US green day is past but firms can reap benefits of an Irish trade mission all year round
Back in the 1960s, sewer workers using chemical dyes to trace illegal dumping into Illinois's waterways came up with the idea of colouring the Chicago River green for Saint Patrick's Day. Over half a century on, the tradition continues, still sponsored by the Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Union, and the impetus to paint the town green every March 17 has spread throughout North America.
Nowhere in the world, outside Ireland, is our national day celebrated so enthusiastically en masse, offering an unmatched period of profiling for all things Irish.
The green dye has now been put away for another year. But Enterprise Ireland's trade mission programme rolls on. Our 2017 schedule features 145 events in Ireland and overseas, including 46 international, ministerial-led trade events in 32 countries.
Having travelled with the North American entourage this March, there are a few points I would advise Irish businesses to consider when participating in missions.
For companies new to a territory, trade missions can help enormously in understanding the local industry landscape and the real situation on the ground. Enterprise Ireland's local overseas office can help you plan a tailored itinerary.
Using the market visit to become plugged into the right networks will accelerate your progress. The large, diaspora-based Irish networks are undoubtedly worthwhile.
It's equally important to look at sector-specific networks. They are invaluable sources of contacts, guidance and professional service referrals for advice on legislative, market or HR matters.
One of the unique dynamics of a trade mission is the opportunity it provides to open doors. While the diaspora card often works well in North America, the diplomatic channels that we can access during a trade mission, working with Ireland's ministerial representatives and overseas embassies, are particularly important in countries where state ownership and government involvement is high, such as the Middle East or China.
Likewise, when a cluster of Irish companies targeting the same market vertical comes together, the total becomes far more attractive to buyers than the sum of its parts.
Take retail; imagine how many approaches a buyer at Wal-Mart must be inundated with every day. Compare that to the offer from an overseas state agency to provide a conduit to the capabilities of an entire nation - from project managers specialising in retail construction to paper bag makers to e-commerce enablers.
One way of leveraging the opportunity is to invite existing and prospective customers to networking events. During Saint Patrick's week this year, a large number of our clients invited contacts to events in Washington DC (led by An Taoiseach), Chicago, Boston, Austin, New York and Toronto.
Equally, the activities around a trade mission offer opportunities to profile your product with a specific customer or group. In Boston, Enterprise Ireland client Meditec Medical had a very successful visit, accompanied by An Taoiseach, to Boston Children's Hospital, where Meditec demonstrated its product.
Another facet of a trade mission is its ability to help in closing a deal. The length of a sales cycle can vary, but ask any sales manager, and they'll tell you, it's arduous. Given the very specific timelines, a significant, high-profile visit provides the opportunity to accelerate this process.
The dynamic works best when there is a recognised win-win for all stakeholders. Enterprise Ireland client company Allergy Standards, for example, announced its partnership with the US multinational Owens Corning in Washington DC on March 16, providing welcome profiling for both parties.
If you think your company has a strong story to tell during a trade mission, talk to the relevant in-market Enterprise Ireland adviser. She will be able to help you to determine the opportunities to leverage.
Remember our national day of celebration comes around just once a year, but the opportunities of our ongoing trade mission programme continue.
Sean Davis is Enterprise Ireland Regional Director for North America
Sunday Indo Business