ICE–Agenzia, an invaluable partner. Handbook for optimum use.
Over the past decade, and perhaps longer, the Italian Trade Agency (Istituto per il Commercio Estero – ICE) has witnessed intense development, achieving a level of efficiency that is fully comparable to that of other similar European agencies. Not everyone knows this, but it has become an invaluable tool for Italian companies. Specifically, it can provide solid support for a manufacturing segment composed of small and medium businesses that have to distinguish themselves on the global market, but alone do not have sufficient means to undertake the research investment necessary for successful entry into new and unknown commercial territory. And, something that is equally important, ICE–Agenzia can be a reference point for distant international customers/operators who would have difficulty getting to know all the producers and operators in Italy, because the industrial textile brands do not have the marketing power and visibility that Italian fashion or design brands can wield.
For this reason, we have chosen to provide some information about an organization that can be a real booster for our companies’ export business and for their existing or new customers. There are a number of questions we would like to ask ICE–Agenzia, which is represented by Ines Aronadio, Director of the Made-in-Italy Promotion Coordination office.
Q – Ms. Aronadio, how does an Italian company in the home textiles market get in touch with ICE–Agenzia if it wants to enter new markets? We are thinking of producing a sort of handbook for businesses that contact you for the first time…
A – Let me begin by saying that ICE–Agenzia promotes Italian economic relations in the world, helping SMBs in particular to learn about, enter, and position themselves in foreign markets. We work in close collaboration with other institutional actors promoting the internationalization of the Italy System. The website ice.gov.it is the first information channel that can be consulted by companies. Organized by section, it provides a series of direct and free online services that are indispensable for a company in its first approach to key markets or industries.
We offer a range of services including training, information, and support and consulting services that are all part of a single customer-oriented catalogue. These activities are performed by our offices throughout the world, and all our analysts are all able to provide bilingual support, as a minimum. The ICE–Agenzia network consists of 64 offices and 14 correspondence points in 66 countries around the world. The offices are run by Italians, but all employees are local analysts: we thus guarantee excellent knowledge and reliability of the information regarding every business area in which we operate.
The first step is to take advantage of our free services: we provide orientation information on individual nations to assess the possibilities for internationalization and access to a given market. This first phase is followed by custom, in-depth plans. We create a service profile with the companies that turn to us and prepare a composite information dossier, a system of concepts and in-depth knowledge constructed using a platform created by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation with the collaboration of ICE–Agenzia, ENIT, and the Italian Chambers of Commerce abroad. This information collection is performed by our branches in the various export markets, but this is only part of the work we do. There are many initiatives that may be organized into a sort of program of ongoing assistance and promotion performed by the local personnel, who organize the participation of the company in tradeshows, seminars, independent exhibitions in the fashion sector, averaging more than 40 initiatives per year, with an annual budget of some 30 million euros. A successful example of what we do is Moda Italia, which we have staged in Japan for more than 20 years now.
Q – How do you help a foreign customer in the textile sector who is not familiar with the Italian business community find a partner in Italy?
A – Contact with the foreign office in the customer’s country is essential in this case. We have to create a sort of profile with indispensable information in order to provide the most complete and tailored service to a customer seeking an Italian partner. We have to know the area of activity, as much information as possible on the product or services that the company intends to offer, and the URL of the company website. The company must also provide brochures or other promotional materials, either printed or digital, illustrating what the company does, and clearly state its objectives and target markets and/or the ideal characteristics of a potential partner. Each foreign office works in constant contact with local operators and associations interested in developing or maintaining economic relations with Italy, which greatly facilities the initial meetings and development of relations. Furthermore, the ICE–Agenzia website provides an English version of the two sections “Find your Italian partner” and “Business opportunities”. The former provides a showcase of the individual Italian companies allowing the foreign company to seek and contact the most suitable commercial partner, while the latter allows the foreign company to post its proposal for partnership with an Italian company.
Q – What tools do you make available to the Italian company to allow it to analyze the various markets in which you operate and thus choose which one best meets its interests?
A – As I mentioned, after the free services that constitute the initial contact between a company and ICE–Agenzia, there is a complex range of more specific instruments which are offered on the basis of specific cost estimates to provide specific support in devising strategies for penetrating and consolidating a position on a given foreign market. First of all, we produce product data sheets with statistical analyses and graphs that describe the trend in world demand for over 330 products. For each of these, we indicate the most relevant markets, Italy’s position in them, and a focus on the main competitors. The sheets also include the destination markets for Italian exports and Italy’s main foreign suppliers for each product. We also have “your product on the market”, a dossier illustrating the potentials of a given product or service in a given market and including such information as: the state of the economy, trade with Italy, local suppliers and foreign competitors, consumption trends and target users, contract, customs, taxes, and technical information, and main tradeshows and media. We also offer profiles of foreign businesses in the various target countries with information on the local business climate. Another key service regards confidential information on foreign and Italian companies provided as a report with up-to-date information (the availability of which may vary from one country to another) on a business of interest, such as principal contact information, legal status, constituent data, financial status, and a concise general assessment of its financial standing and solvency. There are also personalized market studies conducted directly by the foreign office or via a specialized agency. They include notes on the economy and finances of the country of interest, analysis of demand in the target market, the distribution of Italian products and competitors, opportunities and critical points, and information on the main local trade fairs and other events for the sector. Lastly, on request, by means of profile matching, we perform searches for customers and/or partners who are potentially interested in establishing business relations with the Italian firm, provide documentation and/or product samples from the company doing the search to selected target companies, perform a telephone follow-up to verify interest in the proposal, and prepare a final report on the results, with a list of the businesses interviewed and their comments.
Q – Generally speaking, what other forms of business and professional-relations support and assistance does ICE–Agenzia provide to Italian companies that export their products or services, or to the foreign customer who is seeking a supplier in our country?
A – There are many relational activities that take place continually on our calendar. First and foremost, we organize business meetings in the local context and prepare and organize bilateral meetings both with economic operators selected by our foreign offices and with operators specified by the Italian client. The meetings may take place at our facilities, in the offices of the potential partner, or at third-party facilities. And again, as a service to operators in foreign countries, we organize incoming missions to Italy for the main tradeshows for the sector (for textiles: Milano Unica, Pitti, Milano Moda Uomo, Altaroma).
Q – So your consulting services are not limited to providing answers to individual questions. I seem to understand that they may continue for the entire duration of a company’s market penetration plan…
A – Absolutely. That is actually one of the key features of our mission. We may provide ongoing assistance, offering more personalized, practical instruments regarding legal, customs, and tax matters, applying on the client’s behalf for local tax reimbursement, providing support in making investment abroad (that is, a service consisting of a preliminary analysis of the state of the economy and the legislative framework in the foreign country), searching for partners/suppliers and leading negotiations with those that are selected, completing the paperwork required by local laws, and searching for local personnel and real estate to implement the activity. It is also possible to use ICE–Agenzia facilities in the target country. The service may include use of telephone and postal contacts, secretarial services, the provision of fully equipped workstations, and other services that may be agreed on a case-by-case basis. We also provide publicity in the media in the target country: here we propose various solutions that range from a single newspaper ad to the design of personalized advertising campaigns in the most pertinent media.
Q – As regards the new forms of communication via Internet and social media, do you have special initiatives to support businesses on the international market?
A – We are active in these new and indispensable forms of commerce. We have agreements with such e-commerce platforms as Yoox, Alibaba, Amazon, WeChat, and others. With Alibaba, for example, we have a specific platform under development known as “Made in Italy”, and we are working with WeChat—which is now a central player in China—to do something similar. In any case, we also organize workshops and training on this topic for small businesses in our offices in Italy, to develop the right initial approach to the various forms of e-commerce.