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Friday, 28 November 2014

Young researchers: a big agency view

Our round table discussion with six graduates, published in September, set out to discover what life is like for young researchers. They all had different backgrounds and came to the industry in different ways – some planned, others by accident – but they all had one thing in common: they all worked for small or medium sized agencies.

We hadn’t planned on excluding graduates from the big agencies, who train a huge number of new researchers each year – it just worked out that way. So, in the interests of balance, we put out a call for graduates working in the bigger firms to step forward and share their experiences.

One of those to take up the challenge was Jessica Boize, a trainee research executive who has just completed her first year at Ipsos Mori. Here’s what she had to say:

My friends often ask me what it is I do for a living. Graduate outsiders don’t often understand the market research industry let alone how vital it is for businesses. The best way I found to explain my career was to talk about brand identity. Not the identity formed online in the “twitterverse” or economic profiles dissected in financial pages, but the emotional connection formed in a consumer’s head when experiencing a new brand. What message does that brand deliver and what does that brand mean to the person?

My job is to find answers to those questions, directly from consumers themselves and bring vital insight to a manufacturer’s research and development. They need our analysis to understand the consumer, making the small but crucial tweaks that mean the difference between success and failure. Brand identities are never truly fixed – they are dynamically shaped for better or worse by what consumers want and need, today and tomorrow. Ipsos Marketing (my department) investigates the consumer in advance, finding their needs and wants before a product even hits the shelves.

A typical day usually involves a 9am start, replying to emails and then quickly reading up on the morning’s news and my RSS feeds from client companies and industries. Often we’ll have a catch-up meeting to work out where we are with our projects and understand whether anyone needs extra support or guidance. After that it’s straight back to client assignments – at the moment this mainly involves working on the final debrief. Usually I will be selecting the most important data for presentation, creating charts and developing relevant insights. I also do desk research to add context to our findings. We are expected to take ownership of projects very early on and the company provides ample opportunity for project management experience.

That’s where I am one year on. Thinking back to my first days in the job, it was mainly about getting to know who people were and where I would be working – understanding the company as it is today and what it grew from, so that we could grasp the evolving demands of our clients and how the company is constantly developing. There was also a lot of training on the theory of market research, an important part of preparing for the MRS Advanced Certificate: an industry-standard qualification that teaches you to carry out independent research. I will be taking the exam in summer next year.

Going to my first client presentation and seeing how they reacted to our findings was a high point of the year, because it allowed me a clearer insight into how our research would be applied and used in reality, rather than just in the context of the debrief. For me, the most exciting part of the job is developing a relevant story about how our data fits into the big picture and what it means for a business, not just pulling out important statistics. For grads, this is where creativity is encouraged.

What I have really valued working for a large research agency is the opportunity to get involved in different projects beyond my department. Volunteering to help out other teams has been an interesting way for me to understand the kind of projects run by the MediaCT and Public Affairs divisions, and how different they can be to Marketing projects, which focus mainly on new product development and optimisation. Getting involved in qualitative research allowed me to understand how people respond to problems in their own words, which can be more enlightening than pure quantitative research when you need to answer the “why?” questions.

In terms of my daily work, I do feel trusted and listened to, and that people are happy to give me responsibility, even though I am very new. Despite being just a small part of a large department, I do feel like my contribution is valued.

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