April 2003; Vol. 12 Issue 4  
The Resource for Small and Emerging Businesses
www.kcsmallbiz.com     www.thebizstream.com
In Focus: 

Advocacy, the Little Used Marketing Tool

By Brian Gauler, Director Business Development, EDI

Marketing managers usually don't think of government agency services as "marketing tools." The reality is that many of the services provided can be used as marketing tools, particularly for smaller and medium size firms.

One service in particular that makes an excellent marketing tool is the advocacy provided by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Actually, to be correct, advocacy is provided by The Advocacy Center of the International Trade Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce. This service is available to all U.S. companies, and can have a tremendous impact for the smaller firm responding to project bids overseas.
What is "advocacy?" By definition, it's "the act of giving verbal support to a cause." The Thesaurus uses descriptive words such as "champion," "stand by," and "go to bat for." I like these definitions, because they seem to fit the needs that firms might have, and best describe the way the advocacy support works - using the prestige of the Commercial Service in an overseas country to help represent your company in a positive way. That's really having someone `go to bat' for you! And when it's Commerce, it's a big bat!

The Advocacy Center
To learn more about advocacy services from Commerce, simply check out the web site www.ita.doc.gov The home page has a direct link to The Advocacy Center, and there you will find detailed explanations of their services. In a nutshell, they will tell you that our overseas Embassies are playing an increasing role in supporting U.S. firms, especially with foreign transactions involving foreign governments. That doesn't necessarily mean huge dollar projects, so you don't have to be a Boeing to need or use advocacy.

How it Works
We recently had a situation develop in China that is probably a good example of how advocacy can be used. Our company was bidding through our appointed distributor in Beijing on a wastewater treatment project in Jiangsu that was valued at about $200,000. The project tender called for products "manufactured in the U.S. or Europe" as the customer wanted to make certain they would be receiving advanced technology products for their application. The actual low bidder for the project was approximately 8% lower than our company, but they were offering products manufactured in Taiwan, while claiming they were a U.S. manufacturer. We called our local Commercial Service office in St. Louis for help (Missouri, except for the Kansas City area, is served by the St. Louis office). They immediately referred us to The Advocacy Center.

We contacted The Advocacy Center with a direct telephone call, and that one call was all it took to have the complete support of what turned out to be a "team" effort. After a full explanation, they requested we complete their Application Form, and then they went into action. Within days they had involved the Commercial Service offices in Beijing, Shanghai, St. Louis, and alerted the Environmental Section in Washington. Wow ... we now had a support team to help us determine the best course of action, including Commerce staff "on the scene" in China!

After numerous telephone calls and e-mails (with copies to two overseas offices and two U.S. offices), we received an 'Advocacy Letter' prepared by The Advocacy Center. The letter was written on United States Department of Commerce letterhead, signed by a Senior Project Manager, and sent direct to the Director of the Tendering Company in Jiangsu Province in China.

The result - the bid from the Taiwanese firm was disallowed by the Jiangsu Tender company, and we received the order!

Second Step
But that's not the end of the story. We were still concerned about the Taiwanese firm repeating their misrepresentation as a U.S. manufacturer in future project bids. The Advocacy Center had done a lot of background checking to try to determine if the Taiwan firm manufactured in the U.S. (they do have a U.S. office address). Their approach was simple. They sent the firm a letter to their U.S. address offering Commerce advocacy services. In this way they could determine if the firm was interested and/or qualified (the application form requires company certification of the U.S. export content value for the project). The firm acknowledged their interest, but Commerce never received the completed Application Form.

Based on this experience, Commerce provided another advocacy letter directed to the same individual at the Jiangsu Tendering Company. That letter explained the actions Commerce had made to contact the Taiwanese firm, with the conclusion that they did not have enough information to determine that the firm manufactures its products at any facility in the United States. With this additional advocacy support by Commerce, our company is now prepared to respond to possible future situations prior to bid completion.

Marketing Tool
As a result of Commerce's advocacy support, we saved a major project bid, positioned ourselves to avoid future repeat situations, and gained a new "marketing tool" for other project bid support worldwide. Do we plan to continue using the advocacy services provided by Commerce? You bet! In any possible future need, we want Commerce to "stand by" us, "champion" our cause, and "go to bat" for our project bid offer.

BG 2/6/03 Rev