'Agility is the watchword of the day'
When Gayle Fuguitt retired from General Mills in August it was clear from our interview that it wouldn’t be the end of her 30-year research career; a career that saw her rise through the ranks to become global insights leader for one of the world’s biggest food companies.
And so it was that eight months after that interview, Fuguitt was announced as the new president and CEO of the Advertising Research Foundation, replacing Bob Barocci after a decade in the role.
Fuguitt is no stranger to the ARF, having sat on its board and executive committee since 2005. However since 15 April she’s been responsible for the day-to-day running of the organisation.
We caught up with Fuguitt to find out how her first weeks in charge have been and where she plans to take the ARF in the coming months and years.
“A lot of the focus of the industry has typically been on how we do the research, whereas I’m interested in how we create better advertising”
Research: You’re two weeks in to your role at ARF now. How’s it going?
Gayle Fuguitt: It’s been fantastic. After the Re:think conference [in March] I went on a listening tour and met with all 35 ARF employees. I put together about nine questions, starting with what they wanted to know about me. But most important for me was to understand from the group’s perspective what things we need to keep and what things they feel we need to change. One of my very favourite quotes from the tour was from one of the employees who said: “Bob built the box, and now you get to open it.” I really like that a lot.
Did you have your own sense of what the team’s greatest achievement was in the decade Barocci was in charge?
GF: My own experience was that the conferences and the white paper/working platforms had a unique ability to anticipate topics that we needed to be working on in the industry. As a leader of a [insights] department I found that the content and the thought-leadership in the research, as well as the experiences that I had with peers, were the things that kept me coming back.
So how did you end-up taking the job after retiring from General Mills?
GF: What happened was that I got on the keynote speaker circuit, and as I was giving these talks I realised that I still had an awful lot of passion for this industry. Then one of my board colleagues Steve Coffey [chief research officer of the NPD Group and past ARF chair] called up and suggested the job, and it got under my skin. And I really do feel like I have a lot still to contribute to the industry.
There was a lot of excitement that greeted your appointment around the fact that you come from an advertiser background. You’ve had 30 years trying to understand and anticipate advertiser needs. What do you see as their needs going forward and how will ARF be looking to help?
GF: We have several big initiatives underway. Neuro 2.0 is looking at the different ways advertising testing can be conducted, and there’s a lot of interest in these techniques. They’re not necessarily new in the industry – galvanic skin response was something we were looking at 30 years ago at General Mills – but there’s a lot of interest among advertisers to crack the code to come up with better advertising.
I think a lot of the focus of the industry has typically been on how we do the research, whereas what I’m interested in is how we create better advertising. So Neuro 2.0 certainly fits with that.
There’s also Foundations of Quality 2.0, which is about data quality. These sorts of projects are really important because there is so much media fragmentation and consumers have so many ways to interact with us now, so as an industry we need to have a point of view about what are valid and reliable ways to contact consumers.
It’s also clear to me that when you sit at an advertisers desk, the challenge they present to you isn’t just the business questions they need answered, it’s also about what their day is like and trying to figure out how you are going to be able to get information to them.
So we can expect a greater focus on delivering insight?
GF: It is partly that, but it’s about decision-timed insights. It’s about knowing when the senior leader is going to need to make a decision and what’s at stake, and then lining up the budgets to spend the money on the decisions that have the greatest amount of risk attached to them.
In the area of advertising, that requires a lot of anticipation because commitment dates are far in advance of when things actually run. So agility is the watchword of the day.
The trick is to make sure we have the right questions in hand and that we answer them before they get asked.
But how do you get ahead of the demands of decision-makers?
GF: It’s about listening, and asking senior management, “What keeps you up at night? And what do you feel are either enablers to growth or barriers to growth?”.