Lifting the Veil

A recent survey revealed woeful ignorance about the field marketing industry. In response, the DMA is preparing to educate clients and agencies and set new industry standards.

The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) recently hosted a summit meeting for members and non-members of the Field Marketing Council (FMC) to discuss why field marketing is so misunderstood.

The breakfast gathering at the DMA’s offices was called after the results of a survey, commissioned by the DMA, found that not only were clients and agencies unclear about the services field marketing companies offer, but members of the FMC could not agree either.

Questionnaires were sent to 1,100 nominated DMA representatives and, although there were only 53 replies (five per cent) – 31 from agencies mostly involved in direct marketing and 22 from clients in the mail order, publishing, financial services and charity sectors – the results were an eye-opener for the industry.

Fifty-five per cent of agencies and 69 per cent of clients said they did not know what services field marketing companies provided, and to make matters worse, they could not agree on what these should be. Only 32 per cent of clients, compared with 65 per cent of agencies, regarded merchandising – arguably the seed from which the entire sector has grown – as applicable. Auditing also rated low, with about 20 per cent of respondents identifying it as a field marketing activity.

All the field marketing companies questioned defined their primary activities as encompassing auditing, merchandising, mystery shopping, demonstrations, sampling and sales drives. But there was no agreement on whether they should also be involved in concourse promotion, leafleting, door-to-door selling, events, roadshows and market research.

The likely outcome of the meeting is that those companies that had previously refused to join the Field Marketing Association – as it was known before the link with the DMA in April last year – will be persuaded to join the FMC and make use of the DMA’s wealth of resources to raise awareness of their industry.

Kate Carr, managing director of FMCG, which in the past declined to join the FMA, says that after attending the DMA meeting, she is “actively considering” getting involved to correct perceptions of field marketing services.

“What surprised me was how field marketing companies perceive their own role, so it is hardly surprising agencies and clients are confused. If we see signs that things are beginning to move in the right direction within the DMA we are prepared to be involved,” she says.

Carr also wants to see the FMC introduce adequate industry standards – a view shared by another non-FMC member, Brann Ellert, which sent a representative to the DMA’s “clear the air” meeting.

Rob Ellert, managing director of Brann Ellert, a founder member of the FMA, says he has not ruled out rejoining but a condition would be that the FMC protects members from companies which do not offer the same employment benefits or IT facilities as established businesses.

“We do need to stop the siren that has been heard in the sector for years that people do not understand field marketing. I do not want to be seen as someone standing in the corner stomping my feet, but the DMA must actively begin to introduce some form of industry kitemark,” he says.

Even CPM, which has merged with Intelmark, is considering rejoining the representative trade body after leaving when the FMA got into bed with the DMA in April last year. CPM managing director Tom Preece now believes that all field marketing companies and the 17 councils under the DMA umbrella have to work more closely together.

Preece says: “We are thinking about rejoining the FMC to get the industry’s message across. Everyone within the DMA must consider how they can help each other. For instance, telemarketing is part of our industry as it is a substitute for face-to-face marketing, so it makes sense for different councils to come together formally or informally.”

For DMA chief executive Colin Lloyd, the comments from non-members are encouraging. He says field marketing’s role of identifying consumers has put companies at the sharp end of direct marketing, and the sector has moved on significantly from its traditional roots of organising in-store demonstrations and merchandising.

Lloyd says: “It is time to remove the veil from the industry, and I am confident that by the end of the year the FMC will better reflect the field marketing sector.

“Field marketing agencies are already well-run, profitable companies with the industry growing at about 30 per cent a year. Through the DMA they can clarify in the eyes of agencies and clients exactly what they do,” he says.

A percentage of the DMA’s marketing and PR budget will be allocated to educating agencies and clients about the benefits of using field marketing companies more frequently or even for the first time.

The research revealed that 50 per cent of agencies would not use field marketing because they did not think it was relevant to the services they provide – although 29 per cent admitted they did not know enough about it.

Joining the curriculum

Lloyd stresses that in the medium term at least there will be no need for additional financial contributions from members to fund the education programme. Field marketing is also being included within the DMA’s training schedule where previously it was not even mentioned, while a series of seminars examining the different aspects of field marketing are planned for later in the year.

The survey confirmed for the FMC what many within the industry had felt for years. Alison Williams, managing director of FDS and chairwoman of the FMC, says the initiatives being put in place will help agencies and clients to determine whether field marketing is relevant for them.

The FMC is working on a document defining the term “field marketing” and the disciplines it represents. The content will be decided democratically among DMA members – which is why it is important for new companies to come into the fold, says Williams. The document should be unveiled in September, when the FMC expects to launch best practice guidelines.

Before a definitive guide can be published, however, field marketers must decide whether to change the name of their industry. The FMC must choose between spending time and money on educating people about the existing term’s meaning or on starting from scratch with a new name. Suggestions have included people marketing, live communications and face-to-face marketing.

Williams says: “The industry must take much of the blame for how it is perceived by others, but it has changed significantly over the past three or four years. There is more of a sales bias nowadays. The enormous education process the DMA is faced with means that if we do change the name, we must get it right.”

Specialisation within field marketing agencies could make devising a new name difficult. Some businesses are expected to concentrate on event marketing and sales and promotional activities, while others will focus on data collection.

The small number of clients and agencies in the survey which regard auditing as part of field marketing caused most alarm within the DMA.

Headcount Field Marketing managing director Richard Finch says this is surprising because auditing is one of the fastest-growing areas. “We need to make people aware that we are working in stores day in, day out collecting data. We can collect information on a Monday morning and have it on a client’s desk by Tuesday,” he says.

Extending into sales

The outsourcing of client sales teams is another discipline the field marketing industry wants to expand. One of Headcount’s clients is Trebor Bassett, which uses field marketing for outlet profiling and to temporarily fill vacant sales territory within its 140-strong sales force.

Trebor Bassett general sales manager Fin Coffey says: “We employ field marketing for everything from merchandising to auditing, but it has to be remembered that it is sometimes more flexible to use an in-house team because it can react on a day-to-day basis much better than if everything has been outsourced long term.”

The DMA’s awareness campaign will aim to increase business among clients and agencies which already use field marketing, and reach those that are unaware of what services are offered. Raising the industry’s profile will undoubtedly boost its performance.

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