MEERS STEERS EUROPE TO IDG'S GLOBAL LINEUP

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STAINES, England-In the high-tech Thames Valley, Jeff Meers is located just down the road from Lotus Europe, Unisys and a sprinkling of other information technology companies his new pan-European IDG Marketing Services unit has been set up to woo.

Although Boston-based International Data Group is a $1.7 billion company with 233 newspapers and magazines in 65 countries, a research arm and exposition companies, in Europe clients tend to buy individual IDG titles with little awareness of the parent company. As president of the new European sales and marketing arm, his job is to sell IDG as a company with multiple products to the pan-European marketing departments of the largest information technology companies and their ad agencies.

"No one [in Europe] knows what IDG is," Mr. Meers said. "It's got such a fantastic decentralized structure. The downside is no one saw it as their job to worry about the parent brand. [To do that] we're adding another layer of marketing focused exclusively on IDG globally."

Mr. Meers is overseeing a new promotional approach to Europe-without advertising-that ranges from taking media buyers on ski trips to churning out research and organizing IDG's first annual Global Summit conference for European information technology marketing executives this week in Barcelona.

Mr. Meers said 65% of pan-European decision makers in the information technology industry are based in the U.K., 20% in Paris and 15% in Germany.

"These [information technology marketing] guys are quite lonely," Mr. Meers said. "They all have the same problems. They're all inventing the wheel."

IDG is the leading information technology publisher in Europe, with about 33% of the market, compared to Forstmann Little (formerly Ziff-Davis) with 9% and VNU at 6%. One of IDG's weak spots, several failed attempts to launch its Computerworld title in the competitive U.K. market, has been solved at least in part by an alliance with VNU. In Europe, IDG's ad pages grew by 27% last year, he said, but Mr. Meers didn't disclose revenues.

IDG's own efforts to become a global brand mirror the industry the company works for. More than almost any other industry, information technology marketers are selling global brands through increasingly global marketing and are doing a significant number of the still very few global ad buys.

"Global clients want to reach customers around the world," Mr. Meers said. "With one phone call or fax from a global brand, we can deliver a global campaign better than anyone else."

Mr. Meers said one of the biggest challenges facing computer marketers is how to expand penetration in the home market to consumers who are not technology buffs, now that most computer-literate people already own them.

His customers are also focusing on the convergence of the telecommunications and computer industries.

"My own view is it's still marketing chaos," he said. "But change is constant, and innovation is boiling away in a cauldron creating new life forms."

Mr. Meers, when not on an airplane catching up with clients in Continental Europe, zips around the Thames Valley in his housekeeper's Ford Escort. The reason: He's been too busy to arrange a company car.

Before joining IDG, Mr. Meers' background at three U.K. ad agencies where he worked on BMW cars and other accounts was not particularly high-tech, although in his spare time he founded an advertising database called M.A.I.D. with several partners in the 1980s.

One promotional tool in Mr. Meers' bag of tricks is a new survey done by IDG of 1,405 information technology managers and consumers in five European countries. IDG is "like an army of intelligence-discovering ferrets" for information technology companies, Mr. Meers said of the study, also used for publicity purposes.

The survey findings include the unsurprising ranking of Microsoft software as the most powerful information technology brand in Europe. Using a combination of factors such as measuring the premium price consumers would pay, brand loyalty, and level of recommendation by others, Microsoft was followed closely in the survey by Hewlett-Packard printers and desktop computers in second and third place and IBM laptop and desktop hardware, ranked fourth and fifth.

"Our findings give evidence that a strong brand can be more robust than marketers might have thought." He added, "If brands want to fight by price alone, there's very little money to be had that way."

In analyzing responses, IDG found that what European executives and consumers really want more than effective marketing is improved customer service and technical support from information technology companies.

And they're not alone. "The survey surprised us in how similar the results between the U.S. and Europe were," said Mr. Meers.

In Europe, a number of marketers did not pass the test as far as consistent product quality, trustworthiness and customer service.

Respondents said that Dell does not address their business needs, and that Apple and Compaq fail to deliver consistent product quality. And despite their high ranks in the brand power index, Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft-as well as Lotus and Novell-were considered "not easy to do business with."

Todd Pruzan contributed to this story.

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Jeff Meers

BIRTH DATE: February 10, 1953.

EDUCATION: Nottingham University, degree in psychology.

CAREER: President of IDG Marketing Services for Europe, the Middle East and Africa since late 1994. Joined DFSD Bozell in 1987 as deputy managing director, left in 1994 as vice-chairman. Director of London ad agency WCRS, 1981-87, while serving as founding chairman of on-line advertising database company M.A.I.D. in 1986. Associate director of London agency BMP, 1976-81. Joined the Ministry of Defense in 1975 as a psychologist for the Royal Navy.

FAMILY: Two sons, ages 11 and 12.

HOBBIES: Golf, cricket, hockey, skiing, opera.

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