FEATURE7 March 2014

Exit interview

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In April 2014 former Interbrand chairman, Rita Clifton, comes to the end of her five-year term as president of the Market Research Society.

She’s witnessed a great deal of change at the organisation during that time, including a new CEO and an extensive re-brand. To find out how she got on – and what’s next for the ‘doyenne of branding’ – Research turns HR department and conducts her (unofficial) exit interview.


What is your main reason for leaving?
The fact that it’s a fixed term is my only reason for leaving. I’ve been delighted to do it, but one of the main reasons for fixed terms – in any role – is that it’s generally in the interests of the organisation to have some fresh views and some fresh blood after that period of time. 

What did you enjoy most about the role?
Seeing the transformation of the MRS into an organisation that reflects some of the excitement and innovation in the research sector generally. Bringing in the new CEO has been a real highlight. Creating a new vision with the team; getting fully engaged with some of the new techniques, channels, resources; all of these things have been very rewarding, and very exciting. 

What aspect did you find most challenging?
What’s challenging in any role is – first and foremost – getting to grips with what you think the key issues are, and then thinking about what you can personally contribute – particularly if the role is one of president, which is not an executive role, but rather an influencing role and a ‘figurehead’ type of role. So one of the challenges is knowing when to intervene; when to influence.

What was your most memorable experience in the role?
One of my most memorable experiences was when we ran some workshops about the future of the MRS, involving a whole range of people. We involved external people and some staff internally, and the level of excitement and participation for that was terrific. That was definitely a moment where I felt, “There’s really something we can do here”. 

Did you have clear objectives when you took up the role?
My honest view is that, no, I didn’t come into this role with very clear objectives, because I think that when you take on any role of this kind, the first thing you need to do, above all, is to understand properly what the issues are. So I think my only objective coming in was that I wanted to make a positive difference. 

Is there anything that you didn’t manage to achieve, that you would have liked to?
It’s difficult for me to say what I would want to achieve, because again I think the role of MRS president is to help other people achieve what they’re doing. But going forward I’d like the profile of the MRS to continue to be built over time. We need to make sure we’ve got the profile in mainstream media, and for the broader public to understand the importance and the interest of the research sector. They should want to participate in producing the kind of data that’s important to their lives. 

What are the key qualities and skills that should be sought in your replacement?
Well obviously the last five years have been very different, I’m sure, from what the next five years will bring. But I think that, above all, the president needs to have a real passion for the market research sector, and a real sense of how important and core it is to the success of so many organisations – and indeed to Britain and the rest of the world. I think that society as a whole needs to have a sense of how important it is – of how critical this sector is – and some of the sense of possibility about where it can go. 

What advice would you give to the person taking over your role?
Enjoy it. I wouldn’t seek to give anyone advice on this topic, because I’m sure they’ll come to their own conclusions about what it is they need to do. Just enjoy it!

What changes would you suggest to improve market research as an industry to work in?
The reality of working in the research sector is very often much more exciting, much more innovative, and more important than is sometimes perceived from the outside. One of the things that would be very important to the research sector is to raise the profile of what it does and how important it is, because we want to have the very best graduates – the best and brightest graduates – wanting to come into this sector and feeling proud to tell other people that they’re in this sector. 

Where are you going to work next?
I have a very full and fascinating portfolio of non-executive directorships; I sit on the board of various companies. I’m also just investing in a new business which I’m chairing, called Brand Cap. We launched, formally, in October. And I also do a lot of not-for-profit, pro-bono, board roles. So, life is quite full. 

Any other comments?
Just to say that I’ve really enjoyed these almost five years. I’m really glad that I did it. I think there’s so much more to do, and I absolutely wish my successor the very best of luck. I also want to say a very fond au revoir to the board and the executive team. And thank you. I think that’s the only other thing I’d say – a huge thank you to everybody who’s supported the changes and supported the MRS over time. I’ll be seeing you.