Leading UK field-marketing companies are working on international
contracts for their blue-chip clients, writes Ken Gofton. But what’s so
special about UK expertise?
Overseas markets suddenly look very attractive to British field-
marketing companies. There’s a real flurry of activity under way. You
don’t have to look far for the reason. As so often happens whenever
marketing service companies talk of overseas expansion, it is the
globally-minded clients who are providing the motivation.
CPM is the established player, with pounds 23m of turnover through a
network of companies in Ireland, France, Belgium, Switzerland and - most
recently - Spain. Some of these it has started from scratch, in other
cases it has taken a shareholding in market leaders. It also has a
partner in Germany - giving it access to eastern Europe - and links with
others in Australia, South America and the US. It began building this
network in the early 80s.
Now CPM faces a potential challenge from FMCG, one of its most
aggressive UK competitors. FMCG has already tested the temperature of
the water, with around pounds 600,000 worth of business in Ireland.
‘CPM has a European franchise and I think there needs to be an
alternative to that,’ says Mike Cottman, managing director of FMCG,
which broke away from the industry leader seven years ago. ‘We will be
making an announcement about that at the end of this month. It will give
branded companies a choice across Europe and North America, if they want
‘Many big-branded companies are seeking similar standards of operation
across their markets. We have three or four clients who are interested
in this. Equally, we have partners in Germany, France and eight or nine
other countries. I expect it to grow from there.’
What FMCG has working in its favour, of course, is the ‘conflict of
interest’ syndrome - the unwillingness of many major companies to share
an agency with direct competitors. Whether this is based on a genuine
fear about security, or on a desire to inconvenience rivals, it is this
which ensures there will always be room for four or so major field-
marketing shops in the UK. The same argument could well apply in global
However, while the spotlight focuses on the anticipated battle between
two of the industry’s heavyweights, another company has been quietly
building its own European links. GSD is the sole UK member of the
European Field Marketing Network. Its concept was to find a single
partner in each country, among the top two or three independently-owned
‘The volume of pan-European work is definitely growing,’ says GSD’s
chairman and managing director Robert Gill. ‘A couple of years ago we
felt that the network might have been set up before its time, but that
has proved not to be the case.
‘One example involved us in the launch of an Oriental food product which
originated with a Dutch venture-capital company. It was concerned that
the launch should be a success and approached the German member of the
network which, in turn, approached us.’
According to Gill, it would be normal to show preference to other
members of the network. But if a situation arises where a member isn’t
appropriate, perhaps because of a conflict of interests or because a
particular expertise is required which the network partner lacks, the
rules allow for other agencies to be approached.
There are many different ways of tackling the question of overseas
expansion. CPM, for example, with all the resources of Omnicom behind
it, has opted for start-ups and shareholdings. GSD has found like-minded
partners across Europe, and it rather sounds as though FMCG is going the
same route. Others - such as Ellert, Countdown, and Barnett Fletcher -
have chosen to strike out on their own.
The first of the three is known for its use of new technology and a
greater emphasis on selling than is found in most of its competitors.
Chairman Rob Ellert says he decided to set up in Spain and Portugal
about four years ago, to test how such an approach would work in less-
developed markets. He describes both businesses as ‘doing very nicely’.
Then, about a year ago, he took his ‘emerging market strategy’ to
Hungary. ‘I am very excited about our east European success,’ he says.
‘We believe it could be a critical part of our long-term development
Countdown’s favoured target is the US. The market has been a graveyard
for many UK companies, not least in marketing services such as design or
sales promotion, but managing director Mike Garnham believes he will
have a solid foundation on which to build.
‘We have a number of clients who are US-based, or are UK-based but
active over there, and they seem to like what we do,’ he says. ‘We are
being invited both to look at their operations and to handle the
The motivation behind the go-it-alone decision of BFP (Barnett Fletcher
Promotions) is slightly different. Chairman and founder Barnett Fletcher
doesn’t want to give his know-how away too readily.
Acting internationally for Nestle, among others, the company has seen
its overseas business grow from pounds 130,000 in 1994 to pounds 500,000
last year, with a further substantial increase being recorded this year.
Projects include roadshows extolling the merits of Nescafe in eastern
Europe, where the local product is much cheaper, if technically less
‘We decided not to hook up with partners,’ explains Fletcher, ‘because I
find it easier to study the local environment, and then employ the
‘In areas like eastern Europe, clients have been genuinely surprised at
the kind of results we achieve, partly because we do things a little
differently to most of our competitors. We are a young and aggressive
company. If we were to set up with local partners, we would effectively
be training them, which would mean we would only get one or two jobs
before they wanted to take over.
‘So we will go into a market, research it, and then present our plans to
the client. We put two or three of our own people in to manage the
project, they recruit locally and probably get materials manufactured
locally. After that, it is much easier to establish a permanent base, as
we have done in Russia.’
The Sony road show
Three massive glass-fibre camcorders are touring eastern and western
Europe in Land Rover Discoveries. They’re scheduled to visit some 60
countries between April and October, with a schedule of stops ranging
from individual retail outlets to major events, including the Montreux
Jazz Festival and the Belgian and Italian Grand Prix.
It is Sony which is taking its message to the people, using the road
show medium to launch the 1996 Handycam range. The aim has been to
achieve a consistent message across Europe and brand managers in each
country have been sitting in at the major events to pick up consumer
reactions to the camcorder range’s new features.
The glass-fibre models, which open to reveal their innards, were
designed and built by CPM subsidiary Vandisplay, which planned the road
show in conjunction with Index Marketing.
Vandisplay has also been helping to turn Russia blue this summer, for
Pepsi. A touring road show features both an open-air rock concert - with
a lookalike Blues Brothers band - and a recreation of a US drive-in
cinema, with a special screening of the Blues Brothers cult film. For
the event, Vandisplay has built a 20-metre by 10-metre cinema screen
frame in aircraft-grade aluminium, which can be suspended from a mobile