Cracking the Brazil nut

In a meeting at the DTI last week, the British Council encouraged designers to go on a business foray to Brazil. Lynda Relph-Knight weighs up the realities of the marketplace.

Quite apart from its prowess on the football field, Brazil is a country of opportunity Рor so we are led to believe by the international business community. Rarely out of the Financial Times these days, it is the country identified by multinationals as the place to be. Last month leisure chain Ladbroke announced its plans to open a Hilton Garden Inn in Ṣo Paulo; the likes of Unilever, meanwhile, have long seen it as a good market for their fmcg brands.

There is an indigenous design community turning out reasonable work, according to research carried out by Joe Tibbetts of Abet CMC and British Council head of design promotion Emily Hayes. But it isn’t geared up to cope with the influx of new business, largely from overseas. It is, however, keen to learn from UK and US consultancies and to forge partnerships with design groups in those countries.

It’s not surprising therefore that big design groups are targeting Brazil. Landor Associates has been working there on high-profile identity projects for clients such as the national airline, Varig, and Banco Bradesco and has a presence through Landor Latin America. Earlier this year Minale Tattersfield & Partners set up retail and packaging group Minale Tattersfield Piaton & Partners in Rio de Janeiro (as well as Buenos Aires in Argentina), having made a partnership with Jean-Marc Piaton to focus on the energy industry. In May WPP Group’s identity network Enterprise IG announced plans to open an office in São Paulo to service Brazil, Argentina and Chile.

But you don’t have to be big. Branding specialist Williams Murray Banks is working there from London, largely for Unilever. And consultancies as diverse as product group Indes, interiors specialist Lumsden Design Partnership and Conran Design Group turned up for a meeting at the Department of Trade and Industry last week at which the British Council laid out plans to take a dozen design groups to Brazil in November to try their luck (DW 1 May).

The meeting focused on selling opportunities in Brazil to the largely design audience. Research by Tibbetts and Hayes showed massive openings across virtually all sectors. Retail interiors, fmcg branding, transport, consumer products and privatised and privatising industries were specifically cited as ripe for a hit.

Tibbetts says it’s an easy place to do business. In his view, it’s easy to get there; it has a far from alien culture; and there are energetic consumers bursting with pent up demand after 21 years of military dictatorship. Add to this the current lack of a service culture, the “hunger” of local design groups and enthusiasm of design buyers and “the opportunity is excellent”, he says.

“Forget Brazil and think of São Paulo,” he told the audience. The city accounts for 13 per cent of consumer spending and aims to produce 3.2 million cars by 2000 and to attract 3.8 million tourists by the end of 1999. “Think of it [Brazil] as a series of nation states. Only the largest organisations can think of the country as a whole.”

Tibbetts cautioned that lack of local knowledge was the greatest barrier to overseas business, as the 1997 Design Council/Design Business Association export survey found. But he gave few clues as to what to look out for in Brazil.

Julian Amey, director-general of Canning House which is the focus of trade and cultural links between the UK and Latin America, was more specific. Remember the local language is Portuguese, not Spanish, he said, and make contact personal. Don’t bombard local companies with too much paper; pick up the phone.

More important though, be aware of very different business practices. Amey hinted at cash-filled “brown bags” to win favour, and spoke of trademark rip-offs as an industry in its own right. No one mentioned what to expect by way of fees, but big groups working in South America advocate payment in US dollars to hedge against the major fluctuations to which local currencies are prone.

Williams Murray Banks director Richard Williams echoes Amey’s warnings. He has found Brazil hard to get to and from, having been stranded there for days because no flights were available. Communications there are difficult, he says and the pollution in the cities is terrible.

The big groups are more forgiving. Landor, for example, has serviced Brazil largely from its San Francisco office and has enforced its standard contract and copyright requirements without any hitches. It says it can’t risk its global reputation by supporting “dubious’ business practices. But the situation might be very different for smaller groups working for smaller clients than Landor might court.

The message is clear. By all means consider Brazil, but don’t believe all the officials are saying in a bid to boost British exports. Check it out yourself with groups already in there and the local consulate. Above all, ask yourself whether you’ve exhausted your potential in markets closer to home before you step on a plane.

Pros

Easy to get to

Friendly pro-British people and a lot of English spoken

Massive opportunities in all sectors

Local currency unit, the real, is stable

Design buyers enthusiastic about UK design

Local design groups keen on strategic liaisons

Cons

Hard to get to

Friendly people, speaking Portuguese

Heavy urban pollution and transport chaos

Fees, and how to get paid

Dubious business practices

Difficulties with copyright protection

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