FIELD MARKETING: Investing in the Field - Who are the holding companies that have bought up the world's hottest field marketing agencies, and which are the agencies desperate to hold on to their independence? Ken Gofton investigates

Camelot took to the road recently, as part of the multimillion-pound relaunch of the National Lottery. At five big shopping centres around the country, TV personalities and presenters fronted two-day Lotto events, inviting members of the public to show off their talents on stage.

The brand experience specialist RPM devised the roadshows with Camelot's incumbent below-the-line agency, Hicklin Slade.

For RPM this is just the latest in a series of high-profile, face-to-face projects for blue-chip brands. The nine-year-old agency ranks just outside the field marketing industry's top ten. As one of the sector's leading independents, it has found itself being courted by many would-be partners.

"Everyone is trying to work out a different model for marketing services, RPM's managing director, Ross Urquhart, says. "We've had approaches from below-the-line agencies, from communications groups, even from a US capital provider trying to assemble a new group. But ultimately we think, why would we want to do this? We're becoming renowned for saying no."

Many of the global communications groups now have a stake in field marketing, often as a by-product of bigger deals. Through its acquisition of BMP DDB, Omnicom owns Europe's biggest field marketing network, CPM. Cordiant's purchase of Healthworld brought Headcount into its fold. Havas increased its interests in field marketing when it bought Snyder, primarily for Arnold Advertising and Brann.

Others have so far steered clear of the sector. Publicis has no major involvement, although its London sales promotion agency, Triangle, has a field marketing offshoot, Lime, and the merger with Bcom3 will bring an agency with its own field marketing arm IMP into the fold.

WPP has also failed to invest in the sector. This, the group chief executive, Sir Martin Sorrell, acknowledges, "was a mistake". That's not a signal that WPP is about to turn its big guns toward field marketing, but it is an admission that the industry has skills and disciplines that would sit happily with the group's specialist retail consultancies.

The one global group that has made a conscious strategy to get into field marketing is Interpublic. Through McCann-Erickson, it has established an international network under the Momentum banner, uniting field marketing, sales promotion, events, sponsorship and point-of-purchase.

This is not a field marketing strategy, it is an "experiential" strategy, Chris Weil, Momentum's regional director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, insists. "We look at the consumer experience of the brand and how we can influence it."

The conclusion must be that the global groups are at best lukewarm about field marketing. They're not diving into this pool with the same enthusiasm they showed for direct marketing or PR. Why is this, given that it's a profitable enough business with strong growth?

First, it's not a huge sector. In the UK, one of the more developed markets, total turnover is about £400 million.

Nor, with the exceptions of Momentum, Omnicom's CPM and the German independent, Walter Marketing, are the companies international.

Also, perceptions are confused because field marketing is a loose term covering two or three distinct businesses. As Tony Bond, the senior consultant at Results Business Consulting, explains: "The big divide is between those who are presenting the brand to the consumer, and those who focus on retail outlets and are, in effect, doing merchandising and retail research."

The common factor is face-to-face contact, whether that's with the shopper, the householder or the trade. Logistics, data collection and managing large numbers of people are the skills important to a field marketing agency.

It's at the opposite end of the spectrum to advertising.

From the big groups' perspective, field marketing is yet another service they can offer to increase their share of client budgets. However, lower down the chain there is mutual suspicion and lack of understanding between the different types of agencies.

One reason why Urquhart has so far rejected all takeover approaches is that "even working with other agencies on integrated campaigns, we find they don't understand our medium".

Barnett Fletcher is even more outspoken. Now the chairman of Jump and Promostaffuk.com, Fletcher was the founder of the roadshow specialist Barnett Fletcher Promotions, an early acquisition by McCann's Momentum, but quit with colleagues to launch Jump and Promostaffuk.com.

"It comes down to a fundamental fear, he says. "Field marketing is about delivering tangible results to clients, and knowing how much product is shifted off the shelves. Ad agencies are afraid to expose their clients to this, because it costs a fraction of what it costs to put on a TV campaign, and it's measurable."

Little integration exists between advertising and field marketing. Even Omnicom's CPM is on record as saying that it works more closely with the group's DM agencies, WWAV Rapp Collins and Claydon Heeley Jones Mason, than it does with its ad agencies.

Mike Garnham, the managing director of Headcount Worldwide, believes the problem is that each business unit is judged on its own performance.

"Within Cordiant, there's regular dialogue, Garnham says, "but among above-the-line and integrated agencies, thoughts of field marketing rarely come to the fore, whether they have a sister field marketing agency or not."

"Mixing field marketing with above the line is infrequent, I would have to say, Kathryn Smith, the managing director of the Havas subsidiary Ellert Field Marketing, adds. "But they know who we are and what our credentials are."

In May, Ellert's sister agency, Merchandising Sales Force, completed a management buyout from Havas, after 16 years as a subsidiary.

David Carter, Merchandising Sales Force's managing director, expects little change. "We saw little direct benefit because we had so little contact with the above-the-line agencies, he explains. "We talk to different people in the client companies. Chalk and cheese, in other words."

But the fact that advertising and field marketing may be at opposite ends of the marketing spectrum is no reason for the big groups to ignore a growing sector. And integration can work - Stella Artois, Nestle, Unilever and Coca-Cola are among the clients Momentum shares with McCann-Erickson.

"All of the big groups say they can provide everything the marketer needs, Bond says. "And I see the importance of field marketing to clients. Having someone waving the brand in front of the consumer has to be taken seriously."

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