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As a dyslexic child, Bertil Hult had to leave his homeland of Sweden and go
to London for an education. In 1965, Hult opened Education First (EF) with
the belief that everyone should have an opportunity to learn. Today, EF’s
mission has broadened to include the breaking down of language, cultural and
geographical barriers through education.
Headquartered in Lucerne, Switzerland, EF has
26,000 employees in 53 countries that provide services including educational travel, foreign exchange
programs, language schools, Smithsonian tours,
volunteer travel groups and more.
But EF is not just selling travel or language
lessons; the company strives to bring about international understanding through economic and cultural
education. EF sits on the P21 (Partnership for 21st
Century Skills) board with companies like Apple,
Hewlett Packard, Microsoft and Discovery Education, which believe in preparing students for a global
economy. As a reminder of its mission to break down
barriers and unite communities, outside the 850-
person North American headquarters in Cambridge,
Mass., sits a multi-ton piece of the Berlin Wall.
So how does the largest private, educational
travel company in the world market itself? EF relies
heavily on basic DR: word of mouth.
“We like to think of ourselves as solar panels
collecting and recollecting the energy,” says Erik
Qualman, Cambridge, Mass.-based global vice president of online marketing for EF Educational Tours.
Qualman joined EF after working in E-business
for companies such as Travelzoo and Yahoo!, and
recently spoke at Response Expo 2008 in San Diego.
Because of the company’s enormous consumer
base, EF looks to former participants, students,
teachers and lovers of travel to spread the news.
Internally, the marketing team works with public
relations to get write-ups in local newspapers about
teachers participating in programs. The EF staff also
reaches out to these teachers as much as possible to
continue an ongoing grass roots campaign.
“If a teacher has a meeting with parents of kids
going on these trips, we’ll have a staff member there
to help walk them through it,” Qualman says. This
includes answering travel questions and administering fundraising programs. But the teachers and
students do most of the marketing. “Teachers want
to fill their bus or plane. Most of them know what a
great experience traveling is for kids,” Qualman adds.
EF does use some traditional DR marketing, such
as buying lists and creating brochures — but its new-est focus is in DR-style marketing online, Qualman’s
expertise. “We’re leveraging the power of the Web
now that everything is digital,” he says.
The best example of a successful digital DR campaign is EF’s College Break program (EFCB). The
EFCB program began three years ago with the idea
that a company entrenched in educational travel
should offer assistance for college-aged backpackers.