Maximize Your Direct Client Marketing by Leveraging French Competitiveness Clusters

Aerial view of Paris La Défense
Photo credit: Unsplash

By Amber Marcum Combaud

À Propos: The FLD Newsletter logo

As freelance translators, marketing and prospecting are part and parcel of the job, whether we enjoy them or not. Regular, consistent investment can make a big difference in your workflow and keep your pipeline flowing, so you can worry less about dry spells.

In this article, you’ll learn more about French pôles de compétitivité and how researching the ones relevant to your specializations could help you do more targeted marketing and expand your client portfolio.

First things first: what is a pôle de compétitivité, or competitiveness cluster?

Competitiveness clusters were devised by the French Directorate General for Enterprise, or DGE, in 2004 to encourage growth and job creation in flourishing markets. DGE cluster policy objectives include fostering R&D, developing and implementing new technologies, and strengthening innovation ecosystems. Clusters were set up to help businesses strengthen their innovation muscles and overcome market challenges. Designed to be regional hubs bringing companies of all sizes, research labs, and training establishments together according to common denominators like core business or sector, strong networks between top clusters have helped encourage more collaborative R&D.

Cluster members benefit from guidance as they grow and develop, enhancing the value of their products, services, or processes and helping them launch new ones onto the market. National and local authorities are closely involved in clusters, which are firmly embedded in their local landscapes—with many hosted on business park campuses and in public buildings.

For detailed information about what competitiveness clusters have achieved, see the report published by France Stratégie in French in August 2020 and the English-language version that followed in 2021.

How can competitiveness clusters boost my direct client marketing efforts?

Using cluster member directories can help you save time sifting through search engine results pages to build your target company list—making them a critical element for maximizing the time you invest in your marketing. And with a message template at the ready, you’ll be able to tailor your pitch and reach them more quickly (and effectively).

In addition, many cluster websites have news pages with posts and articles that provide interesting information about smaller companies that may not have a person handling their marketing and communications full-time yet. They can also be a good way to learn about upcoming events and opportunities to meet people in the cluster. When companies are in their early stages, the founder/CEO may also be the main salesperson—and end up running the booth at a trade show or conference.

How do I conduct research on pôles de compétitivité in my areas of specialization or interest?

Aerial view of Paris La Défense

You’re in luck, as the DGE page has a list of no fewer than 55 competitiveness clusters with a total of 14,000 innovative companies at the time this article was drafted.

Link to map

Here are a few niche clusters that I found interesting:

In addition, on the France Cluster website, the ‘Mapster’ directory app features other similar groupings. I picked out several gems to share:

Tips for targeting your results

If you don’t find what you’re looking for among the ones listed there, or after you’ve identified French competitiveness clusters that you’d like to follow, you can always expand your search to professional associations and unions. Use keywords like ‘syndicat+profession X,’ ‘association d’entreprises du secteur Y,’ ‘centre de recherche (universitaire) industrie Z,’ and so forth in your favorite search engine. I pulled up a couple well-known examples, such as GIFAS, the French aerospace industry association, and La French Tech, for startups. Last but not least, reading a well-crafted email from you about your excellent translation and English writing skills could also make French PR professionals’ eyes light up!

And don’t forget about overseas departments and territories. The Cap Energies cluster is one example that has active groups in Guadeloupe and La Réunion, though it is based in Aix-en-Provence. Speaking of DROM, or département et région d’outre mer clusters, Qualitropic focuses on the bioeconomy. Mayotte, another overseas department, happens to benefit from quite a strategic location. There, the ADIM international cluster aims to reach countries in Eastern Africa and as far away as the UAE.

To broaden your scope beyond France’s borders, you might also find it worth your while to consider European clusters in other Francophone countries. Expanding your search to a broader geographic area could bring you more diverse results. You can use the EU Cluster Collaboration Platform (ECCP) map-based search tool to find names and websites. Who would have thought that Luxembourg has its own maritime cluster? Another surprising find for AV translation and creatives is the media industries Twist cluster in the Walloon Region of Belgium.

Putting your favorite French clients’ company registration codes to work

I will share one more technique based on the French company registration system that can help you identify new potential prospects. When a business is registered, its legal representative must select an APE or NAF code that corresponds to its core business from the INSEE (French National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies) classification system. Its website has a search tool based on this classification system, also available in English. You can browse them to find a few NAF codes for the sectors you work in. Here is an example of how it works (translated by yours truly):

Let’s say you run a convenience store. To determine the APE code for your core business, here’s the classification system you would follow:

  • Section: G Wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles
  • Division: 47 Retail trade, except of motor vehicles and motorcycles
  • Group: 47.1 Retail sale in non-specialized stores
  • Class: 47.11 Retail sale in non-specialized stores with food, beverages, or tobacco predominating
  • Sub-class: 47.11C Mini-markets

The APE code for your convenience store is therefore 4711C.

Here’s my step-by-step guide to using NAF codes to find new prospects:

Step 1: Select one or more NAF codes. For translators and interpreters in France, the code is 7430Z.

Step 2: Go to and enter the NAF code into the search engine. When I enter the code for translators and interpreters to search for companies in the Bouches-du-Rhône department/PACA region, I found over 3,000 registered with this as their core business, including my own!

Alternative: If you do not know the NAF code, you can also type in the name of a company and find out which code is used on its profile page. Then, go back to the search engine and enter the code and any other parameters to create your own list. If you want to search for your clients’ competitors in another region, be sure to select the relevant region from the dropdown.

Step 3: Use your sleuthing skills to find the company website, LinkedIn page, or employee profiles to locate a point of contact and email address. If you like, you can also pay for to compile lists of companies for you using this basic data.

Step 4: Add companies of interest to your list.

Step 5: Modify your message template to fit the company you’re contacting. Don’t forget to put a reminder in your calendar to follow up!

Some final thoughts

To avoid going down rabbit holes, marveling at the many new companies you discover, I find it helpful to set some parameters for my marketing time and quantify goals.

For example, if I want to spend one hour developing new leads, I can break up my time as follows:

15 minutes – Search for five new companies using a relevant NAF code on

15 minutes – Peruse company websites to evaluate whether they might need my services.

15 minutes – Identify three people to contact at those companies and try to find direct email addresses or their LinkedIn profiles.

15 minutes – Send personalized emails or direct messages to the contacts whose information I was able to find.

I hope this article has given you new ideas for drumming up new potential leads and reinvigorated your direct client marketing plan!

If you have had luck doing something similar in the US, Canada, or elsewhere, the À Propos team wants to hear from you! Contact the À Propos editor, Ben Karl, at ben [at] bktranslation [dot] com with your ideas or submission.

Amber Marcum Combaud is an ATA-certified French to English translator specializing in corporate and brand communications (including CSR), academic translation and editing, and certified translation of official documents. After obtaining her B.A. in French and Linguistics from the University of Virginia, she became a translator in 2007. She completed the professional certificate in Translation program offered by New York University in 2010. Since 2016 when she began freelancing, she has served a wide range of corporate clients, translation and communications agencies, as well as local businesses and individuals seeking to expand their horizons abroad. Amber lives and works in Marseille, France, where she is always pleased to connect with colleagues in person and virtually. Drop her a line directly amber [at] amc-communication [dot] com or find her on LinkedIn.

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