An American in Paris

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Bill McNutt is a veteran of several U.S. direct and interactive marketing trade delegations to Britain, France, Germany and elsewhere in Europe. He met recently with Craig Roberts Stapleton, the new U.S. ambassador to France. Mr. Stapleton served as president of Marsh & McLennan Real Estate Advisors of New York and was a co-owner with President Bush of the Texas Rangers baseball team from 1989 to 1998. He was the U.S. envoy to the Czech Republic from 2001 to 2004 before moving to France in June 2005. He is a resident of Greenwich, CT. Here's an excerpt of what was discussed over lunch May 13 in Paris.

Mr. McNutt: Mr. Ambassador, we hear a lot of negative things about the French economy in the American press. Why should American companies be interested in the French market?

Ambassador Stapleton: The French economy is the fifth largest in the world. They have 62 million consumers with a high per-capita income. American products are well established in this market. There is a desire for products made and distributed out of America. American direct marketing and online marketing companies can fulfill this desire in a cost-effective way.

What categories of American products should do well over the next few years?

The super-luxury category and products with innovation. American brands are well established in France. American products are known and appreciated for their quality.

Tell me about the French and online marketing.

Young people are using their laptop and desktop computers for shopping and informational needs. Computer literacy is high, and there is a recognition that direct marketing creates more competitive pricing for products because the consumer can compare similar products and their prices with ease.

Who are the online shoppers in the family?

My wife is an online shopper.

What are the most common mistakes made by American firms when they enter the French market?

I have not been here long enough to give a good answer. The big American firms know how to set up operations. I would advise the smaller and midsize U.S. companies to study their methods. You have to know how to hire and use local labor. Good French managers are a necessity. New investment from the United States is welcome in France. French workers like American capital. More than 600,000 French men and women work for American companies in this country. American business is a good force and a big force.

What about American online and direct marketing firms who are investing in Europe? What are some things they should review?

Look at broadband access and credit card penetration. People with broadband access are known to purchase four times as much as people with slower access to the Internet. The number and use of credit cards by a population is another important factor. In Europe, the use of broadband and credit cards varies widely. France has a very good Internet infrastructure and lots of credit cards in circulation.

The biggest event of the summer is going to be the World Cup. How is America going to do in the World Cup?

I was the American ambassador to the Czech Republic. They play outstanding soccer. I hope to go to the U.S.-Czech Republic game. (Final score: Czech Republic 3, USA 0.) In Asia four years ago America made it to the quarterfinals. I think people will again be surprised by the play of our team. n

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