Of PR, Music and Bikes

Paris Offers Glimpse of the Future

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France isn't at the top of the list of countries the U.S. looks to for leadership. This is especially true in business, where that nation's 35-hour workweek does little to change the perception that the French citizenry do little more than quaff good wine, nibble stinky cheese and paint the occasional masterpiece. But today's Paris is offering some interesting glimpses into what could be our future.

Advertising avec coporate PR: French agencies -- led by the biggest players: Euro BETC, TBWA and Publicis -- offer a vision of what we'll end up with in the U.S. as digital technology drives the convergence of discipline-specific shops into single marketing organizations. In France, those agencies have one P&L for many of the marketers they service, and they derive their revenue from multiple disciplines.

In particular, French marketers frequently are more advanced than their U.S. peers in terms of integrating corporate communications and advertising, with many corporations unifying the functions under the same report and the larger agencies developing one strategic vision for both disciplines. Perhaps this has something to do with the smaller budgets at play in France, which have forced "ad" shops to be more proactive in other disciplines.

Nicolas Bordas, CEO of TBWA France, thinks it has more to do with a French-consumer activism that forces marketers to be more savvy. "This arose in Europe with Nike's issues with child labor or Coca-Cola's product issues in Belgium or McDonald's facing the mad-cow crisis. ... This move is driven by necessity ... in markets where it is hard to sell without corporate reassurance."

Mobile music: In the month that iTunes overtakes Wal-Mart as this country's largest purveyor of music and MySpace spies its future in the music-sales and -marketing game, it's interesting to note that in France, the second-largest mobile-phone company, SFR, has 40% of the mobile-download market and 29% of all online music sales. In 2007, according to Jean-Marc Tassetto, the marketing director of SFR, the number of songs downloaded by its customers doubled to 6.3 million, with 2 million downloaded in December alone.

SFR also offers dual models for customers: either a pay-by-download model such as iTunes or a simple subscription payment that covers unlimited downloads. As we start thinking about cloud-living -- where we have to remember to back up our music on various hard drives and we demand our music streams like water from a virtual faucet -- the mobile giants must be able to take on Apple not only in the lucrative ringtone market but in music sales as a whole.

On yer bike: Yah, I know, bikes are like soccer -- America's just culturally opposed to them -- but a man can dream. In fact, he can dream big when he sees the success of Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe's Velib plan, which put more than 20,000 rental bikes in racks across the city overnight. There are now more bikes than taxis in Paris, and they are amazingly popular.

Mark Tungate, a journalist and the author of "Adland," recently commented on WGSN: "They are the hippest option right now. Uber-fashionable concept store Colette is staging an exhibition devoted to the joy of cycling. ... As if that were not enough, one of the coolest hotels in the city ... is offering guests customized bikes so they can explore."

Chicago's Mayor Richard Daley visited last year and sounded like he had the bike religion afterward. But it's about time some American cities -- New York, I'm talking to you -- espoused the humble bicycle. Perhaps there's a green marketer out there willing to take some of that "we're so green" ad budget and pump it into two-wheelers for this flat, easily navigable little town of ours.
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