FIELD MARKETING: Field marketing grows up - Ken Gofton explains how field marketing is busy creating a bigger and better-defined niche for itself in the industry

There's a bizarre fact about the UK field marketing industry that

isn't widely appreciated. Like other marketing service sectors, it's

seen many of its leading players swallowed up by international

communications groups. What's different with field marketing is that

this seems to have happened absent-mindedly, while the buyers were

concentrating on something else. Not so much impulse shopping, as "good

heavens, how did that get in the trolley?"



CPM, for example, is the UK's biggest field marketing agency, with a

turnover of £75 million. Taking its Continental sister companies

into account, it is also the biggest in Europe. It was bought by BMP,

which in turn was acquired by Omnicom.



"I think this was a case of Omnicom buying a desirable ad agency and

seeing what came along with it," CPM's managing director, Tom Preece,

says. "In that sense, it was accidental, but I don't think they've

regretted it."



In a similar way, Headcount suddenly found itself as part of Cordiant a

couple of years ago. "They weren't buying Headcount, they were buying

our parent, Healthworld, because they wanted to be in international

healthcare advertising," the managing director, Mike Garnham, notes.

"They weren't too sure where we fitted in, but we were making lots of

money - a large part of Healthworld's European profits came from

Headcount."



And the story is not so different with a third leading UK field

marketer, Ellert. Originally it was bought by the ill-fated US group

Snyder, which had its origins in field marketing and related

disciplines, while also nursing ambitions in creative communications.

When Snyder hit trouble, it put itself up for auction and was bought by

Havas Advertising, attracted to the direct marketing specialist Brann

and the Arnold advertising group.



Snyder decided that Ellert sat logically with Brann and rebranded it

accordingly: Brann Ellert. Havas, in a restructuring announced just

before Christmas, merged Brann's UK direct marketing agency with

ehsrealtime to form EHS Brann, while hiving off Ellert and Brann's

telemarketing arm, Contact. These two now report directly to Paris and

could, in time, be merged. Ellert director, Bruce Ellison, welcomes the

move, which frees up the company to work with other agencies.



It might be deduced from all this that the big, advertising-oriented

communications groups are a bit unsure about where field marketing fits

in the marketing mix. After all, there's a more obvious fit with

below-the-line disciplines such as sales promotion and direct

marketing.



DMB&B's SP agency, IMP, for example, has a field marketing division, and

so has Carlson Marketing. The Canadian below-the-line group Mosaic has

bought two UK field marketing agencies (FMCG and EMS Chiara), as well as

the DM/SP agencies ZGC and Stretch the Horizon. (This, though, is a

situation that the sector is watching with fascination: Mosaic has

aborted its plans to expand to the Continent and scrapped the original

UK agency names in favour of the Mosaic tag. Many of those who built

those businesses, such as Mark Zimmer at ZGC, Mark Sheard at Stretch the

Horizon, Mike Cottman and Steve McQuillan at FMCG, and Richard Thompson

at EMS Chiara, have left.)



Meanwhile, to the global communications groups, field marketing is

clearly one of the small sectors, with many one- and two-man operations,

but only three dozen or so agencies that regularly stand up to be

counted. Total UK turnover is unlikely to top £500 million, which

is about half the size of the market research industry.



At the same time, the term "field marketing" covers a lot of different

disciplines, from checking stock on retailers' shelves to handing out

samples at Waterloo Station. Some parts of the industry are struggling

to find alternative names, such as "brand presence", "last metre

marketing" and "experiential marketing".



The common factors that glue these together are skills in logistics,

data collection and, above all, managing a lot of people. It's very

different from the creative hothouse of a high-profile ad agency.



Yet field marketing is expanding fast, with UK growth rates of 30 to 35

per cent in 1999 and again in 2000. The communications groups are not

usually averse to growth, profits or grabbing as big a share of total

marketing budgets as they can.



Jim Surguy, the managing director of Results Business Consulting, is

probably involved in advising more agencies on takeover and merger

strategies than anyone else in the UK. He says: "Over the past two

years, my perception of the game has changed significantly. What you

might call 'brand experience' is now a serious part of the

communications mix. Given the amount of clutter in traditional media, I

think there are some big opportunities for continued growth."



Some of the major groups are now extremely interested in the sector,

Surguy adds. He rightly points to the McCann-Erickson group, which has

consciously put field marketing high on its shopping list.



The blame for coining the term "experiential marketing" lies with

McCann.



It has created a new UK agency, Momentum, based on four acquisitions

from closely allied disciplines: the roadshow specialist Barnet

Fletcher; the merchandising and auditor GSD; the sales promoter PDP; and

the point-of-purchase designer and distributor NDI.



All have been merged into one operation, to the point where the London

managing director, Derek Noakes, says: "We don't see any lines any more.

A brief comes in and we brainstorm it on the basis of what's best for

the brand."



And it's not just in the UK. Chris Weil, the regional director for

Europe, the Middle East and Africa, says that Momentum, launched in the

US in the mid-90s, now has more than 2,000 employees in 55 offices, and

a turnover of $200 million.



Weil says: "Where does the customer come into contact with the brand and

what is the experience? The model is very simple - sponsorship

marketing, event marketing, field and presence marketing, and sales

promotion. These together are experiential marketing. Our biggest

challenge is that we are the biggest in the world and no-one has heard

of us."



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