Although it's important not to ignore cultural and economic subtleties, trends can be defined in a simple way as changes in a situation or in the way people behave. Current business trends include globalization and cost pressures, which affect both our industry and our clients' industries worldwide. These trends force most companies to reexamine their businesses, focusing on their core markets while staying ahead of the competition by seeking out new business niches and new revenue.

Global communication today is easier and less expensive; however, it can fail to address the unique aspirations and motivations of recipients. Because it can target defined and physically measurable groups of people, event marketing is a growing communication tool.

In Europe today, we find two kinds of event-marketing agencies: those that are part of a worldwide network with subsidiaries in each country, and those that remain independent and build up a network of local partners depending on event assignments. There are pros and cons to each strategy. Some independent agencies, such as Vok Dams Gruppe, have followed a regional approach to cultures rather than a systematic choice between partners or wholly owned subsidiaries. As a matter of fact, despite Vok Dams having led the German market for the last 30 years, its Munich office has just opened "due to Bavaria's powerful, yet specific business culture, which to a certain extent approaches that of Italy or Austria," explains Doris Kintrup, Munich office manager.

THE EURO ZONE

The introduction of the euro has taken these evolutions even further. It has made commercial negotiation, administration and logistics of European projects easier and cheaper. This "euro zone" may well be heading toward a certain pricing homogeneity. What were once national accounts are now deciding between agencies within Europe. As a result, agencies that once competed nationally must now expand their market presence. National professional associations (ANAé from France, FME from Germany, etc.) have started meeting and exchanging ideas as a result of global demands generated by the international economy and the corporations that participate in it. ISES, which originated in the United States and has a chapter in the United Kingdom, is now opening a chapter in continental Europe. Still, some markets still must be approached individually. Thus European clients who have chosen global agencies with subsidiaries tend to keep a specific agency within the French market, the latter's touch implying certain creative risks other agencies barely match.

Events targeting groups from a specific industry with its intrinsic jargon and business culture, such as the financial community, can be handled globally regardless of where the attendees come from. Financial road shows are as much European as they are global. However, the bulk of marketing events, especially those addressing end users or internal target groups (i.e., corporate events, trade shows, training, etc.), are still very culturally specific. Here the "handicraft" dimension of event marketing still presents a barrier to the globalization of agencies. After years of larger, more dramatic events everywhere, the trend is toward basics, toward core values.

In the fast-moving field of consumer goods, for instance, marketers search for authentic venues. In Germany, many former industrial sites, such as water utilities, have found a new life as event venues. One of our client's conferences took place in the former Federal House of Parliament in Bonn-the equivalent of the Capitol in Washington--lending the sense of democratic values to this event.

Some say the standardization of planning processes has gone too far, endangering creativity and uniqueness. But here again, one has to be subtle. In Germany, for instance, one speaks about the search for pragmatic creativity, whereas in France, it is all about taking more creative risks.

REEVALUATING RELATIONSHIPS

Agency-client relationships also are evolving. In Germany, clients profess the desire for long-term collaborations; however, these very clients request that their agencies pitch for each project. Meanwhile, getting new businesses through referrals, which in Germany was quite low in comparison to other European countries, is growing. In France, it remains an ongoing debate between those who believe in annual contracts (common in advertising), and those who favor pitching for the sake of creative stimulation.

In these tumultuous times, clients tend to favor agencies that readily adapt to the market, with a boutique-style management keeping the same key account and project management over a period of time, and combining a strategic understanding of the client's marketing with creativity and logistics competences. This balance between sensitivity and know-how is not necessarily easy to maintain, even more when there is no dedicated project manager on the client side, as is too often the case.

Already a buzz word in the United States, ROI is gaining attention in Europe. Talking about ROI means measuring events within their integrative context. Clients want to justify their event marketing policies as part of the internal mix, but lack the tools to do so. Meanwhile, they are not willing to budget the cost of tracking ROI, although this doesn't necessarily increase charges significantly.

Event marketing in Europe is as vital as it is in the United States, but probably less standardized. It strives for more structure, and tends to be more and more professional through trade associations and certifications, while at the same time consciously searching for new sources of inspirations for renewed creativity. The challenge for years to come in Europe and its various markets lies in information that inspires, emotions that convince, perfection that reassures, and creative power that surprises with sustained professionalism and consistent quality. It's the challenge of a young industry reaching maturity.

From its headquarters in Germany and offices in the United States, Vok Dams Gruppe offers a wide range of strategically developed experiential marketing products, including marketing events, corporate communication events, press launches and conferences, road shows and trade shows. Valérie Morel-Duquesne can be contacted at 212/824 5823; the Web site is www.vokdams.com.