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April 4, 2008
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Hugh Robertson: An overseas experience




Expanding overseas is essential for brand experience specialists, not just from a business development perspective, but also to better serve clients.

Many brands running successful brand experience campaigns in the UK, for example, want to roll out their strategies abroad and need professional expertise in doing so. What's more, these days many global brands want pan-European (and beyond) brand experience strategies at the outset.

Expanding overseas is also a natural progression following on from success in the UK. This is particularly important because UK brand experience specialists are world-leaders in both the size and quality of the live events they produce. This leadership position needs to be acted upon before specialists in other countries catch-up in terms of their own expertise.

So how can brand experience agencies expand overseas efficiently and profitably? From my experience, the answer is not setting up costly and inefficient European and global satellite offices is not the optimum solution.

Three-pronged strategy
In my opinion, it's a three-stage process. First, make sure that planning insights remain the foundation from which all overseas live event marketing campaigns are developed. After implementing scores of live events worldwide, it is clear that geographical differences are far less important than the initial planning processes that underpin a campaign.

Second, place people on the ground in an overseas territory several months before the launch of a live campaign. This ensures that local idiosyncracies and challenges are ironed out well in advance. It also guarantees that high standards are maintained regardless of location.

Finally, contact local overseas trade organisations and also build an informal network of like-minded brand experience companies across different territories. This is an excellent way of gaining real insight, knowledge and expertise within a specific country, while adding reliable partners and trustworthy suppliers who are experts in their field.

It's worth working harder and smarter
As with any strategy, there are challenges. And creating a wider agency network or being part of one may mean you have more resources to hand. This means working harder and smarter within each country and territory.

However, not being part of a larger network has considerable advantages. Not having a wider group to either manage or answer to means any brand experience strategy can be implemented with the minimum of interference. It can be dynamic and nimble-footed in its approach, something a larger network doesn’t allow. It also means service won't be affected by different offices fighting for input into and influence over a brand experience campaign, while also battling for a slice of the budget.

Single HQ, global team
Large network groups will argue that they have the ability to deliver seamless international campaigns with the infrastructure already in place. But from a marketer's perspective, I would want to question whether a disparate conglomerate of companies is any match for a focused company with a single HQ and a global team of specialists ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice.

Finally, whatever the overseas expansion strategy employed, agencies must remain focused on their core expertise – branded live events that create memorable experiences and enhance the relationship between a brand and consumer. Brand experiences, like any marketing channel, cannot be skimped upon and must aim for excellence. If an agency remains committed to this, the future for both the agency and its clients will be assured – and ground-breaking brand experience campaigns of the highest quality will be the result.

Hugh Robertson is managing partner of experiential agency RPM


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