Agency of the Year: Field Marketing Agency of the Year - Best of the rest

With clients determined to get field marketing services at the cheapest price, the best agencies are exploiting growing demand for merchandising services. None more so than PMI, which more than doubled in size in 2003 and grew by 70% this year, a rate it is confident will continue. The agency has won no fewer than 18 clients in the past 12 months, including 3M, Kodak, Nokia, and Scottish Courage. It has also expanded its head office staff from 24 to 34.

PMI supported Unilever's launch of Flora Pro-activ milk and yoghurt, ensuring products were available to meet the demand created by TV advertising. For two months merchandisers made two or three visits each to more than 1000 major stores.

By reaching 100% of Waitrose and 98% of Asda stores, the 65% distribution target was surpassed. By the end of the two-month launch period, the products ranked 11th and 13th for sales in the speciality market.

'Where PMI really added value was in the rapid feedback it gave us from stores,' says Unilever's activation manager, Katie Wells.

A group that is second in size only to CPM is FDS Group, which now boasts a £20m turnover. Its traditional field marketing and sampling services have been separated from contract sales into a division headed by James Moyies.

This registered a dramatic 66% rise in 2004 with a string of new blue-chip clients, including BSkyB, Sendo and Kimberly-Clark. The agency has also increased its business from existing clients with campaigns that show a clear return on investment.

For United Biscuits, FDS carried out an audit of 25,000 independent retailers, targeting stores that showed the highest sales potential. This campaign achieved a return of 190% in the first 10 months, more than doubling the average number of key lines stocked per store. A campaign for Interbrew generated a profit of £4.7m against an investment of £1.3m.

FDS also set up a dedicated experiential division called The Gallery, which during the summer promoted Cafedirect's fair trade products to office workers. Staff gave out 200,000 coffee samples in more than 1000 offices. More than 11,000 coupons have been redeemed.

The agency collected several industry plaudits in 2004, including the DMA Excellence and Direct Response Smart awards. Group chairman Alison Williams was named Kent Businesswoman of the Year.

In the experiential field iD has had one of its best years to date, growing by 25%. Fifteen wins included Marks & Spencer, MG Rover and ING Direct. It has achieved significant organic growth, with Unilever Bestfoods trebling its spend and L'Oreal and Phillip Morris doubling theirs.

The agency has also been involved in the creation of The Live Brand Experience Association, a new trade body representing experiential marketing. iD chairman Paul Ephremsen acts as one of the key heads on the steering committee.

Tasked with promoting Domestos Pink Power bleach to shoppers, iD showed typical ingenuity. Unable to demonstrate the product directly, it turned heads by sending male staff dressed in blonde wigs and pink glitter outfits into supermarkets to discuss its benefits. The promotion led to a 14-fold sales uplift. In one store in Leicester sales jumped from 60 to more than 1300 units.

Last year's winner RPM has won £4m of new and incremental business during the year, ensuring it remains the biggest of the experiential specialists. By appointing Steven Workman, ex-creative head of Billington Cartmell, as a creative consultant, it has beefed up its creative offering.

In a campaign for Constellation Wines' Stowells brand, the agency created a 'Taste the World' experience at summer evening concerts. Consumers were offered wine and canapes typical of five different countries in specially themed bars. The activity was supported by a six-week supermarket roadshow. This delivered 50,000 samples and boosted sales by 460%.

Another experiential shop making progress is Leeds agency Link, with earnings growing at a rate of 21%, much of it from new business. It opened a London office this year and now has over 6500 field staff on its books, more than any other UK field marketing agency.

Link has been at the forefront of new technology in the sector. It claims to be the only agency that uses satellite tracking via mobile handsets to monitor the whereabouts of all its field staff. This allows it to demonstrate to clients their location during campaigns in real time.

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