If you compile a list of industries in which the UK leads the world you would probably include pharmaceuticals, telecommunications and music. Yet there is one less glamorous trade in which we are undeniably ahead of all other nations.
The UK field marketing industry has grown into a &£667m business (DMA Census 2003/04) as more brands search for innovative ways to ensure their consumers can – and do – buy their products.
On the back of this success, some of the more ambitious agencies are transferring their sampling, merchandising and brand experience skills overseas to help clients run European and global retail in-store campaigns.
However, adapting for an international market an activity which has worked well in UK supermarkets from Blackpool to Bournemouth is rarely straightforward.
There can be significant differences in retail and social cultures to overcome, while language barriers and unfamiliar working practices and regulations must also be taken into account. Brands considering entering the ten new European Union member states such as Poland, Latvia or Hungary, for instance, must be prepared to work in what are very fragmented retail markets, where consumers are paid relatively low wages.
CPM International chief operating officer Eddie Phillips has more than two decades of field marketing experience. He has spent the past year developing CPM’s business in Germany, which is probably the second-biggest market for field marketing in Europe, and says brands and agencies can expect a steep learning curve when implementing campaigns abroad.
“Some clients think it is simply a case of copying UK sampling and merchandising work, e-mailing the idea to a European office and watching things get done. They make the mistake of using trade terms and jargon which will not be understood in different countries. US clients in particular need to be educated, because many marketers across the Atlantic think of Europe as one big market,” he says.
Wise old heads
The maturity of the UK industry is one of the main reasons why campaigns designed to cross national borders tend to be overseen from a head office in this country. CPM has 22 offices worldwide, but its sales and merchandising work on behalf of Hewlett-Packard in 35 countries, including Russia, Israel and South Africa, is controlled from these shores.
Such a policy is often crucial to ensure activity runs smoothly, especially if clients have not aligned their marketing strategies for different countries. “If the central field marketing brief is distributed to separate brand teams across Europe they will want to add their own bells and whistles. This creates tension between the different client offices and between them and our representatives, pushing up costs. It is better if we pull everything together from the UK,” says Phillips.
Unlike CPM, most UK field marketing businesses that are brave enough to venture overseas prefer to set up strategic partnerships with foreign agencies rather than open their own offices abroad. They will usually select a partner from a roster of companies based on a client’s specific needs, and then manage a campaign from their head office in the UK.
Headcount is currently working in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden. It signs individual contracts with its partner agencies and has a single agreement with the client, so the marketing director deals with only one senior agency manager.
Sales and marketing director Julia Collis says the UK field marketing industry’s years of experience means clients trust companies such as Headcount to recruit suitable associates that will have a good understanding of retail, consumer and legislative issues in their own country.
“We retain management responsibility and collate data information for the whole exercise. We agree data requirements and oversee local market translations to ensure they match the requirements of the original market, which is usually the UK,” she says. “It is important we manage the relationship with the client, so a single message is disseminated to all countries and there are no secrets. Problems occur when accountability is offloaded and not delegated correctly.”
Former Headcount managing director Mike Garnham has a wealth of international experience, having established offices for Headcount in Australia, the US and Singapore. He also introduced field marketing to Vietnam. Garnham returned to the field marketing scene in February with a new company called 24/7 and, with funding from venture capitalists, he is looking for UK field marketing companies to acquire and link with foreign agencies.
Variations between nations
Garnham says UK clients must understand that marketers and suppliers in different countries will always have their own way of working. “The Germans and the Americans have a similar approach to us in that they will agree deadlines and, usually, deliver on time. When dealing with certain other countries clients must be prepared for things not to happen so quickly,” he says. “Italy and Turkey are probably the most relaxed, but clients should not be put off working in these countries. You just need to find the right partner, ensure you do not get ripped off and have sensible payment terms in place. This usually means paying by results, so suppliers have an incentive to deliver.”
Many brands are looking to increase their sales in fast- growing China. Field marketing is taking off in a big way in this territory as brands react to the rising cost and growing fragmentation of traditional media in this huge market.
However, it can be difficult for UK clients to provide retail support for their brands away from the major urban centres on China’s eastern coast, so it is logistically challenging to run campaigns simultaneously in a number of Chinese cities. Government regulations also vary from province to province.
Communications solutions and field marketing business Tarantula has been working in China for five years. David King, general manager and operations director of Tarantula Asia, says there are plenty of pitfalls to beware of.
“The primary downside is supervision. If field marketing staff in China are not closely supervised, they will do as little as they can to get paid. Turning up late, taking an extended lunch and leaving early are common problems so it is essential to have a high supervisor-to-staff ratio to keep these problems under control,” he warns.
He adds that many local companies in China also employ part-time staff and pay them on a cash-in-hand basis to avoid income and social taxes. “For international field marketing companies, which follow employment legislation to the letter, it can mean costs are significantly higher than those of local competitors, and this can put off some Chinese clients.”
A lack of high-quality suppliers of promotional and merchandising material can also be frustrating. “In the UK, one phone call followed by a meeting is usually enough for a supplier to meet most of the briefing requirements. In China, it takes multiple phone calls, multiple meetings and then regular meetings throughout the programme to ensure full compliance and to resolve the inevitable issues that arise along the way,” says King.
He says the way to succeed in China is to keep things simple because so many languages are spoken, and to ensure promotional messages are believable because Chinese consumers take product messages and claimed benefits very seriously.
Tarantula also operates in Russia, where it has experienced problems with staff quality and reliability. There is also considerable bureaucracy involved in securing licences to carry out on-street activity, while many retailers are reluctant to get involved in any promotional activity.
“Field marketing in Russia is probably at the level it was in the UK 20 years ago, but it is now an important part of the below-the-line marketing industry in the country,” says Tarantula Russia general manager Mark Huntley.
Tarantula has worked with the Miller Genuine Draft brand in Russia. The on-trade activity involved a six-week loyalty programme for bar staff working in the HoReCa chain. Staff had to collect bottle-tops, maintain strict merchandising standards and keep point- of-purchase material visible.
The public of Ireland
Much closer to home, many brands are keen to undertake field marketing work in the Republic of Ireland, where they assume there will be few barriers. However, compliance auditing company TKD-Audit says there still needs to be a comfortable relationship between the field rep, the retailer and the consumer.
“Our research reveals that when local people are involved in sampling in Ireland the results are better than when a UK team goes in. The Irish team can talk to people more comfortably, because they appreciate the local culture. They can use and understand local slang, for instance,” says managing director Toby Knightley-Day.
With more than 60 per cent of British trade now with non-English-speaking countries, attention to language and culture can make a significant difference when selling overseas. Brands that also exploit the vast experience of the UK field marketing industry may well have an additional advantage.