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Step Forward

Stepping into a European marketing role is not easy, but with vision and an appreciation of local needs the job can bring rewards

Achieving a balance between driving an effective global proposition - with its inherent advantages in terms of economics, marketing consistency, quality control and regulatory issues - while guarding against the worst excesses of 'global parochialism', is one of the most intractable challenges facing companies operating globally.

The pharmaceutical industry in many cases does not yet seem to have found the answer to balancing global corporate goals with the ambitions of local marketers.

Global corporations, especially those based outside Europe, have a tendency to regard the region, especially the EU, as a whole: one homogenous market. So the temptation to create Europe-wide marketing roles, with the aim of controlling local and, indeed, regional marketing communications costs, is once again in favour.

For a marketer in an individual country, progression to such a European role might be seen as a logical step in their ascent up the career ladder, giving as it does a wider view and more responsibility within the corporate whole.

Yet, are such European marketing roles really as attractive as they seem, or do they represent the worst of both worlds, a 'whipping boy' for corporate strategists intent on imposing a rigid global strategy on every local market, and marketers in local markets complaining that such a global approach ignores the specific and individual needs of each country?

Common themes
The answer to this question lies in understanding why global corporations create European marketing roles in the first place. Such structures were common in the 1990s, but fell out of favour towards the end of the decade. As with all trends, if you wait long enough they will come back into fashion, and sure enough we are now seeing the creation of European marketing teams across the pharma industry, once again.

The reasons for this change are complex, and vary from company to company, with size of operation the biggest variable. Clearly a huge operation, the individual country hubs of which can be bigger than the entire European operations of smaller players, will view the European role in a different way their smaller counterparts. However, there are some common factors:

Globalisation: many pharma companies seem to be driving a 'top-down' strategy, as they perceive that 'global is best'. Local countries become more akin to operating units, implementing centrally developed and agreed strategy. This is sometimes driven by what has always seemed a spurious argument: as conferences are international and doctors attend them, then everything should be the same globally! Yet, the argument that the core, or at least overarching brand strategy, should be the same everywhere pervades, provided there is the potential for local adaptation where circumstances dictate (and not just an attitude of 'we don't like the global advertising')

Economics: companies are driving perceived economies through standardising advertising. However, big consumer goods companies have learnt the hard way that 'global' does not really work, and that 'glocal' [sic] - local nuances added to the global brand to enable more effective communication - is more effective. On the other hand, economies may not just come from marketing communications budgets. An effective European team may reduce the need for so many local marketers

Regional voice: there does seem to be a realisation that as the European market grows exponentially, there needs to be European input into the global strategy and that this is best achieved through a European team that can speak more easily with consensus on behalf of the various local marketers. In addition, with more decision-making bodies having a Europe-wide impact, it is logical to have a European-based lobbying unit, especially for companies based in the US

Necessity: in some smaller firms, attracting excellent marketing talent to the local operation and providing them with the resources necessary to compete are very real challenges. central European team may make up for these shortfalls

Cross fertilisation: some larger companies have recognised that there is some very effective marketing at local level, which could potentially be employed in other countries to good effect. The Euro-marketer's role is, therefore, to package these things up and present them to other nearby countries.

Not for everyone
The European marketing role is a demanding one and, although at first glance, it may seem a logical career progression for those who excel at a local market level - even though this is indeed the route through which most European marketers end up in the position - there are some important caveats.

The progression from local markets seems to be the norm both in the established EU marketing teams, and in emerging Central Eastern European (CEE) Euro-marketing roles.

These latter roles necessarily have a narrower remit - CEE countries. The job is very different from one where you are working in a major market, and probably more challenging due the scale of the opportunity. The fact that the role is smaller in size is offset by the wider audience across a number of smaller countries.

Few regional marketers are imposed centrally from the top. This gives a good indication as to what is expected by the corporation - first and foremost a thorough cultural understanding and first-hand experience of operating within European markets.

This need for a deep insight into the European marketplace is a good clue as to what the role is really all about. In addition, in the same way as marketers are often more respected by sales peers if they have experience in sales, regional marketers are likely to gain more agreement from colleagues in local countries if they feel the regional marketer understands their markets and cultures.

It is important to point out that international marketing is very, very different from local marketing at a national level. It requires an ability to see the big picture on a very broad front, before drilling down in the right areas to find what will drive growth, not just on an individual market basis, but right across the continent.

The role is not suited to every local marketer, even those who have excelled at this level. Sure, a high level of functional strategic marketing expertise is required - that is a given - but beyond that the role needs an intellectual rigour well above the average; one which is uniquely suited to the particular requirements of the firm.

This is not a job for everybody. Being an effective local operator is just one of the qualifications, but without strategic skills and real vision to accompany this, an individual will fail in the role.

Agony or ecstasy
One of the key requirements for any European marketer, given that they tend to come from within the continent, is to try to put aside their own cultural views and attempt to adopt a truly European approach to the role. Is this possible? Is there such a thing?

The view of Europe as one homogenous whole, marginalising cultural (and indeed economic and legislative) differences, may seem unrealistic, simplistic or indeed simply wrong. However, to succeed in a European marketing role, where you are caught between corporate headquarters and local markets, adopting an element of the corporate mindset is vital, if the marketer is not to be seen as too imbued with local market thinking.

For this reason, it's difficult to say which nationalities provide the best Euro-marketers. No doubt the individual's country of origin will make a difference to their style.

It is unrealistic to expect any one person to be able to totally cast aside their national character. Instead, they must understand, as far as possible, all European cultures and make corporate needs their top priority - this is where the role can become seen as something of a poisoned chalice.

Whether you view the role negatively or as an opportunity to make a difference depends on two main factors: the remit of the role in the context of the company, and what you hope to get out of the position.

The European marketer needs to be seen to add value, not (just) at a European level, but at a local market level. As this is such a strategic role, but one step below global, it can be challenging.

The worst of all worlds is to be stuck in the middle, taking what comes down from above and passing it through to sometimes reluctant local marketers. If the aim of the role is to save on marketing and communications costs, then the potential for resentment from local marketers is even greater.

Intrinsic value
What can the European marketer add? How can they make a difference, and most importantly, go home at the end of the day feeling that their role is worthwhile, and not the millstone that many believe it to be?

Perhaps the best way to answer this is to consider a few factors from the point of view of the local marketer, whose frustrations most euro marketers will be familiar with, having risen from
their ranks.

The key thing is to provide a vision. Local marketers want to understand where things are going in the future, and what they can expect as a consequence. For example, providing input to the global strategy (ie, upwards), and trying to shape it so that it provides processes that will really work 'on the ground', is a vital part of the European marketer's role.

This is not a simple task, given the different healthcare market models and regulations, and it is very easy to go for the lowest common denominator. If the euro marketer does not achieve this, they will leave the local marketer high and dry in the global marketing approach, as they will be starved of the ammunition they need to compete within their own local market.

What local marketers want are really competitive positionings that act on the prescribing levers. Achieving this on a regional, let alone a global level, requires in-depth knowledge of each market and an understanding of how to access that knowledge.

You might think that global market research agencies should be able to provide that insight, but all too often they simply test how to implement the global strategy - not whether it is the best way to proceed.

The European marketing role can really make a difference. Where the euro marketer is given the freedom to shape the global strategy - representing the interests of all the local markets within the region - and help local marketers implement that strategy in a consistent way (allowing them to take into account local market needs and peculiarities), it can be a rewarding role for the individual, the corporation and indeed the local marketers.

If the aim is simply to act as a `brand policeman', imposing global strategy on the region and soaking up the resultant complaints and frustrations of local marketers, then the role could indeed be described as a poisoned chalice.

Increasingly, career progression for Europeans within the pharma industry will include a spell on a European marketing team. Knowing what can make the job worthwhile, and where the pitfalls lie, means that the ambitious individual can try to ensure the role constitutes a useful career step, and not a period of frustration and alienation from European colleagues.

The Author
Dr Paul Stuart-Kregor is director of The MSI Consultancy (pstuartkregor@msi.co.uk)

2nd September 2008

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