Magazine article Marketing

Field Marketing: Too Many Cooks?

Magazine article Marketing

Field Marketing: Too Many Cooks?

Article excerpt

The consensus among brand experience specialists is that it is a sector on the rise.

Agencies have succeeded in converting high-profile clients into devotees of the discipline, with both Procter & Gamble and Unilever undertaking big-budget campaigns in the past year. By developing the medium beyond its roots in FMCG and food sampling, they are moving into new client sectors and, according to HPI, 68% of marketers will spend more on experiential marketing this year than they did in 2004.

Yet there are rumbles of discontent. With clients showing growing interest in the sector, a host of start-ups are trying to capitalise on its expansion. There have been extensions of traditional field marketing agencies, spin-offs from sales promotion and direct shops, and even offshoots from creative agencies; WCRS, for example, recently poached Karen Evans from specialist Closer to head its experiential division, Woo.

There have also been accusations of underhand dealing, with agencies from outside the discipline holding pitches for brand experience work on behalf of clients, inviting experiential shops to make a presentation, then awarding the business to a hastily set-up offshoot, which subsequently uses creative ideas developed by others for the pitch.

It is rare for any business to welcome competition, but the anxiety of the established agencies relates to more than the growing pitch lists they now face. Many fear that the influx of agencies is lowering the standard of work the industry is producing, thus hindering the sector's evolution into a marketing discipline in its own right.

The established brand experience agencies argue that while the cost barriers to entering the sector are low, the level of skill required to operate at an effective level is high. It is one thing to develop a creative idea for a campaign, but another to find the right venues and staff to bring it to life, while also ensuring the activity complies with health and safety regulations. 'Brand experience is like an iceberg,' says Hugh Robertson, managing partner of RPM, one of the longest-established experiential shops. 'The public sees 10% of it, but 90% is behind the scenes. Work falls down if it is badly implemented.'

This view is shared by Sharon Richey, managing director of LoewyBe 'Some entrants may have good creative ideas, but frequently they don't have the experience and capabilities to translate them into powerful consumer interaction,' she says. 'Many clients have had their fingers burnt.'

So many components go into a successful campaign that it is easy for the activity to go wrong, as Colgate-Palmolive found to its cost when handing out samples of its Aloe Vera deodorant at this year's Wimbledon tennis tournament. Championship organisers confiscated the products because Palmolive was not an official event sponsor. This led to thousands of samples being dumped at the turnstiles; not the brand experience Palmolive had been planning.

The tiniest miscalculation can hit the client hard, points out Dominic Grounsell, brand manager for Dove's haircare range, which used experiential work in its pounds 12m 'Hair histories' campaign this year. 'One example is fire regulations,' he says. 'The way a stand is wired or where it is placed can have huge implications. If it turns out you can't use it, it is a waste of money.'

The fear is that some start-ups are making promises on which they cannot deliver. 'Anyone can claim to be a proponent of brand experience and undertake activity,' says RPM's Robertson. 'We have no regulatory or official body such as the Advertising Standards Authority to represent the discipline.'

There is particular concern over cases where an agency has developed a creative idea, but hired another company to take the activity forward. 'There is a real and significant element of risk when small agencies start up without the in-house operational or logistic support, propose campaigns to clients, secure the business, and then outsource the implementation,' says Rob Quinn, managing director of Theatre. …

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