Business Essentials: 'How can we raise our profile to fast-forward growth?'

A video-editing firm wants to know the most cost-effective way to step up its marketing efforts. Kate Hilpern reports

Until now, West Digital, a video- and audio-editing facility in Shepherd's Bush, west London, has grown through reputation. "In this industry, you tend to attract a lot of customers by word of mouth," says director Darren Cock, whose clients range from the BBC, through production companies, to corporate clients such as Shell.

Until now, West Digital, a video- and audio-editing facility in Shepherd's Bush, west London, has grown through reputation. "In this industry, you tend to attract a lot of customers by word of mouth," says director Darren Cock, whose clients range from the BBC, through production companies, to corporate clients such as Shell.

"But we've got to the point where we'd like to raise the profile of the business so that we can grow it further," he admits. "We'd like to know how big our marketing budget should be, how we should use it and how we can measure the effectiveness of any given campaign."

The company was set up in September 2002 when Mr Cock and co-director Peter Zacaroli bought two editing suites, together with other broadcast equipment, from a hire company.

By the end of their first year, they had done well enough to buy out a complementary company in the same building, so doubling the size of the business in terms of staff and space. "This meant we could offer clients everything that they would find in a much bigger post-production facility, but with a personalised service," says Mr Cock.

Also making West Digital stand out from the competition, according to Mr Cock, are the creative skills of the post-production team, the add-on services - clients can view the edited material online at their home or office - and technical back-up. "If we do have any problems, they can be solved quickly, which is crucial when budgets are tight and deadlines are looming," he says.

While all this has led to West Digital ticking along nicely as a business, Mr Cock is keen that the company now begin to attract certain key customers.

"For this reason, we've spent the last few months producing a brochure in-house," he says. "But it's been a long and convoluted process - one that has made us recognise the benefits of seeking outside help.

"The biggest challenge is that it's difficult to know why people choose another facility over your own."

In his search for the right outside help, one problem has been knowing what percentage of the company's turnover should be made available. In addition, he is unsure exactly how the money should be spent.

"I've approached a PR company to see if they could work on a retainer basis for spreading the word about us and taking news stories to the press, but it's fairly expensive. I've looked at advertising too. but that's also pricey," he explains.

"In some ways, I think it may be better to employ a marketing person in-house who would have time to do the work and, where necessary, work with outside agencies."

It's difficult to know what to do, adds Mr Cock. "Even when I've decided, how will I be able to evaluate if I'm getting my money's worth?"

www.westdigital.co.uk

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

John Greenhough, head of business development, the Chartered Institute of Marketing

"There is no set formula for marketing spend. Mr Cock should divide his spending and pilot different marketing methods. This way he can quantify product awareness by measuring enquiries and sales achieved against the amount invested. Once the most successful marketing channels have been found, a proportion of new earnings should be re-invested in these activities.

"Mr Cock should also invest in retaining (and increasing) the business with existing customers, as they are generally less price sensitive and more loyal, and act as a source of testimonials and referrals. He should also speak to potential customers, and find out which of Western Digital's competitors they use and why.

"Personal contact resources should be included in his investment considerations. Services are intangible and therefore present a particular challenge. Communicating the impact of previous projects is one way of demonstrating the results that can be achieved."

Pete Ferns, director, NatWest Business Banking

"West Digital is clearly on the right track when it comes to running a successful business, but it is right to seek professional guidance on raising its external profile.

"Marketing and PR costs can add a significant burden to a small business, so any activity must be cost effective and thoroughly researched.

"Producing a company brochure is a step in the right direction, but first West Digital should assess its current situation, make sure it understands its existing clients and then develop an overall marketing strategy.

"When it comes to deciding on a budget, it depends on how much you can spare from your business and your overall turnover - remembering not to commit too much of your firm's profits.

"With regard to the pros and cons of in-house support versus an outside agency, again it depends on costs. If you are considering having an agency on retainer, it may be more cost effective to employ a full-time member of in-house staff as it gives you the benefit of control and constant support.

"But if you are only looking for ad hoc support, it may make more sense to employ an agency on a project basis."

Andrew Wilkie, director, Saatchi & Saatchi

"The first point that needs to be made is that intelligently conceived, well-targeted communication ideas do not need to be hideously expensive. However, as a rule of thumb, 10 per cent of a company's turnover for marketing is a useful benchmark.

"In this instance, word of mouth is important. Mr Cock has an impressive client list already and West Digital's personalised service is what sets it apart. Mr Cock should combine these factors to create a compelling communication idea based on his product, his unique selling point and his client base.

"A personalised message sent from Mr Cock on DVD (a West Digital DVD) to potential clients would be a relevant and relatively inexpensive way of beginning a marketing programme. The disc would show the "Best of West's" work from its blue chip client base, and invite potential customers to experience the facilities his company has to offer

"This marketing exercise will be easy to assess because you can accurately measure quality of response against the amount invested."

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