September 2006 - Interview With ERA Europe's Outgoing Chairman

Au Revoir et Merci…

By Paige H. Muller

Gilles Labouyrie, vice president, marketing and merchandising for Home Shopping Service (HSS) in France, will bid adieu to his position as chairman of ERA Europe this September. Labouyrie helped establish the affiliate association and has lead its first-ever Board of Directors since 2003. ERA interviewed Labouyrie to get his thoughts about ERA Europe, then and now.

Under his guidance, ERA Europe has made tremendous strides in establishing the association as the only dedicated television shopping trade organization in Europe in just under two years. The Board has grown from six to 12 and is a symbol of the explosive growth of the televison shopping market in Europe. In the United Kingdom alone, there are now 39 active shopping channels, including live shopping channels, live auctions, as-live presentations and infomercial channels. Further, the composition of the current Board-members hail from France, Slovenia, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, the U.K. and the U.S. -ensures that the interests of the industry are represented at the Central European level and across the EU member states and other European countries on regulatory issues.

No matter where in the world you do business, regulatory issues are a prime concern. Labouyrie’s biggest success story is ERA Europe’s imprint on government affairs issues that affect the industry. It has been publicly recognized by the European Commission and key industry stakeholders as the only television shopping industry trade organization in Europe and has built relationships with the EU and other representative organizations.

During the current legislative session, ERA Europe voiced the DRTV industry’s concerns and positions about proposed amendments to the Television Without Frontiers Directive, which is the main EU legislative instrument on broadcasting that, in part, sets minimum standards on areas such as television advertising.

To help further build DRTV’s credibility among government officials and consumers, Labouyrie helped spearhead the establishment of ERA Europe’s Self-Regulation Program, which is similar in intent to ERA’s Electronic Retailing Self-Regulation Program (ERSP) in the United States. As stated in ERA Europe’s 2004 — 2005 Annual Report:

[The Self-Regulation Program] will soon become an element of differentiation for direct response marketers. Those who consciously stay outside the program will have to explain how they will protect consumer interests in a better way by not signing up to this set of straightforward minimal commitments.

The design of a TRUSTMARK is on the Board’s agenda to recognize member companies that are compliant with ERA Europe’s marketing guidelines.

If you read the retrospective about Jeffrey Knowles’ stint as ERA chairman on page 102 of this issue, it is clear that even though an ocean lies between ERA and ERA Europe, both organizations share many of the same goals and objectives, and challenges and growing pains.

ERA: Tell me about how ERA Europe came to be.
Reiner Weihofen of Global Alliance and ERA’s International Task Force made a recommendation to the ERA Board of Directors to grow the organization’s membership and industry representation internationally. Based on the Task Force’s findings of feasible overseas markets, the Board approved the establishment of an ERA European affiliate. In 2001, Marcel Avargues, ERA Europe executive director, was recruited by ERA U.S. to build an European ERA, with the objective of making ERA a global brand. I decided to join this effort because any industry needs a trade association and this industry in Europe did not have any representation or structure. With a group of other dedicated members, I worked to ensure that ERA European members had an organization, representation and structure.

Gilles Labouyrie
Deputy Managing Director
Home Shopping Service
After a 15-year career in the distribution industry, Labouyrie joined the TV shopping industry two-and-a-half years ago as deputy managing director in charge of merchandising. Together with a team of 30, Labouyrie has strengthened the core TV business while successfully developing new channels of distribution via catalogs and the Internet and through HSS’ Dutch operation. HSS’ multi-channel distribution of its taped shows, 24-hour channels, infomercials, DRTV Spots and new distribution channels are currently carried out in France, Belgium and Holland.

ERA: What have been your main challenges in leading and developing ERA Europe?
Establishing ERA Europe as a separate entity from, although tightly linked to, ERA U.S. was definitely challenging, as was creating the confidence among the European members that ERA Europe was going to meet their needs and demands. Our Board was dedicated but small for such a big task; we sometimes felt overwhelmed. Incorporating the British TV Shopping Association (BTSA), which, at the time, had been created because there was nothing like ERA Europe to fill the void for the TV shopping industry, was crucial. Once we were up and running, it was important to bring this initiative into the ERA fold in order to have only one voice to represent the industry to the various regulators.

ERA: What are the key things you think ERA Europe should do to improve its value proposition to its members and prospective members?
There are a number of things that I think need to happen to raise awareness of ERA Europe among electronic retailing professionals across the multi-layered European Union and show why the industry will be stronger when we act collectively:

  • Improve the Self-Regulation Program package
  • Improve communication through newsletters
  • Initiate a facts and figures research initiative about our industry
  • Expand beyond its traditional membership base

ERA: In what ways is the direct response industry in Europe different from the U.S. market?
There are more similarities than one would believe at first sight. The major one is that we also suffer from a deficit of credibility from the consumers and from the regulators. The other main differences are:

  • The three major European markets (U.K., Germany and France) are dominated by far by live shopping channels; the infomercial business being much smaller in proportion than in the U.S.
  • The distribution of TV in Europe is more digital than in the U.S., thus allowing more channels and broadcasters to exist.
  • The regulatory issues are not yet considered on a global EU level, but there are still a lot of country-by-country regulations, which makes it difficult to run a Pan-European operation.

ERA: What are some of the trends impacting the European direct response industry?
The biggest risk, both short and medium term, to our industry in Europe today is what is called “participation TV.” These formats bring more profits to the broadcasters than the traditional home-shopping activities. Therefore, these formats are our most dangerous competitors for airtime.

Our biggest opportunity long-term is ERA Europe, which is now very well recognized by the EU Commission and brings real credibility to this industry. However, nothing will be achieved until the Self-Regulation Program runs at full steam, with the backing of all members.

(Editor’s Note: Television viewers across Europe are used to interacting with the shows they watch to vote for their favorite contestants or participate in game shows, for example, via mobile technologies and the Internet.)

ERA: Have there been any changes in the DR industry that have really surprised you or that have caught you off guard?
Yes, the boom of shopping channels in the U.K. was a total surprise watching from the continent. This market is a real laboratory of what could happen once digital TV really develops. It is also a laboratory of what can happen when an industry explodes and finds itself in dire need of self- regulation and representation.

ERA: Legislative issues like Net neutrality, streamlined sales tax and privacy are critical issues for U.S. multichannel retailers. What political issues are of concern to European electronic retailers?
The number one issue today is the EU Directive called TV Without Frontier (TWF), which regulates the whole TV industry, including advertising and TV shopping. We are also concerned and fighting against net neutrality. Definitely privacy issues are a concern but have already been widely regulated in the various countries and at EU level, so there is currently nothing new on this front.

ERA: As a founding member of ERA Europe, what’s next for you after you step down from the chairmanship?
I’ll be available to participate in various committees or task forces or other efforts whenever the Board will need my time and energy. I believe this industry needs a strong association to represent it to the consumer and regulators, and I’ll always do my best to help ERA Europe achieve this goal.
Merci, Labouyrie.

Paige H. Muller is ERA’s vice president, marketing communications. She can be reached at (703) 908-1020, or via e-mail at [email protected].


No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment