The maritime industry covers a huge variety of sectors from commercial shipping, oil and gas, tugs, workboat, passenger, ports and harbours to offshore, pleasure boats, yachting, superyachts, defence, fisheries, cruise and ferry. No reliable estimates exist as to the economic worth of this industry as a whole, but its importance to the world economy is pivotal.
So, while the maritime industry itself is huge, it supports an even larger network of suppliers. Figures from the EMEC, European Maritime Equipment Council alone estimate direct employment in the maritime equipment sector in Europe at more than 287,000 with indirect employment at around 436,000, and the average yearly turnover of the EMEC member companies at around EUR42 billion in 2008. This sector is the third largest after shipping and fisheries. Some of these suppliers are very substantial, well resourced businesses with large staffs, but they are more often small and medium sized companies. One thing all have in common is the need to sell, market and promote their products, services and solutions to the maritime industry, one of the most specialised and highly regulated in the world.
Maritime: Trailing in the wake of change
In the past twenty years the nature of sales and marketing in the wider business landscape has changed almost beyond recognition. But the maritime industry has been slow to adapt. While consumer and other business sectors have embraced the opportunities offered by digital communications channels and programmes, webinars, social networking and structured PR, many maritime businesses are still focussed on attending trade shows, placing print advertisements and sending salespeople on expensive international sales visits.
Technology has advanced and the ability to communicate and interact with customers and clients has increased. Now, even companies operating in a global and highly competitive industry such as maritime have an opportunity to bring together the disciplines of sales, marketing, public relations, database, web and digital, cut costs, improve their understanding of the customer and the market and charge their sales pipelines.
Marketing/Sales/PR = Competitive Advantage
Few maritime supplier SMEs appear to have dedicated marketing personnel; even fewer have sales and marketing departments. In most it is the Managing Director and his assistant who will usually deal with advertising sales calls, designing and printing of brochures, decide which exhibitions to attend and maintain their website. However, the vast majority of maritime suppliers are now recognising that in these tough economic times there is a competitive advantage to be gained from a strategic reassessment of their marketing and sales capabilities. They are beginning to realise that their sales people and marketing activity could be working smarter and harder. That former mariners may not always make the best salespeople or marketers, no matter how well they understand the industry. That a switch to a digital communication focus could transform the way they do business.
Maritime Media: Transitional Times
The maritime media companies, providers of exhibitions, conferences, newspapers, magazines, websites and training are similarly facing a period of transition. They have to maintain their relevance in a maritime world of expanding, real-time content – often free. In the past the only way to guarantee reaching a diverse global industry was to take expensive advertising and exhibition space in publications and events. But that proposition is no longer the only one. Digital platforms and emarketing solutions mean that communicating with the industry doesn’t depend on being seen in particular magazines any longer and readerships of those magazines appear to be under pressure.
The challenges of paywalls, paper v digital products, data and the increase in free content will be a catalyst for change. For those operating publications and events and selling advertising packages, it is essential that they listen to what their maritime customers need, and develop new and innovative promotion packages to help and encourage them. Failure to build broader propositions risks leaving these media organisations exposed.
Journalists: Not written off
As media organisations change journalists have seen a constant downward pressure on posts. With the rise of free digital content and content farms, maritime journalists both employed and freelance need to develop new models for providing their expertise and being paid for it. As maritime companies, shipoperators and suppliers, begin to develop more and more of their own content and realise the benefits of PR, opportunities are arising for these individuals to work with them and to bring PR and high quality copywriting and communications to such organisations.
PR: An industry learning to communicate
Often seen by maritime companies as a luxury, the value of strategic communications, cultural review and crisis communications is an integral part of building a world class maritime organisation. Operating in one of the most dangerous environments on earth, the maritime industry is currently synonymous with piracy and disaster. But the opportunities both for smaller companies and for the industry as a whole to translate the focus on the piracy agenda into wider, more positive messages should be capitalised on. Skilled communications professionals can influence headlines but they can also build strong relationships below the radar with customers, partners and stakeholders, which aren’t a luxury, but essential.
New blood: market entrants
In many product and service areas the maritime market is attracting new market entrants. Many of them are already well versed in the latest sales and marketing techniques, but without a background in the maritime industry. For senior managers in both sales, marketing and PR suddenly expected to manage programmes within the maritime market there is no ‘go to’ body, organisation or events able to offer them support, access to useful industry knowledge and networking opportunities with their peers.
Recruiting the ‘Sea-Suite’
Key to the success of maritime marketing and sales programmes are high calibre executives able to bring their expertise into the heart of organisations at board level, drive the marketing and sales integration agenda and shift emphasis to value propositions rather than simple products. Search and recruitment agencies need to discover this talent both inside and outside the maritime industry and can contribute to raising the profile of sales, marketing and communications at senior management and board level.
Expanding Horizons need new suppliers
As the maritime market and its suppliers begin to focus more on strategically integrating their marketing and sales function and concentrating on the return on investment of digital channels their requirement for marketing and sales based products, from customer relationship management software, to Public Relations and Marketing agency support, brand and social network management, webinar providers and web development will increase significantly. At present there are no events or portals through which these suppliers can speak to this significant maritime audience. Similarly, most maritime companies would find it difficult to choose such a supplier with the confidence that they would choose companies in their normal supply chain.
For all these reasons the International Maritime Sales and Marketing Association has been created. Read about its Aims and Objective here.