The importance that clients have attached to sampling and roadshows in recent years has done much to boost the profile of field marketing as a sector, and RPM continues to dominate the so-called 'experiential' arena with innovative, eye-catching events.
The agency has prospered this year, despite tough market conditions, winning an impressive £4.3m of new and incremental business on a 2002 turnover of £6.8m. It has also continued to push the boundaries of brand experience as a discipline, as clients start to make it core to their below-the-line marketing.
RPM's determination to promote the strategic value of its work led it to turn down all agency commissions from 2002. This bold move inevitably caused a dip in income, but the agency has since come back in strength, growing by 25% in its financial year to March and by up to 35% in the past 12 months.
New wins totalling £2.8m include Martini, O2 and Wall's Ice Cream. RPM has also increased existing contracts by £1.5m, with extended activity for Unilever, Marks & Spencer and others. And twice as much business is being planned for 2004 as this time last year, according to managing director Ross Urquhart.
RPM continues to play a pioneering role in promoting the effectiveness of brand experience to clients. It commissioned an independent survey among top marketers to reveal how the discipline is perceived and used.
Measurability is one of field marketing's key advantages, and RPM co-funds efforts to encourage robust evaluation in the industry. With Continental Research it has developed its own evaluation tool to isolate the consumer impact of brand experiences from other marketing activity.
"There is a buzz that comes from knowing that the excitement we create for people translates directly into the changes in brand attitude or behaviour our clients look for," says Urquhart.
An in-store campaign to bring to life Cafe Culture, Marks & Spencer's ready meals brand, resulted in an average sales uplift of 48% across all stores. Staff dressed as waiters handed out branded scratchcards featuring mystery symbols, the meaning of which could only be revealed at the chiller cabinet. There, consumers could discover whether they had won instant prizes.
Targeting a young female audience for Martini Vermouth, the agency created a lively 'Italian Piazza' experience at large consumer events and shopping malls. Italian-looking staff were recruited to offer women a 'Martini moment', and the campaign included a prize draw of a trip to Italy, money-off coupons and cocktail booklets. Forty thousand highly targeted names and addresses were collected for the brand's direct marketing activity, four times its goal for the year.
RPM also specialises in entertainment events, such as the Strongbow Rooms, which it created for music festivals and Ibiza clubs, complete with raised dancefloor, table football, bar and DJs. This sampling activity led to 32% of consumers going on to buy the cider brand an average four times in the month following their experience, generating more than £1m in extra sales.
Similarly, the agency created beach parties at UK music festivals for Wall's ice cream, using large quantities of sand furnished with deckchairs, palm trees, a cocktail bar, DJ booth and dancefloor. The area was covered with a giant canopy, which lit up from the inside at night, providing an ideal setting for all-night partying.
Research showed an 89% prompted recall by festival visitors, with 59% subsequently having a better opinion of Wall's and 56% having talked about the experience with friends.
To build awareness of the National Lottery and its good causes, the agency created a Fun Fest for events in Leeds, Birmingham and Bournemouth. This involved a separate 'village' alongside the main stage that showcased regional beneficiaries.
The events reached an audience of 240,000 on the ground, and a further 11 million through regional advertising and PR coverage. In post-event research, 84% of visitors said they had gained a better understanding of the role of the National Lottery in supporting good causes and 69% felt more positive toward it.
Clients need to be assured of quality, and to help guarantee this, RPM has appointed full-time quality control managers to mystery-shop live projects. Staff can be rewarded with on-the-spot cash bonuses for exceptional performances.
Other incentives include foreign travel. There have been trips to Cuba to photograph street life, and staff working on the Martini campaign spent a weekend on an Italian country estate immersing themselves in the brand and Italian culture.
The agency's creative excellence has been recognised with six industry awards, including the Best Live Event Grand Prix at the 2003 Event Awards and Non Traditional Media Agency of the Year at The Gramias. Last month, RPM was ranked among the top 100 marketing employers by Marketing for a second year.
Robert McLuhan contributes to Marketing on the field marketing and telemarketing sectors. firstname.lastname@example.org.