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Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Ipsos must protect Synovate’s ‘golden nuggets’

In 1991 Adrian Chedore founded the company that went on to become Synovate. Twenty years later and the business is to be bought by Ipsos for more than half a billion pounds. We asked Chedore, who retired from Synovate in 2009, for his thoughts on the deal and his advice for the new bosses.

Research: What’s your reaction to the acquisition of Synovate by Ipsos?
Chedore: I wasn’t surprised. At some point there had to be more consolidation in the industry. Synovate was a logical target for that consolidation and Ipsos was a logical buyer. So my reaction was, it’s about time, in some ways.

It was time for me to move on a couple of years ago and in many ways it’s time for Synovate to move on now. So I’m not shedding tears or regretting anything, I had a fabulous run at Synovate and I wish them luck ever since then. It’s progress, that’s all. It’s natural evolution.

“The trick, in this integration like any other, is going to be retaining the clients. The way to do that is retaining the key staff”

What would be your advice to Ipsos?
I’ve always been a big believer that research needs to move on and move into new areas. The very big companies, because they’re global and they have to maintain a presence in all these markets, that actually makes it quite difficult for them to exploit some of the newer technologies and newer areas. So my first thought would be that they need to ensure that they do cherish and nourish those kinds of areas, which exist in both Ipsos and Synovate, but they’re the kind of things that, because they’re not necessarily making loads of money, can be forgotten a bit when it comes to a merger.

The traditional form of doing large-scale surveys all around the world, these very expensive and usually quite unwieldy vehicles that a lot of companies use for tracking or brand image or whatever it may be – if you focus only on that, there’s a danger that [you lose focus on the areas] where you’ve got some new and exciting technology. They could be a small proportion of your overall revenue, but they could, in the future at least, be a very significant proportion of your overall profit. Beware of the golden nuggets that are hanging around in there. I would be very careful not to lose them. The bigger the company gets, ironically, the more difficult it gets to achieve that, because by definition you start to look at the very big numbers – you have to.

The trick, in this integration like any other, is going to be retaining the clients. The way to do that is retaining the key staff, and that will be a big challenge when you’ve got two really strong offices [in the same area] – making a call of who the new CEO is. That’s where someone needs to take pretty direct responsibility, and I’d have to say, it goes all the way up to Didier [Truchot, CEO of Ipsos] to be making those calls. Because it’s difficult to know quite who else can do it.

What do you think of the cultural fit between the two businesses?
I think maybe two or three years ago it would have been quite difficult to put the two companies together, because I think then the cultures were very different. Synovate was a bit… odd, shall we say. Or different. And whoever bought it wouldn’t have been getting good value because they’d have been losing out on the value that the culture was very much built in to. Over the past three years I think that uniqueness in the Synovate culture has changed, so it’s not as different to the more traditional Ipsos culture. So I don’t think now there will be a culture problem. There would have been some time ago, and I think Ipsos recognise that too.

How do you feel about Synovate being placed ‘under the Ipsos banner’?
Put it like this: if it were me I’d certainly phase the brand out. I’ve always been a great believer in single branding. I don’t think it’s been announced that they’re phasing it out but that wouldn’t surprise me and I think it’s exactly the right thing to do.

How do you think clients will react to the news?
For some clients it’s going to be a good thing because there are complementary strengths, geographically and market to market. So the combination will provide more consistent strengths worldwide.

For the very big spenders who like to have two, three or four global players on their roster, well one’s just disappearing, so they’re losing one level of option. They may be less happy about it. But I wouldn’t have thought they’d be so unhappy that it would drive them to move to a third-party competitor.

The third group are those who are really heavily related to an individual – an account director or client service director or whatever it might be. That will depend on the final mix in terms of who stays and who goes. It would be pretty naive to think that everyone is going to remain within the merged company. There will obviously be departures, forced or otherwise, and if you are a client and your preferred client director is one of the people who leave, they’ll be less happy. But I’m sure Ipsos have done the sums.

Are you still involved in the world of research at all?
I’m a non-exec at Vision Critical and I’m doing a bit of work with a few companies out in Asia. They’re all young or startups and one or two are very much in unusual, new areas. But nothing apart from Vision Critical in the more big-scale traditional areas. Retirement is the best career I’ve ever had and I wouldn’t swap it for anything.

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Readers' comments (8)

  • I thought the 50+ year old Market Facts became Synovate, along with Aegis Research. The older partner should be remembered though the name has disappeared, yeah?

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  • "Over the past three years I think that uniqueness in the Synovate culture has changed, so it’s not as different to the more traditional Ipsos culture": Translation: Many key people left with Chedore and the unique culture was replaced by a stripped down for sale version.

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  • Let's face it, the purchase of MORI by Ipsos was a more significant deal. MORI was, and remains, a much stronger UK brand than Synovate ever has been. The fact that Ipsos MORI is headed up by key MORI-legacy staff indicates that Synovate colleagues need not fear this- if they have the talent to lead this bigger beast, they can do so.

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  • "a much stronger UK brand " - that's the point; outside of the UK it's pretty meaningless.

    The thing is that Synovate has/ had a reasonable reputation for delivering small-agency levels of innovation with the pricing benefits and DP power of a larger agency, at a time when getting the other big agencies to do anything exciting was like trying to push water uphill. One can only hope that this approach is retained.

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  • And so it continues. One less global agency for really big projects and an agency doing interesting work disappears. To people looking for global giants to do different creative work, stop wasting your time. That sort of agency doesn't attract or encourage creative people. Get the big boys to collect the data and smaller agencies to do the survey design and analysis

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  • The truth is that the Synovate founders have more or less all left (made their earn out) and have no interest in working for a Stock Exchange Analyst and a stock price. Somehow this is not for market researchers. Talent is gone and replaced with whatever you can find on the market. It does not make Synovate a bad agency today, just a normal one...like Ipsos, hence the good fit. There is nothing amazing or unique at Synovate today. And for sure Synovate name will disappear. Same services, same work, same people... so they will work under the same name: Ipsos.

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  • Ipsos must protect Synovate’s ‘golden nuggets’ = If there were any 'Golden Nuggets" left at Synovate, Aegis would not sell its nuggets, or at least not at what is considered a cheap price tag...

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  • Over the past couple of years I think that the uniqueness of the Synovate infamous culture has changed. Many key people (true Synovators) left along with Adrian and the great focus on culture and human talent management was replaced the “Balance-Sheet” management as Synovators call it now … i just wish and hope that the statement “we are buying talents” is not just a communication game and that IPSOS will truly and genuinely value the talent and the people …

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