Gay Smith, a recruitment consultant at Michael Page in London, describes herself as 'one of these awful people who can't stand being stopped (by promotional teams) in the street'. In November, however, when Heinz brought samples of its microwaveable Soup Cups to her office, she was quite happy to try them. 'The timing was good - it was just before lunch and we were all hungry,' she says. 'They weren't really in your face, so I was curious. It was a bit of light relief in my busy working day.'
Field marketing in an office environment offers brands a valuable way of engaging people such as Smith, who would otherwise be unreceptive to accepting samples. Gaining access to this captive audience comes at a price, though.
The agency behind the Heinz activity, theatre, had to use telemarketing to identify offices staffed by the right demographic - 25- to 45-year-old cash-rich, time-poor professionals who tend to eat lunch at their desks or on the go - and which had a small kitchen with a microwave, rather than a staff canteen. The agency then had to contact the person responsible for office security and persuade them to agree to promotional teams visiting the premises, a task that has become increasingly difficult in light of tighter security measures since 9/11. It also provided a written campaign summary with images and ran a specific training course for promotional staff entering the offices.
'Organising a national office sampling campaign on a large scale does require more planning and organisation than standard activity, but we think it's worth the effort,' says Chantal Busson, senior brand manager at Heinz. 'We can reach a tightly targeted audience, with very little of the waste we might experience with more traditional sampling. Over a six-week period we reached 200,000 consumers in 2000 offices, nearly all of whom were our core target market.'
The Soup Cups product has been developed with the professional market in mind and the majority of products that have carried out workplace sampling boast similarly obvious links, such as sandwich chains, newspapers and coffee brands.
Cafedirect undertook a 12-week office campaign to distribute 200,000 samples over the summer, through field marketing agencies FDS and Ignito.
The biggest lesson learned, says Cafedirect brand manager Alka Dass, was the need to be flexible. The promotional team was refused entry at some offices where they had pre-booked, but in many cases gained access to others nearby on the spur of the moment.
'We came across issues, especially in London,where they are more wary of allowing people into offices. We had to sign in for health and safety reasons and, in some cases, were accompanied by a security guard,' says Ruth Chapman, client services director at FDS. 'Offices in other cities were more lenient.'
Cafedirect believes the effort is worthwhile. 'Twenty billion cups of coffee are consumed out of home each year, including 80% in the workplace.
Exposing office workers to the product and our fair trade message has to be good for the brand,' says Dass, who expects a 3% coupon redemption for the campaign.
Many marketers stick to the book when targeting offices and only sample work-related products, believing lifestyle brands are not appropriate or welcome. 'Items of a more personal nature, such as deodorants and shaving products, don't spark as much interest in the workplace, as people do not want to show preference in personal hygiene products in front of their colleagues,' says Joel Kaufman, managing director of agency Link Communication.
This view was echoed in a survey among brand managers commissioned by RPM last year, which also rated offices as the least suitable place for campaigns with an experiential element. 'If you enter an average office floor, you will create a noise. But how much of an experience can you really create? You have to think about how intrusive it is,' says RPM's managing director, Ross Urquhart.
Mercier Gray managing partner Rob Gray dismisses the belief that office campaigns should avoid drawing attention that might disrupt workflow.
'It's like the distinction between consumer and business-to-business marketing. Somehow it's acceptable to be bland in the b2b arena, but there's no excuse for poor creativity. Why shouldn't workers be seen as consumers just because they're in an office environment?' he asks.
The agency ran a five-week campaign for Nivea in November 2003. 'Santa Claras' in Nivea-branded blue outfits arrived in offices with sacks of grooming products to hand out to male workers. The 'Morning after' campaign ran in 20 cities around the office-party season, when people's skin was likely to need a boost after nights out. The objective was to make Nivea memorable as a fun brand. 'We positioned it to office managers as a way of boosting morale. Most offices were receptive. It's a good excuse to break the day-to-day tedium of work, and it is a more captive audience as they're at their desks,' says Gray.
Experiential agency iD believes the lifestyle card can be played in the office. 'People are looking for convenience and information that comes to them, demonstrating that brands fit well and are welcomed in the workplace,' says the agency's chief executive Paul Ephremsen.
He cites the example of iD's work for Giorgio Armani, which targeted fashion and PR offices for the launch of its Mania lipstick. Well-groomed teams approached 5000 women at their desks to invite them to visit one of Armani's 'cosmetic face designers' at a nearby retail outlet. 'In PR and fashion offices there are a lot of women in an environment where image and presentation is high on the agenda,' says Ephremesen.
There are other ways to use offices as a vehicle for commercial messages.
RPM is about to run a promotion for Mars Delight. It will distribute samples to office receptionists, and ask them to email colleagues to let them know they are available. The receptionist will then feed back comments about the product to the agency via a microsite.
Brands can also run an experiential event in a public area near an office and promote it via its intranet and nearby billboards, as RPM did when it ran a golf competition in Canary Wharf in 2002 to drive subscriptions for Camelot's National Lottery. Teams of four tested their skills on a simulator set up in a shopping mall, with the winning team given a weekend trip to Spain. At least one member of each team had to take out a lottery subscription in order to register. This type of off-site activity works particularly well in business parks, where there are few distractions to occupy employees during breaks.
Whichever strategy is chosen, there is no doubt that in-office field marketing campaigns require more planning and incur higher costs. However, they offer the opportunity to convert a highly desirable segment not easily reached via traditional methods into loyal consumers of their product.
CASE STUDY - BRUNCHETTAS HIT SQUADS
Kerry Foods wanted to use field marketing as part of the launch strategy for its Brunchettas snack brand. The products are positioned as posh, portable snacks combining food that tastes good with convenience. The brand's TV ads were set in an office, so office sampling seemed appropriate, especially as the product has been developed as a fun alternative to the traditional sandwich at lunchtime for workers.
The campaign, which was carried out by brand experience agency theatre, following a brief from Kerry Foods' retained promotions agency Generator, ran for two weeks in October. The objectives were to raise awareness, drive trial, educate consumers about the proposition and encourage purchase.
Brunchettas 'hit squads', consisting mainly of dinner jacket-clad men, visited 230 city-centre offices in Bristol, Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and London, handing out red roses and more than 36,000 Brunchettas samples.
To position the brand as fun and irreverent, the team targeted women, handing them a sample and a rose if they could perform the 'perfect pout' while saying 'Brunchettas'.
'The rationale is simple: office workers are big consumers of sandwiches, making them a core target,' says theatre's general manager, Rob Quinn. 'Going to the trouble of arranging an office-based field marketing campaign is worth it because of the highly targeted, highly desirable consumer reached,' he adds.
It is too early to evaluate sales uplift within the targeted region, but based on results so far, plans are under way to extend the pilot campaign.
1. DO YOUR HOMEWORK: Find out which offices suit the brand's objectives and get permission before turning up. Many companies have stringent security policies that may require detailed information to be supplied before any visit.
2. FOSTER A CONTACT AT YOUR CHOSEN OFFICES: This could be the office manager or the receptionist, but whoever it is, make sure they know when you are coming and why.
3. USE COMMON SENSE: If someone looks immersed in work, do not disturb them and don't linger too long.
4. PICK THE PRODUCT CAREFULLY: You need a credible reason for being there.
5. TIME IT WELL: If the activity is for a food brand, visit just before lunch.
6. THE WORKSPACE MAY NOT BE THE BEST LOCATION: The canteen, for example, may be more appropriate.
7. THINK ABOUT HOW TO ADAPT THE SAMPLE: It may be better to hand out vouchers, rather than fragranced samples, for example.