Agencies must co-operate with local councils if they are to avoid a crackdown on street activity.
It is five years since FHM flashed an image of a naked Gail Porter onto the Houses of Parliament in London - a one-off that was reported in almost every national newspaper. Since the success of that event, unusual street campaigns have become a key tool for brands eager to promote their originality.
Such edgy activities, however, carry the risk of upsetting local authorities.
With the explosion of interest in experiential campaigns, field marketing agencies are having to tread carefully to avoid causing annoyance.
Guerrilla marketers now risk being prosecuted under the same laws as political campaigners seeking publicity. David Chick's 'Spider-Man' protest atop a 100ft crane last year put Fathers4Justice in the spotlight, but it also brought central London to a standstill, cost about pounds 10,000 a day in policing and led to Chick being prosecuted for causing a public nuisance.
Elsewhere, Westminster and Camden councils recently cracked down on flyposting, complaining that it was unsightly and expensive to clean up. They are now threatening to seek court injunctions against flyposters, which, if breached, would lead to unlimited fines and imprisonment. Leafleting, meanwhile, has been banned in cities including Liverpool and Newcastle.
And authorities such as Bradford reportedly frown on any kind of street marketing.
Restrictions on flyposters and leafleting do not worry most field marketers, who tend to regard these activities as their industry's equivalent of junk mail. But these agencies are now finding that authorisation is essential for most kinds of sampling, demonstration and street theatre activity, especially campaigns involving complex or heavy equipment that ties them to a particular location. 'You have to have approval, because if someone tells you to go away, you are stuck,' says Alison Williams, chairman of the Field Marketing Council and FDS Group. As a rule, she believes that the longer marketers interact with consumers in a single place, the greater the need for permission, particularly where there is an entertainment element.
Upsetting one's competitors is fine, as long as it can be done without risking an awkward comeback. Ericsson pulled off a neat coup at the Stella Artois Tennis Championships when it handed out branded umbrellas to queuing spectators. When it rained, the crowd opened the umbrellas in front of TV cameras, to the chagrin of the sponsor, a rival mobile phone brand.
But annoying the city authorities is another matter entirely. 'There is huge potential to fall foul of them, and one always has to be careful,' says Richard Finch, sales and marketing director at the Blue Water Agency.
He recalls a council objecting when staff wearing rollerblades handed out samples of Nivea's Aroma Spritz. It turned out that the sales promotion firm responsible for obtaining authorisation had made a mistake. Since then, Blue Water has made its own arrangements.
Most field marketing agencies are keen to avoid trouble and seek the required permits. Many cultivate the right people at town and city halls, and some have a specialist division to keep a constant check on regulations in different parts of the country. 'It's all very well making your campaign exciting and different,' says Hugh Robertson, a partner at agency RPM.
'But if it risks being closed down by the council, the client may not get return on investment.'
For their part, local authorities are by no means unreceptive to street marketing. 'Most of them are quite prepared to let you do it if they know you are not going to make a big mess,' says Scott Goodson, chief executive of StrawberryFrog.
Indeed, some councils are actively cashing in on the demand for experiential campaigns, charging as much as pounds 1500 for prime locations. …