Despite dominating the field marketing sector for several years, CPM claims to have boosted its sales by 21% in the past two years - a considerable achievement during a time of severely depressed margins. It is this stealthy growth that has made it Marketing's Field Marketing Agency of the Year.
As part of Omnicom, the agency is barred by US reporting restrictions from revealing exact financial details. But while its figures cannot be laid beside its rivals, many of whom are struggling to break even, there is plenty to suggest that the market leader has indeed been the best in 2004.
The agency has gained significant business from Nike, Royal Mail, BT, Barclaycard and General Mills. Clients are attracted by its ability to mount large-scale campaigns, use of cutting-edge technology and tight focus on the bottom line.
This year CPM developed bespoke measurement models that demonstrate exactly what sort of return clients can expect, something which clients are increasingly asking the agency to quantify in pitches. In some cases, that has been shown to be as high as £25 for each £1 spent.
The scale of CPM's operations is impressive. This year it offered 150,000 Londoners a free copy of the new-look Saturday Times in one of the biggest events of its kind ever undertaken for a national newspaper. Demographic data was used to select sampling areas with the highest density of the target market. Staff knocked on 700,000 doors and gave out 144,000 papers. Voucher redemption was 1.4%, lifting sales by 9%.
CPM was one of the first agencies to equip its staff with pocket PCs, enabling them to upload data to a website to provide clients with up-to-the minute reporting. It was one of just three companies to be shortlisted for Microsoft's 2004 Business Solutions award for excellence in HR through technology.
Web reporting has been improved with a 'traffic light' system, which provides an early warning of problem areas. This represents in-store information in the form of graphs and models rather than rows of data.
This year the agency helped streamline the supply of DVDs and videos in Asda on behalf of six leading film studios. As more than 250,000 items of in-store data can now be downloaded to handheld PCs each week, the studios can analyse the previous day's data to ensure that their products are available in each store and check that the retailer is complying with stock-level agreements. As well as improving supply, this activity has reduced backroom stock by 50% and increased on-shelf availability by an average of 5%.
CPM is the only field marketing agency to run a major contact centre business - its ability to offer clients access to this is a USP. For BT in Ireland, agents have been calling to pre-book appointments to ensure customers are visited at a convenient time and that resources are not wasted.
The agency's experiential events business has at times been overshadowed by the traditional merchandising activity for which it is better known, but in the past two years this has thrived, almost doubling its turnover.
Managing director Mike Hughes is especially proud of the competition the agency is running on behalf of FIFA and Xbox to find the 'interactive footballer of the year'. This is one of the first truly global activities - across Europe, Asia and the US - ever mounted by a British field marketing agency. Exhibition centres are fitted out with giant pods shaped as footballs in which gamers compete against each other. The finalists will compete in Zurich in December and the winner will collect the award on the same platform as the footballer and young footballer of the year.
Hughes worries that the fad for internet procurement is causing damage to field marketing, fuelling a downward spiral in which quality is sacrificed to cheapness. He says that the scale and diversity of CPM's business has helped it avoid the need to cut margins, in contrast to its less well-off rivals.
On the upside, he is positive about the shift of focus away from brand toward execution, with management gurus stressing the importance of getting products available in stores at the right time. 'Now is our hour,' he says. 'The field marketing industry has become a bit stagnant in the past two years, but this gives it an opportunity to really kick on again.'