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Agencies are centralising their European operations into one network to maintain consistent brand values. But it’s a delicate balance as local differences must be taken into account, says Rob Furber

Pan-European promotion schemes used to be considered a logistical nightmare. Different cultures, varied legislation and he prosepct of dealing with individual agencies in each country made delivering a consistent programme across Europe a near impossible task.

But that has started to change, as Europe becomes recognised as a distinct entity and agencies rise to the challenge that to be successful, they may need to centralise their marketing activities. Running a scheme from one central point can act as a quality control and help maintain consistency.

Field marketing company EMS Chiara has reaped the benefits of owning and controlling a European network, and recently clinched a deal with IBM.

A number of EMS Chiara businesses had previously been working with IBM on a country by country basis. Over the past year, however, EMS Chiara has been buying up the sub-contracted companies in its network, so it now has one agency capable of executing a marketing plan in 20 countries across Europe. The agency’s main focus is to ensure that IBM has consistent brand values communicated throughout Europe.

Richard Thompson, EMS Chiara chairman, says this type of co-ordinated activity had been far more difficult to carry out until now.

He adds: “Previously, you would sub-contract the work to other agencies but some are more advanced than others, which would result in a huge inconsistency in the quality of the output.

“We’ve bought agencies of the same quality, so from Peterborough to Paris you get a consistent level of information and a similar calibre of person. You can insist on certain quality measures and prioritise things in a way you couldn’t before.”

However, it is still important to allow some local market autonomy to develop a promotion which matches its market precisely. Each country will have differing needs, requiring an agency to tailor marketing activities accordingly. One of the biggest challenges of multinational promotions is to develop the basic promotional techniques which can be adapted across different cultures, laws and languages.

Derek Smith, UK sales manager at The Continuity Company, explains that it had to devise different marketing techniques for each country when it ran a recent scratchcard programme to support Spar’s sponsorship of European athletics. He says: “It was about taking a concept and tailoring it to individual territories, not creating a single property and rolling it out.”

Meeting brand requirements

Requirements may vary from one country to another because a brand is at different stages in its development. Andrew Kingham, European client services director of The Marketing Store Worldwide, says: “When creating a pan-European campaign, it is dangerous to assume that any given brand is at the same life stage in all the target countries.

“The way we work is to compile a series of templates or a matrix of techniques, as well as price structure, point of sale and all the supporting elements. Each market can pick and choose the level of investment the brand requires, the price structure and the particular market conditions needed to support that brand.

“That’s the only way to do it. Otherwise, you could be running a developed market promotion in a country where the brand is only six months old.”

However, John Shaw, managing director of European agencies at Brann Direct, believes brands should decide what their key positioning is and make that work across all countries. He cites the example of J&B whiskey, which now has the same brand positioning across Europe whereas five years ago it was a deluxe brand in one market and a normal brand in others.

Brann’s US clients are also increasingly viewing Europe as one market and don’t want the high cost of localising activity. Shaw says: “Having a single budget allocated for Europe means you don’t need to have offices in every country. They get in the way, drive up costs and slow things down.”

But a local agency can offer expertise on legislation and will have a far better understanding of other sticking points such as language and the use of graphics.

The Marketing Store Worldwide recently developed an instant win scratchcard for a Star Wars promotion across Europe. However, in Holland, for example, instant wins or games of pure chance are deemed illegal, so while a scratchcard could still be used, the win procedure had to be altered.

Knowing the law

Companies also need to have an awareness of the vagaries of working in non-EC countries such as Switzerland, for example, where there are different requirements for public liability, health and safety at promotional events.

With direct mail, things are more complicated, particularly when it comes to data protection laws.

Brann’s Shaw says: “With a direct mail pack, you may have a number of different offers you can choose from so that the offer is relevant and legal in that country. But you’re still working from the premise of having one platform and one communication across Europe.”

Although the consensus among agencies is that legislation is not a large obstacle, a basic mistake that they make is to develop a piece of creative work and tell everyone to run with it regardless of borders.

The Continuity Company’s Smith says: “It doesn’t work like that at a local level. We can take the concept and adjust the creativite to take account of those local nuances. The agencies which succeed are those able to set international programmes and execute them in a way that reflects local needs without compromising the overall synergy.”

EMS Chiara’s Thompson agrees. “US companies make a classic mistake in the packaged goods market when they say, ‘Here’s this point of sale, use it in France or Spain’. That’s madness,” he says.

Agencies need to be especially careful if a promotion involves graphics. Pictures can mean one thing in one country and quite another somewhere else. Failure to recognise this can end up truly damaging a brand.

While local cultures and customs are not an insurmountable barrier, problems posed by language involve more than getting the translation right.

Events agency RPM has been co-ordinating the Camel Trophy roadshow across Europe on behalf of Worldwide Brands Incorporated (WBI). Simon Davies, RPM European project manager, explains: “With Switzerland being a trilingual country, we had to be sensitive not to go with either French, German or Italian because two groups would be offended in each case. So we kept to English.”

For the roadshow to work, RPM had to use a modular design for the promotion trailers so graphics could be changed around according to the country. RPM also had to develop relationships with the market co-ordinators responsible for WBI in each country.

Davies says: “The main difficulty is having to depend on other agencies. The way to solve that is to develop a relationship with them early on, but it’s a question of relying on other people to carry out the tasks you are dictating.”

Overlooking the obstacles

The obstacles agencies encounter vary according to the type of activity being carried out and the product, service or event that is being promoted. However, if an agency has some experience of pan-European marketing activity and knows the potential pitfalls, Shaw believes it’s not as difficult as some suggest.

“You can run a pan-European campaign from one centre but the big European networks claim you need local input. Some have a vested interest in saying that managing their programmes is difficult and therefore they need to use local offices. They use local expertise as a basis for their pitch to justify their local agencies involvement,” he says.

Globalisation is also leading to less brand disparity, making the logistics of European promotions far easier. Some agencies also believe it’s good news for pan-European schemes that the currency is becoming unified.

Thompson says: “Everyone is paid in euros. In the past, budgets would come over in dollars, get converted into pounds and then re-converted back into the local currency, which is a nightmare. If you took the wrong hedge on a currency, six months on, that could take your margin. A common currency definitely helps.”

Campaigns which can be tailored to cultural group will have a better chance of success. But if some agencies insist, and many still do, on imposing a single base marketing technique, promotions will obviously work well in some countries but be destined to fail in others.

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