Depleted field

For years, the field marketing industry’s trade body, the Field Marketing Association (FMA), has been a source of consternation. Set up about eight years ago, three of the largest field marketing companies are not even members.

The FMA has just become more controversial. At the beginning of the month it became the Field Marketing Council and moved under the ever growing umbrella of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA).

That’s not all. The largest field marketing company in the country, CPM Field Marketing, which has a turnover at least double that of the next biggest player, has decided not to move with the FMA to the DMA. In effect, it has resigned as a member of the trade association.

Companies representing two-thirds of the industry’s income and market share are working outside the FMC trade body. CPM, which has devoted itself to the FMA for the past eight years, both in terms of time and money, now finds itself without a trade association.

CPM sales and marketing director Nick Fennell is diplomatic: “We felt it was not appropriate for us to join the DMA. “We don’t want to align ourselves with the DMA. If it’s the right thing for the FMA to be a member of the DMA, then we are supportive of it.”

Fennell would not be drawn on why CPM is keeping its distance from the DMA. It has been suggested that, as one of the founding members of the FMA, some at CPM balked at the idea of seeing their creation amalgamated with it.

The DMA has more than 700 members and is becoming increasingly diverse. The association manages itself – and its diverse members – through a series of councils devoted to sectors within the direct marketing industry. Each has an elected chairman, but also a manager who is employed by the DMA. The council managers meet regularly to discuss issues and developments within their council.

You have to wonder how big a voice the ten-member council FMA will have within a powerful association devoted to the direct marketing industry. Richard Thompson, chairman of EMS, ranked about tenth and also not a member of the FMA, puts it more bluntly: “For an industry growing as fast as ours is, it is frustrating to see its association being reduced to a council.”

He also questions the fit with the DMA. “Field marketing is face-to-face marketing. It is a very grey area where field marketing ends and sales promotion begins. Surely it would have made more sense for the FMA to link with the Institute of Sales Promotion (ISP).”

DMA chief executive Colin Lloyd disagrees. “There are huge regulatory issues which affect field marketing and direct marketing. There is the Door Step Selling Directive and the Working Time Directive – both affect members of the DMA and the field marketing industry. It is surely more beneficial to have one strong voice than a whole lot of disparate ones,” he says.

Commenting on the absence of the four major field marketing companies from the FMC (Lloyd was not aware of CPM’s decision to pull out until he was told by Marketing Week), he says: “I hope these organisations will take the time and opportunity to hear from me what we will be doing.”

But Lloyd is nevertheless sanguine: “Not everyone is a member of my golf club, but I’m still enjoying myself.”

Nevertheless, even those who are sceptical of the move, and disappointed with the FMA as a whole, have nothing but admiration for its chairwoman Alison Williams – also managing director of FDS. She comments: “I believe the FMA has achieved its initial two objectives: to establish codes of conduct for the industry and promote and develop the role of field marketing. We realised we needed to take the next step. We needed a public relations department, a secretariat, representation in Brussels regarding employment law, as well as legal representation on employment and other issues. There were two ways we could do this. We could go it alone or join with someone else.

“If we did it alone, that would have had enormous time and cost implications, so that was voted out by the members. We decided to investigate joining another body and we chose the DMA for a number of reasons.

“The DMA offered all the things we wanted and also has a proven track-record. Also, there is nothing more direct in marketing than talking to someone face to face. We felt there was a lot of synergy.”

Steve McQuillan, chief executive of FMCG, which is ranked third in the industry, explains why it has never become a member of the FMA because: “A trade body should be about setting industry-wide standards and developing best practise levels. The FMA also didn’t have strict enough barriers to entry.

“We would actively join a good trade body, but up until now the FMA has not impressed us.”

Aspen Field Marketing joint managing director Gary MacManus says the FMA has been “a lead-generating body, as opposed to a profile-promoting body.”

MacManus says he is primarily interested in developing qualifications for his staff, and for that reason he has “been spending a lot of money with the ISP and its diploma course. It is the closest affiliated association that I can spend my money with. It disappoints us that the FMA has not provided this.”

FMA chairwoman Alison Williams dismisses such criticisms: “There were barriers to entry to the FMA. You had to be nominated and seconded by current members and also show accounts for the past two years. There were people who applied who were not accepted.

“We also had codes of conduct which people had0 to sign, as well as disciplinary procedures if those are breached,” she adds.

Williams believes there are other reasons why some companies do not want to be members of the FMA. “In any association, there may be very large companies that are going to gain least from their membership. It really depends on how you approach it. You can say ‘Am I going to put something into this?’ or ‘Do I only want to get something out?’

“CPM was happy to understand that it would not get much out of the FMA, but wanted to contribute to it. It has to do with attitudes and personalities. I know there were some people who said they were unhappy to sit around a table with their competitors.”

Williams admits she is disappointed CPM will no longer be part of the association: “CPM is part of Omnicom and I think there was a senior corporate decision that a lot of the facilities that the DMA offers were actually available in-house.”

That may be what Williams has been told, but the fact is the DMA is littered with Omnicom-owned companies, notably WWAV Rapp Collins.

And, as diplomatic as CPM’s Fennell is trying to be, he is under no illusion about what the FMA’s future might have been, despite a valiant and benevolent effort on CPM’s part. “I think the pertinent question is: ‘Would there still be an FMA if it had not joined with the DMA?'” he asks.

Even if the FMA has been saved by the DMA, this still leaves a question mark over the band of major field marketers who are outside its remit.

Both Aspen Field Marketing and FMCG were surprised by the DMA move, not least because they thought they would have been told about it before it happened.

Both MacManus and McQuillan are not committing themselves either. Both say they will employ a “wait and see” attitude before deciding on their next move.

Thompson is a little more forthcoming. “I would say this is a case of ‘watch this space’. I don’t think the big guys will stand back and let this happen without doing something themselves. It boils down to the fact that if you haven’t got the major players as members then you haven’t got an association.

“This is an opening for someone to capitalise on the malaise. I will not be standing back and waiting to see what happens. The industry needs a proper voice, and I will be digging deeper to see what we can come up with.”

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