FEATURE9 September 2011

Lightspeed’s David Day on merging with GMI

Features News

WPP’s research division Kantar announced this week that it had acquired panel provider GMI and would be combining it with Lightspeed Research. We spoke to Lightspeed’s CEO David Day about what it means for the companies, their clients and employees.

Research: Wednesday’s statement said GMI would be “aligned” with Lightspeed. Are we talking about a full merger?
GMI will be merged with Lightspeed Research, so all of the components of GMI will be part of the Lightspeed business.

What will happen to the GMI brand?
We need to work through that. We need to understand where the equity lies, depending on the regions we’re operating in. We’ve got a range of products and services in the portfolio so we need to look at branding in the context of all of that.

“Lightspeed and GMI are very similar in terms of the philosophy of what we do. Neither company has ambitions to be a full-service company”

How is the deal going to affect jobs?
We’re both growing companies. We’ve been increasing the size of our businesses in terms of headcount for some time. One of the motivations for this acquisition was talent. We’ll be reviewing the organisation as we go forward and as the companies come together, and with any process like that there are likely to be changes, but we don’t think they’ll be significant.

There are obviously synergies from a financial point of view around some of the activity but it’s not necessarily around talent.

What about the leadership of GMI?
Mike Brochu, the CEO, will be stepping down and David Parker, the CFO, will be stepping down also. But they will be working with us as we transition and merge the organisation, so they’ll be with us for some time. There are a number of people in the senior team [at GMI] who will be part of the senior team of Lightspeed.

Clearly this buy gives you more scale and international reach, but how will it affect the range of Lightspeed’s activities?
Lightspeed and GMI are very similar, I think, in terms of the philosophy of what we do. We both believe in being excellent in online data collection and everything around that. Both GMI and Lightspeed see ourselves very much in that space – neither company has ambitions to be a full-service company. We believe there are other companies who do that, and clearly within the Kantar world there are plenty of companies who are very good at that.

Having said that, clearly there’s an evolution in terms of the types of data that one can capture via the web. Surveys are one part of that, behavioural tracking is another part of that, cookie-based measurement is another. All of those are services that both GMI and Lightspeed offer and will continue to develop.

GMI have been doing quite a bit of work in gamification. Is that something Lightspeed will continue to pursue?
Yes, we are very much interested in how we can engage with respondents – all of us in the industry are interested in that. Certainly gamification is of interest, because for particular demographics that can resonate very well. So it’s part of the portfolio of services we now have and will continue to develop.

Where does this buy put Lightspeed vis-a-vis its competitors in the world of sample and technology for online research?
We compete with all the other companies, but we also work with them. That’s the nature of this industry. Particularly as the online data collection industry has continued to mature, I think there is more of a need for companies to work together because the nature of the work is that much more complex. Even with this acquisition, Lightspeed clearly has greater capacity, but we’ll still continue to work with other third parties as well.

You’ve added some important markets to your list, including Brazil. How will that change things?
When you look at panels, GMI really is a very complementary fit to Lightspeed in so far as they’re strong where we’re strong. It’s a good fit because it strengthens our BRIC offer – we had panels in Russia and China, as did GMI, but GMI also has panels in Brazil and India, so that rounds up the BRIC offer. GMI are also very strong in Asia.

Whereas before clients would say, I’ll do online for the big five and for the rest I’ll use traditional methods (largely because they were concerned about historic consistency of data but also because the costs were relatively low in those markets for more manual data collection), that’s beginning to change. Clients are now more interested in greater consistency in how the data is collected, and part of that is that they’re leveraging what they can do using interactive media. But also labour costs are increasing in those developing countries. So I think we’re beginning to reach a tipping point. So I think the acquisition of GMI places us very well to take advantage of that as that part of the business continues to grow.