is something that interests us intensely,” he says. “What we’re looking to create is an integrated marketing plan with the agent in question. By doing this, you’re able to create synergies that usually reduce costs, improve brand image and ultimately increase numbers.”

Although schools try to support the activities of agents in many different ways, there are agencies in some regions – particularly Latin America, according to McDonald – that routinely request further financial contributions upfront from language schools towards marketing costs. “Some agents or language organisers expect that partner schools assume part of the costs of their yearly catalogues,” agrees Pietzner, adding, “I’m not happy about this.”

“[Some agencies] appear to have developed a business model based in large part on attracting money from schools’ marketing budgets,” ventures McDonald. “From a school’s perspective this is not the best arrangement. At some point, the return on marketing capital falls too low.”

Future of marketing
An agreed and agreeable agent-school partnership is clearly mutually beneficial. And in the future, it may be how that partnership harnesses the power of Internet marketing that will be important.

“Internet marketing is going to get bigger and bigger,” asserts Trish Cooper at Wits Language School in South Africa. She forecasts the growing importance of “pay per click” advertising, and the continued use of email marketing to keep in touch with past students and reach new students through viral marketing. To get the most out of their website, the site has, according to Cooper, been optimised for targeted keyword phrases to ensure natural ranking by the search engines. “Keyword phrases targeted at the local market are doing really well,” she relates. “Internationally, the phrases around ‘learning English’ are extremely competitive.” For this reason, the school also embarked on ‘pay per click’ advertising in 2008, targeting certain countries. “Applications doubled as a result of this.”

Another very significant trend is towards marketing using social media networking. “Seeing how Facebook et al have gone viral in the last couple of years has been quite fascinating,” observes Oancia. “They are a marketing dream: getting users to create content that you then use to create advertising specifically aimed at them. It’s pure evil genius! In practice, however, I find the Internet is an amazing way to keep track of what people are saying, providing almost instantaneous feedback on what works, what doesn’t and where you should be heading as a result.”

Oancia also highlights customer relationship management (CRM) tools as being “essential”. He says, “If there is a ‘before’ and ‘after’ point in the marketing universe, it starts with these nefarious programmes. The data collected is amazing, completely applicable and lets you discover any marketing mistakes made with the blink of an eye.”

While we are certainly living in an information-rich age, McDonald advises not losing sight of the fundamentals of marketing. He says agents should learn the key selling points of a programme and the school, and make sure frontline sales staff know them. “This sounds basic,” he concludes, “but with the mounds of data agents have to grapple with, this key selling tool is all too often left gathering dust.”

Threat of the web

A moot question in language travel has always been whether the rise of the world wide web in marketing signals the demise of the language travel agent. David Oancia of Hansa Language Centre (HLC) in Canada admits that “channel conflict does worry me greatly”. Steve Phillips from Internexus at Regent’s College in the UK reports that in some countries, such as Spain, direct Internet bookings have impacted agency bookings, while in others such as Japan and Russia it has not.

Language schools that place a high value on their agent relationships generally use their websites as a mere taster of what’s on offer, as is the case for the website of Omnilingua in Italy. “[Our website is] only used as a tool to illustrate our services as a virtual brochure and promote ‘last minute’ offers,” asserts Daniel Pietzner from the school.

On the Study Group website, visitors are able to “find a local agent” at the click of the mouse, while IH Cape Town in South Africa redirects any direct student bookings to its partner agencies. Other methods employed by schools to ensure agents are not cut out of a sale include offering agents special packages and deals that are not available on the website, a strategy employed by HLC.

Similarly, Braemar College in Canada offers financial incentives to agents allowing them to offer the programmes at a slight discount to what would be paid if a student signed up via the web. “This is crucial to retain the trust of agents,” says Blair McDonald at the college. “Thinking long-term, it is simply foolish to cut out an agent to make a little more now, if it unwinds a connection that has taken lots of effort and time to establish.”

While the Internet has changed the face of marketing, most in the industry do not believe agents will ever become obsolete. “Call me old school,” says Oancia, “but I like people. I like them more than the computer screen. I think the Internet might be a useful advertising tool and having a presence is absolutely necessary, but I am not convinced by the idea that it will ever replace a good network of agents – especially in a people-based international industry such as ours.”

Contact any advertiser in the this issue now

The following language schools, associations and accommodation providers advertised in the latest edition of Language Travel Magazine. If you would like more information on any of these advertisers, tick the relevant boxes, fill out your details and send.





Britannia Student
Global Immersions
NYC Language
Sara's New York
      Homestay LLC  

Feltom Malta  
English UK  
Perth Education
Quality English  

Alphe Conferences
LTM Star Awards

Cambridge Esol

Hub and Spoke
      Connections Limited
Internet Advantage
In Touch  

Malta Tourism

Ecela -
      Latin Immersion  

Ability Education  
Language Studies
      (Canada, France,
      Germany, New
      Zealand, Paris, UK,
Pacific Gateway
Perth Education
University of New
      South Wales,
      Institute of
University of
University of
      Western Sydney
      University College  

It´s Cool Idiomas &
      Cursos no Exterior  

Global Village  
      (Australia, Canada,

Mandarin House  

Bell International  
      (Malta, UK)
English Language
      Centre Brighton &
English Studio  
English UK  
Kaplan Aspect  
      (Australia, Canada,
      Ireland, Malta,
      New Zealand, South
      Africa, UK, USA)
LAL Language and
      (Canada, Cyprus,
      Ireland, England,
      South Africa, Spain,
      Switzerland, USA)
Malvern House
      College London  
Prime Education  
St Giles Colleges  
      (Canada, UK, USA)
Study Group  
      (Australia, Canada,
      England, France,
      Germany, Ireland,
      Italy,New Zealand,
      South Africa, Spain,
Twin Group  
      (Ireland, UK)
University of Essex -
Wimbledon School
      of English  

SILC - Séjours

BWS Germanlingua  
Carl Duisberg
      Medien GmbH  
      (England, Germany)
ECS & Euro-
International House
      Berlin - Prolog  

Alpha College of

      International House

Kai Japanese
      Language School  
      Language School  

      Language School  
EC English
      Language Centre  
      (England, Malta,
      South Africa, USA)
Feltom Malta  

Colegio Maravillas
inlingua Barcelona
International House -
      Dept de Espanol  
International House
      San Sebastian -
International House
      Sevilla - CLIC  
Malaca Instituto -
      Club Hispanico SL  
Malaga Si  
Tandem Escuela
      Internacional Madrid

EF Language
      Colleges Ltd  
      (Australia, Canada,
      China, Costa Rica,
      Ecuador, England,
      France, Germany,
      Italy, Malta, New
      Zealand, Singapore,
      South Africa, Spain,
      (Australia, Canada,
      England, France,
      Germany, Italy,
      Japan, New Zealand,
      Russia, Spain, USA)

ELS Language
Global Immersions
NYC Language
Sara's New York
      Homestay LLC  
University of
      California San
Zoni Language
      (Canada, USA)