We caught up with one of our Founders, Andrew Mulholland to hear more about his tips for EdTech success, future marketing predictions, and what it was like working with Lord Sugar and Bob Geldof.
How did you get into marketing in education?
I come from a family of teachers, so education was a frequent topic of discussion (and heated debate) around the dinner table when I was growing up. I even spent a few years teaching English in Italy, but eventually fell into working for education suppliers. After getting my Masters, I started my career as a Schools Marketing Specialist for Sir Alan Sugar’s IT solutions provider, Viglen. It was actually my TWP partner Stuart who recruited me for that role back in 1999!
What I love about marketing is understanding what makes people tick and coming up with creative solutions to complex problems. Working in education is a hugely worthwhile cause, especially when we help bring products to market that change the way young people of all abilities learn, and make teachers’ lives easier.
Having worked in education for many years, how has EdTech changed the sector?
When I started working in education, the National Grid for Learning was in its infancy and huge amounts of money were being ploughed in to EdTech. Big software and hardware companies were pivoting to focus on the education vertical and started to drive the narrative. All of a sudden, schools had interactive whiteboards in every classroom and plush new computer suites – but most teachers didn’t know how to use them effectively across the curriculum.
Over 20 years on and many companies still struggle to position their product so that it resonates with their prospective customers’ objectives and fits in with their digital strategy and school or trust development plan.
Budgets are certainly much tighter now, and the purchasing landscape has changed significantly (with the demise of local authority control and the formation of trusts), but money is not the biggest obstacle for companies focused on education. The biggest challenge is bandwidth. There’s so much clutter out there and workload has never been so close to crisis point. Those who do not already have a recognisable brand, or a loyal customer base, will struggle to break through unless they have a succinct, differentiated proposition that tunes in keenly to the needs of the specific customer.
Do you think organisations need to change their marketing tactics?
Whilst marketing technology and communications channels have evolved hugely over the years, the foundations of great marketing haven’t changed. You still need to gain a deep understanding of your audience and business environment, have a solid plan well in advance, and execute within an inch of your life.
I’ve unfortunately seen a lot of businesses get marketing wrong. Marketing is absolutely essential to business success, and by using your budget to tightly align sales and marketing, you’ll be much more likely to see strong ROI. Investing resources into producing consistent great quality content is one of the pillars of good marketing. But not everything needs to be digital – I still feel there’s a place for print and events.
What’s your biggest tip for businesses trying to break into the education sector?
It’s a challenging environment and getting your message across in the education market is more difficult than ever. We always encourage our clients to invest in top quality content which is valuable to your customer. This isn’t new, it’s the approach we’ve taken for decades, but it’s absolutely crucial to breaking through in a congested space and getting your audience to engage.
It’s not enough to invest in one piece of content – and good content is an investment. You need to have a concerted, consistent pipeline of content throughout the year. All too often we see companies start-stop, over and over again. This causes their whole approach to stutter and they kill any momentum required to build authority and credibility over time.
Don’t forget that a longer-form piece of content can be cut many different ways and repurposed over and over again in a variety of formats, so you can absolutely derive value from your content investment over an extended period of time.
What’s the most enjoyable marketing project you’ve worked on?
I’ve worked on some really creative campaigns over the years, but the ‘IT anatomy’ poster series I did with Microsoft, Intel and Cisco is definitely one of my favourites. I designed six colourful, informative A1 posters over two years, which helped educate and demystify key IT topics. We had tens of thousands of requests for additional copies and they featured in classrooms up and down the country for years. In fact, until recently, one of them could be seen behind the reception during the end taxi scene in the Apprentice!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
A couple of things. My first ever Sales Director made it clear that the sales target was also my target – he was absolutely insistent that I be seamlessly aligned with sales. Another one of my early bosses impressed on me that the difference between ‘good’ and ‘exceptional’ is in the detail. Both very true and deeply ingrained in me to this day.
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
It’s impossible to pinpoint one individual who has had made the biggest impact on me during my career. I’ve been involved in meetings with the likes of Alan Sugar and Bob Geldof, who are larger than life characters who are hugely gifted, but they’re not the ones who made the biggest impression. Without doubt my parents have been the biggest inspiration in my life. They worked tirelessly to provide for my brothers and I and ensure we had opportunities that they weren’t fortunate enough to enjoy.
Why should people choose to work with The Wisdom Partnership?
Hands down it’s access to 80 years + of combined experience and expertise. We’ve had years of building our networks and skills, as well as making and learning from our mistakes, which means you don’t have to!
We always work with clients who share our values. We’re in this business because we’re passionate about making a difference, so we absolutely have to believe that our clients’ products and services will do just that.
We love helping businesses who have a great idea but are struggling to make it count. Maybe they initially had strong interest, but have reached a plateau and aren’t sure how to move to the next level. But we also do a lot to help brands that are growing by acquisition, as well as auditing and making recommendations to established businesses too.
What’s next for the Wisdom Partnership?
We didn’t anticipate how strong our first full trading year would be. Long may that continue!
It’s been great bringing together our shared experience working for a huge variety of brands in education during our careers.
We’ve got ambitious goals for the next five years, focusing on double-digit, year-on-year growth – but we intend to have a great deal of fun in the process too!
Got a question for Andrew?