Richard Bradford, Founder and MD of Disquiet Dog

Richard Bradford, Founder and MD of Disquiet Dog

What happens when schools and agents join forces in the digital landscape?

We catch up with Richard Bradford for a few highlights ahead of his seminar at this year’s IALC Workshop.

The IALC Workshop is an annual gathering for IALC-accredited educators and study abroad agencies from around the world, bringing together about 350 attendees from over 50 countries. To help participants keep up-to-date with the latest issues and trends, this year’s seminar programme will include a well-rounded mix of topics from industry standardisation to the benefits of studying in the UK. The programme will also feature a presentation on best practices in digital marketing from Richard Bradford, founder and MD of Disquiet Dog, a digital strategy and development consultancy for the education industry.

Your upcoming talk “The Eye of the Storm” explores how agents and schools can collaborate through digital means. Can you tell us a bit more?

Sure! My presentation is about how different approaches to online activity can help the school and agent relationship to flourish regardless of market conditions. We also address the darker subtext of the battle between schools and agents for direct bookings at a time when margin is a big issue in the industry.

What do you hope the attendees will learn from the talk?

There will hopefully be some useful takeaways and ideally, a feeling of empowerment and confidence, and a total absence of guilt and discomfort.

As I see it, the problem for schools – and to a lesser extent their agents – is either a lack of a clear vision of the role of ‘digital’, or an understanding of how to carry an entire school’s culture forwards. That’s something which is relatively easy to fix.

We also spend time looking at the way schools work with agents, and challenge the model a bit.

Why do you say schools don’t have a clear vision?

In a poll of 52 members conducted by IALC for Disquiet Dog, we asked what the biggest concerns were around digital marketing in language schools.

A lot of schools responded that they couldn’t keep on top of digital developments, didn’t have the resources, weren’t sure how to get enough ROI, and didn’t have the time to really plan out a digital strategy. They also confirmed that only a miniscule proportion of staff in their schools are involved in digital marketing of any kind.

That suggests to me that many schools have their classical strategy, and then append a digital component. And for a lot of schools, the digital piece is only about diffusion through social media. 

What are you advocating?

Digital marketing, digital course provision, and digital system integration are all here to stay. Their correct application throughout an organisation can ensure there is more staffing resource and more time to spend on what still matters the most: connecting to the client.

It’s the case for agents and schools alike. In a contracting market, it becomes particularly important that we shed the old mass-marketing approaches, and get back as much as possible to the one-person-at-a-time model. 

And how do you think you can help with that?

Well in spite of many language schools offering what appears to be a fairly generic product, the culture and organisational strengths can vary wildly. Disquiet Dog rises to support each school differently. For some, it’s about owners understanding how to demonstrate leadership on digital matters. For others, they just want to know how to get to the top of Google (which I will show during the talk).

Some school and agent websites have been designed by digital agencies with no sensitivity to the user journey or the subject matter of education. Sometimes the digital content being diffused has no relationship to what people are actually searching for online. If you get that wrong, there’s no hope of getting a return on investment.

You mentioned collaboration between schools and agents. What do you think is happening there?

We all know this relationship can be duplicitous. The more digital marketing is able to reach into local markets, the greater the sense that schools and agents are competing side by side for the same students. If handled badly, this erodes the commercial relationship and mutual trust. If handled collaboratively, it can lead to tremendous competitive advantage, with significant resource saving and sales growth.

So what needs to change?

At the end of the day, this is all about organisational culture. That, and organisational agility. The winners will simply be those schools and agents who focus tightly on listening to their clients, saying yes to what they want and then committing to the relationship. But that’s just marketing. Achieving this in a way which is in line with today’s digital natives and their expectations, that’s the digital piece of the puzzle. And that’s what needs to change.


Richard’s session will run twice on 7 April: first at 14:00 and again at 17:00. Be sure to follow all the event action on our official hashtag #IALC2016 and follow Richard’s agency @disquietdog. See you soon!

About this blog

Members of IALC share their insights on the language travel industry. Contributors are owners, directors, managers, teachers or administrative staff of IALC-accredited language schools worldwide.

IALC Workshop

IALC 2017 Workshop in Boston Massachusetts, USA - 23-26 March 2017

IALC 2017 Boston
Dates: 23-26 March 2017
Location: Boston, USA
Educators: IALC-accredited language schools worldwide
Hosted by: ELC Boston

ELC Boston hosts the IALC 2017 workshop

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