MRI International has just struck a pounds 6 million media deal
with global watch and jewellery brand Titan. This came hot on the heels
of a pounds 2 million agreement with JanSport.
But MRI isn’t a traditional media agency. So just what exactly is
And how does this ’corporate barter’ thing it keeps banging on about
To the uninitiated, corporate barter sounds at worst archaic and at best
faintly exotic. Images spring to mind of robed men swapping goats’ milk
for firewood. In fact, it is one of media’s fastest-growing sectors, and
MRI is arguably its most successful exponent.
In simplistic terms, corporate barter involves exchanging excess stock
for media space. But maybe it’s best to let Simon Lee, CEO of MRI
International (Europe), explain the concept.
’We are essentially a problem-solving company,’ he says. ’Our clients
are people who have redundant stock, whether it’s cars, golf clubs,
empty hotel rooms or unsold aircraft seats. We take this stock and
exchange it for media space, effectively increasing our clients’ media
This extracts value from the redundant stock and saves the client
several trips to the rubbish tip. But isn’t it just media for old
’There’s never anything dodgy about the products,’ Lee stresses. ’They
may be last season’s line, or branded with a finished promotion. But
they still do the job.’
And from the media owners’ point of view, corporate barter often gives
them the first sniff at a new client. But the key to MRI’s success - and
probably to the future of corporate barter - is the creative
’For instance, Proton sold us some cars but stipulated that they could
not be resold, because it would have upset their distribution
We traded them to GMTV, which used them in a competition. So the cars
didn’t get sold, GMTV got competition prizes, and Proton got good
Corporate barter took off in the US during the recession, when companies
found themselves with unsold stock. MRI was one of the first companies
to transform those dusty crates into trading units.
Lee, who comes from a radio sales background, helped to set up the UK
office at the end of 1994. Last year, it had a turnover of pounds 40
In 2000, this could be closer to pounds 200 million.
’The credibility that the business has gained is reflected by the
attitude of our clients,’ says Lee. ’Four years ago, they might have
sold us pounds 50,000 worth of stock, with the attitude that they were
taking a bit of a punt.
Now we’re regularly asked to trade stock worth well over pounds 1
The company has solid relationships with a number of media owners - TDI
among them. Even owners who were previously wary of the idea have come
’One large publisher didn’t want to get involved in corporate barter,
but changed its mind when it saw that major clients were going
elsewhere,’ Lee says. You have been warned.