Meeting industry associates face-to-face is an effective and pervasive strategy for growing business. Workshops afford agents and educators the chance to talk business, strengthen bonds and keep fingers on the ever-quickening pulse of the international education industry. Nicola Hancox finds out about options for where to go and shares best practice tips on what to do whilst at a workshop.
Workshops are an efficient way to do business”, relates Jan Capper, Executive Director of Ialc. “You can touch base with regular business partners, make first contact with new and potential partners and learn about market and product trends, all in a short space of time.”
Mutually beneficial for both educator and agent, the many workshops available provide the perfect platform to talk shop and meet up with industry acquaintances in a relaxed, business atmosphere, as Andrea Gerber, Managing Director of Swiss agency Pro Linguis relates. “Attending workshops is a great opportunity to meet a lot of schools, partners and friends in a short period of time and discuss issues and share news,” she says.
The industry calendar is jam packed with annual fairs, networking events and agent conferences and choosing which one to attend is no easy feat. Allocating time in the diary has become a logistical challenge but for a majority, these workshops are perhaps the only chance to meet business associates one-on-one as Carolyn Blackmore, Chief Executive of Quality English, explains. “As the only real substitute for meeting in an agent’s office or in a school these meetings are in fact better in terms of time-effectiveness and also because they provide a sort of speed-dating scenario where it will be evident if an office-based meeting is even worth it.”
Consequently, many industry players are reluctant to miss out on the opportunity to workshop. However, could it be argued that there are too many workshops today? According to Karin Busk Demuth from Eurostudy International in Denmark, this has become an unfortunate reality. “Yes, there are absolutely too many agent workshops nowadays it is confusing and time consuming to be flooded with invitations to places and events you have absolutely no interest in,” she says.
However, according to Giljun Yang from Korean agency, Lets Uhak, such variety is surely a boon to educational advisors. “There are a lot of countries, schools and agents [out there] and I think they are still thirsty for information,” he states. Renato Silveira from Brazilian agency, 2001 Travel, agrees and notes that each fair differs in its own way, “Each one has its own way of gathering educators, exhibitors and agents,” he says.
Location location location
A lot needs to be taken into consideration when organising an agent workshop. As Marisa De Luca at Icef points out, “The locations of Icef workshops are carefully chosen for their infrastructure, flight access, visa regulations, accommodation options, safety, and, most importantly, for the number and actvitity of educators and agents in the region.” Some organisers, like CEC Network in Canada, make much of the fact that they hold their annual conference in a different host city each year to keep things interesting. “Each year a region in Canada is showcased,” explains Ingrid Wirsig, Director of Domestic Events at CEC. “This is important for our client institutions since they all have a chance to host the agents and invite them to their schools,” she adds.
Meanwhile, Fedele, the federation for language schools in Spain, collaborates with Turespaña, the national tourist board, and organises a workshop that highlights the attractions of a different region each year. Astrid Verlot, Executive Secretary at Fedele, says that delegates appreciate this greatly.
Indeed, by visiting different regions, organisers help put less familiar places on the education travel map, so to speak. For example, Fedele held its ninth annual conference in Cáceres, in Spain’s Extremadura region last year and Busk Demuth for one sees this as an attractive proposition. “Ialc and Fedele workshops have, for me, the ideal set-up, as it brings the agents to different [cities], and gives them chance to visit schools in the chosen location [and gain] knowledge of the touristic side of the place,” she notes.
Next year, Fedele is visiting the capital city of Madrid to offer a different workshop venue and vibe. Ialc also moves venues each year with a volunteering member school hosting the workshop (next year: Milan).
However, some organisers feel familiarity is key. De Luca says, “If the demand for an event continues to grow, the location remains the same.” And Tony Millns, Chief Executive of English UK (the organisers behind StudyWorld in London), explains the advantages of hosting an event in the same place, year-on-year. “Ease of travel is vital for an international event,” he comments. “Agents who come to StudyWorld can go to the rest of the UK on a fam trip, so moving the fair itself around the UK is not so necessary,” he continues although this event was traditionally organised in Brighton until 2006.
For Christina Margraf, Business Development Coordinator at International House World Organisation (the mothership behind some 80 IH schools around the world), diversity is a must. “The IH Agent Workshop is hosted every year by a different school so the location changes and we try to alternate European destinations and destinations outside of Europe in order to give agencies from different parts of the world the chance to attend without having to travel for too long,” she states.
Other organisers, like MEI~Relsa, the association for English language schools in Ireland, are keen to spread their wings and Adrian Cummins, Chief Executive of the group, proposes to tackle different markets in the foreseeable future as well as staging an annual event in Ireland (which is in Dublin every second year). This year MEI will have a workshop in Taiwan, says Cummins, noting that this will be dove-tailed with a workshop in the region. “We are encouraging schools to join the Alphe workshop in Korea. Then MEI will organise its own workshop in Taiwan for the Irish trade.”
Meanwhile, conferences that focus on a specific world region such as the Icef Middle East & Africa workshop in Dubai or Alphe Latin America in São Paulo helpfully narrow the frames of reference for both agents and educators, as Silveira, based in Brazil (and who recently attended Alphe Latin America), relates. “For many agents it’s convenient, easier, faster and cheaper [to attend a regional event] as you don’t have to travel so far to be in touch with the school members,” he says. “It also shows that the schools care about students and agents from that particular region.”
Similarly, speciality workshops such as the Icef Higher Education Workshop aimed exclusively at tertiary educators or the British Boarding Schools Workshop (BBSW) specifically designed for agents looking to work with UK boarding schools also help refine provision even further as Suzanne Rowse, Director and Event Organiser of BBSW affirms. “The BBSW is very focused on the needs of UK boarding schools and their partner agents,” she says. “Having worked in a boarding school for several years I can relate to the challenges they face and I provide as much support as possible to help schools and agents work together successfully.”
To keep ahead of the game, organisers continuously develop and modify their offerings to appeal to newer audiences, not to mention maintain the interest of repeat participants. “As organisers, we work harder these days and are constantly thinking about how we can improve what we offer,” affirms Capper.
Online scheduling systems were one such advancement, making the whole appointment process more seamless, and many peers reflect that they’d simply be lost without them today. “Online scheduling systems make planning much easier,” notes Gerber. With clients now able to schedule a face-to-face meeting with someone who at that very moment perhaps sits on the other side of the world, many would agree it was an essential development.
Marcom Consulting, a web solutions company based in France, launched the system, eSchedule, over eight years ago, but declined to provide comments for this article. Contracted to several event organisers, Marcom counts English UK among its clients. “The introduction of online appointment scheduling allows participants to control who they meet and when and it also saves time by reducing the number of emails/telephone calls between participants in the lead up to the event,” attests Millns at English UK.
Rowse at BBSW agrees that their own online scheduler, EASy, has simplified the whole appointment making experience while lessening the chances of double-booking. “In 2007, we developed our own Electronic Appointment System (EASy) which has been very well received and streamlined the whole booking system.”
Similarly, Alphe’s own offering, Meeting Manager (also launched in 2007) was also born out of this need to keep up with industry progression. Furthermore, Hothouse Media, the company behind Alphe and Language Travel Magazine, has recently developed another new venture, an online networking site named InTouch. According to Jane Gilham, Alphe Manager, InTouch aims to create an online community for the industry. Accessible through Meeting Manager, clients will be able to post school photos, download brochures, upload news and instant message other delegates. “InTouch is an excellent way to keep in contact with people you have met and it can be used all year long,” enthuses Gilham.
Meanwhile, Icef Online the collaborative Internet platform launched by Icef in 2006 uses intelligent tools for online brand management and student recruitment. According to De Luca, it now has a membership of 854 with 106 different countries represented and enables agents to “connect, communicate and collaborate”, a kind of online workshop.
Seminars are another attractive feature of agent workshops, and welcomed by many delegates. De Luca signals that seminars scheduled during the Icef events feature “world experts giving the latest research and trends”. And Yang from Lets Uhak relates that the seminars offered at this year’s Australia New Zealand Agent (Anza) Workshop organised by Icef with a partner company were particularly enlightening. “They offered very interesting seminars; topics like “Improving Business Management and Workflow Efficiency”, “eMarketing Communicating with Students”, etc,” he regales. “It was a very good experience for me to get those figures and such expert opinions about the market.” He adds that the seminars made a nice change from the “normal meetings with schools and agents”.
The IH World Agent Workshop also aims to offer agents an alternative programme and Margraf relates that presentations provide a break from business appointments, as do trial lessons, where agents can experience, first-hand, what life is like for a language student. “The trial lesson usually gives the agency a taste of the language taught by the hosting school and gives them an idea of the teaching method used,” reports Margraf and she reflects that this is particularly compelling if the host country is non-English speaking.
“When the seminar is hosted by an English school a trial lesson makes less sense because the agents all speak English. [However], if the seminar is hosted by a school teaching a language like French, Italian or Spanish it is more interesting for most of the agents.” She continues, “Dilit-IH Rome, for example, gave trial lessons in Italian in four different languages.”
Out and about
Familiarisation trips are another characteristic of many workshops and something many organisers are keen to promote. Cummins for one notes that without them, agents aren’t really exposed to the whole picture. “[Familiarisation trips are] extremely important as they give agents an eyewitness view of the school and its location,” he states. Millns concurs and adds that StudyWorld offers some 10 or 12 fam trips each year and offerings for 2008 include a trip to the historic town of Hastings, a three-day tour of Yorkshire and Northumberland and even a three-day jaunt to the islands of Malta and Gozo. “It’s important that agents are able to visit the educational institutions that they will be promoting to the clients,” notes Millns. “By viewing the products and services first-hand, exploring the areas where the schools are located and sampling the programmes, it gives the agents information and confidence so they can sell the services more effectively to their clients,” he adds.
“I attend them all,” reveals Silveira from 2001 Travel. “They give me the chance to visit and get to know all about the cities, countries, the cultural aspects and the people. They are so important that I think everyone should have them,” he adds.
Some workshop organisers include fam trips as part of the official package, while others are happy for delegates to offer a range of competing fam trips for whoever they wish to invite. This year, for example, there are seven options for Alphe UK agent attendees to consider.
Fam trips can be particularly beneficial to a country’s tourist trade and in Spain, Turespaña helps organise the fam trips on offer to agencies in collaboration with Fedele. “Our collaboration with Turespaña is indeed very important,” confirms Verlot, “as they take care of the complete process of inviting the participating agents through the local offices they have in each country.”
Business after hours
Business conducted out of hours is perhaps just as fruitful as the face-to-face meetings during an agents’ conference itself. “Getting to know staff from partner agencies/schools in a social environment by chatting over dinner or a drink at the bar is just as important as the formal meetings,” relates Rowse. Laura Maroselli at AMSL agency in France agrees. “Evening events [are a highlight]. We can relax and develop personal relationships in an informal way,” she says.
Several workshops are known for putting on good evening entertainment. De Luca claims the Icef Berlin party is “unparalleled in the industry”, for example.
The Language Travel Magazine Star Awards are a great example of how to mix business with a little social glitz and glamour. The annual awards ceremony takes place during Alphe UK in September and welcomes 600 attendees. Winning schools, associations and agencies are announced from a shortlist of contenders who received the most votes from their industry peers during a three-month voting period. With a three-course dinner and dancing, Gilham notes that it is “fast becoming an event one should not miss”.
Accreditation is perhaps a small bone of contention among workshop organisers with some insisting that educational institutions be accredited in order to attend a conference and others preferring to give new or lesser known schools a chance to be profiled. This latter viewpoint is one Gilham adheres to strongly. “Alphe is open to all educators,” she notes. “This enables new schools the opportunity to market themselves to quality, reference-checked agents.” Capper at Ialc, although in favour of accreditation (Ialc workshops are open to Ialc member schools only), can see reason in this standpoint. She underlines, “Study abroad products for which no accreditation exists and new institutions that have to wait a year or two before they can be accredited also need a platform to promote themselves, so it would not serve the industry if all workshops were only for accredited organisations.”
On the horizon
With so many different workshopping opportunities available, agents are sure to find a selection that best suits them and their needs, but organisers would be foolhardy not to revise their offerings regularly to ensure they are ticking all the right boxes. Miki Harada, from Japanese agency Ryugaku Journal, argues workshops will simply be phased out should they not meet expectations. “We only attend quality workshops and I am sure that less satisfactory kinds of services will disappear,” she says.
Meanwhile, some workshops inspire a kind of brand loyalty among delegates and many claim to have their favourites. “There are some events where we have to be and some that we wish to attend every year,” states Maroselli. “I never miss Alphe in London or Icef in Berlin!”
There’s no denying that conferences are an integral cog in the language travel machine. More than just two days of busy appointments, they enable agents to perform a sort of reconnaissance mission as Blackmore from QE attests. “We actually call the whole process a ‘mission’ because it
is more than just a workshop.”
How to survive an agents’ workshop by the organisers
“I would suggest that delegates are well prepared for workshops in advance. Make sure you are rested for the event, as it’s a marathon not a sprint. Enjoy the event, network at the social events. After the workshop make sure you follow up with all requests.”
Adrian Cummins, Chief Executive, MEI~Relsa
“Icef Workshop participants have the opportunity to attend a welcome session that explains, not only how to survive, but how to make the most of their workshop attendance to produce real results in their international student enrolments.”
Marisa De Luca, Director of Marketing & Communications, Icef
“Take good notes, wear comfortable shoes and drink lots of water! Relax and enjoy all the networking and social events that the fair has to offer. The event staff are at your disposal. Let them know if you have any difficulties or have any questions.”
Ingrid Wirsig, Director of Domestic Events, CEC
“Travel light, prepare well, dress comfortably, pace yourself, write good notes, do your follow-up straight away and enjoy the parties but leave them before dawn!”
Jan Capper, Executive Director, Ialc
“Do careful research make sure you meet the right people. And bring throat sweets you’ll be talking a lot!”
Tony Millns, Chief Executive, English UK
“Concentrate on the faces of the people you meet at your appointments because then you might see them again at social events and not recognise them, and that’s bad form. During the appointment, don’t just talk about your company, listen and also ask lots of questions. Don’t be a no-show because then you’re grilled [by organisers] and your reputation is tarnished: you’re not reliable. Don’t come with hundreds of brochures to the workshop, everybody is always overloaded with them and it costs you money. Bring one to show at each meeting and post it later to the people that you feel are interested or upload on your InTouch page. And email all the people you’ve met straight after the event, so your agreements/conversations are still fresh in one anothers mind.”
Jessica Mathieu, Agent Organiser, Alphe Conferences
“Preparation is key. Participants need to prepare a short presentation/introduction with key facts about their school/company which is tailored to the international audience. Make the most of the social networking opportunities. And I recommend that schools should bring two staff to share the talking at meetings!”
Suzanne Rowse, Director, BBSW
Sample of workshops available
Location: changes annually Milan 2009
Entry criteria: Members only
MEI~Relsa Agents Workshop
Locations: Ireland, Russia, Taiwan, Turkey
Entry criteria: Members only
Locations: London, UK; St Petersburg, Russia; Tokyo, Japan; Seoul, Korea; Bangkok, Thailand; Sao Paulo, Brazil
Entry criteria: All
Locations: London, UK
Entry criteria: Accredited schools only
Locations: Antwerp, Belgium; Beijing, China; Berlin, Germany; Miami, USA; Moscow, Russia; Tokyo, Japan; UAE, Dubai
Entry criteria: All
CEC Network Agent Fair
Location: Canada, various Montreal 2008
Entry criteria: Members only
Australia New Zealand Agents Workshop (Anza)
Locations: Auckland, New Zealand and Sydney, Australia (alternate)
Entry criteria: All
World Youth and Student Travel Conference (Wystc)
Location: changes annually New York 2009
Entry criteria: All
IH Agent Workshop
Location: changes annually Vancouver 2009
Entry criteria: Member schools only
British Boarding Schools Workshop
Locations: Windsor and Birmingham, UK
Entry criteria: Boarding schools only
Fedele Annual Meeting
Location: changes annually, Spain Madrid 2008
Entry criteria: All Spanish schools
Quality English Trade Missions
Location: various Kiev and Warsaw 2008
Entry criteria: Member schools only
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