FEATURE1 September 2010

The tomorrow people

How can the research industry recruit and retain the very best graduates? If you want to create the leaders of tomorrow, you’re going to have to take some pretty firm action today. Six voices come up with some solutions.


Considering how many of them fell into the profession by accident, market researchers can be a remarkably passionate bunch when talking about their careers. But the challenge of attracting and nurturing fresh talent remains of the industry’s perennial worries. We spoke to some young researchers and other figures from the indsutry to hear their views on how to make the most of young talent, and how youngsters can make the most of their research careers.


Trish Parker
Managing director, Discovery Research

“?Graduates aren’t attracted to market research because they don’t know what it is”

That’s not true, I hear you say – academic institutions do cover market research, no self-respecting marketing, management or social science degree would be seen without one. But, I contend, even after studying market research undergraduates still don’t understand what it is.

Sadly the academic institutions tend to focus on the mechanics, the process. My bet is that those who study the subject think they understand questionnaire design, statistical analysis and the merits of depth interviews – and think it’s a bore. Their perception is that market research is either about data collection, or complex statistical testing and modelling, which are potentially off-putting at both ends of the scale. The bit that’s missing for them is the level of strategic thought that’s required. They need to see the big picture, how market research works, how we make a difference, how exciting it is. Real-life case studies are needed to show our role in developing new brands, advertisements, magazines, cars – the list is endless.

We need to bring market research to life to get graduates talking about it. Many experienced MR professionals currently feel frustrated at our profile, or lack of it. What can we do? If we are serious we could provide an outreach programme, with supervised workshops and case studies. An alternative might be a rolling road show around the universities, starring passionate, enthusiastic MR professionals with wonderful tales to tell. It really isn’t hard. Recently a graduate applicant said to me, “I really didn’t know much about market research before I came, but today’s exercises have given me real insight – I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed it, and the challenges it presented me with.” We need to be stirring these emotions much earlier in graduate career considerations.


Catherine Boyd-Maunsell
Global head of people, Hall & Partners

“If market research wants to retain graduates it must empower them”

Market research is sold to new recruits as an exciting career that allows people to think, analyse client problems and present the findings in an insightful and creative way. But the reality for many new joiners is an administrative-heavy role focused on managing fieldwork and data. This doesn’t work for graduates who want client responsibility from the outset.

We are evolving our structure to give graduates more support from project managers, allowing them to specialise in focusing on what the research actually says and means. We also focus on empowering young people to contribute to improving the company. Our annual ‘Imagine Day’ encourages everyone to contribute to the company’s business strategy and we hold regular peer forums where junior staff can talk frankly to senior management about what they think works and what needs to change.

This year we had our first global volunteer week – people voted on the initiatives that meant the most to them and in total 40 people volunteered 278 hours across five projects in London, including painting and decorating a school and volunteering in a soup kitchen.

We have also adapted the way we deliver training, which reflects how Gen Y has been taught, and how they learn. Giving graduates today a 75-page manual to read simply won’t work. Our training sessions have become small interactive group sessions rather than ‘preach at you’ seminars. We have developed webinars for new product training as well as support in the form of wiki areas that allow people to ask questions and find information in the way they are used to on the internet.
These sorts of initiatives are vital for market research to develop and retain its talent. If we don’t do this, people don’t just leave the company – they leave market research altogether. And the whole industry suffers.


Corinna Holm
Insights executive, Kadence International

“Graduates need to try and get the best of both worlds”

?Entering the workplace from education has been a daunting experience as there are so many new skills to develop as you make the transition into the professional world. The experience gained in these influential years can shape a person’s view of an industry and whether it can offer an inspiring career in the future.

In market research I believe much more can be done to develop new talent, encourage passion and foster an environment of career engagement. Having spoken with many of my contemporaries in the industry, many don’t have enough involvement in core project activity and end up bound to their desks, completing basic tasks day after day – a routine which hinders progression. This seems to be particularly true for those working for larger organisations, usually after having been attracted by the big names and promises of these agencies. As a result they can become disengaged and give up on the industry before being able to fulfil their potential and really contribute to the profession.

I’ve been with Kadence for almost two years and I’ve been lucky enough to be actively involved in countless projects, from initial client briefings to delivery. Research executives are given the chance to contribute to methodologies and observe high-level strategy meetings, getting the chance to gain insight into the entire process. It’s important to make sure you get the best of both worlds – the chance to be actively involved with high profile projects early in your career, while being able to hone the basics with tasks that all juniors must complete to earn their stripes.


Annelies Verhaeghe
Senior consultant, InSites Consulting
• Esomar’s young researcher of the year

“Young people in market research must dare to speak up”

First of all, young researchers should realise they are not simply there to learn during the first years. You can contribute from the very beginning. Often young people are better skilled in terms of social media usage than their more experienced research colleagues. Indeed, young researchers belong to the generation of ‘digi-natives’. You can use this knowledge to take research forward.

 Think how you can improve new methods like research communities, social media netnography and blog research, or even come up with a new methodology. Don’t keep your ideas to yourselves, talk about them with more senior people and co-create. Don’t be disappointed if it does not work out right away: it often takes failure in order to achieve success. It is important to pick the right company to work for – one that will be open to your initiative.

Newcomers should look further than their own company. Get involved in initiatives of local and international market research associations. They will broaden your perspective. You have the chance to meet the people who have already been around in the industry for years and can provide you with the necessary context. At the same time they can offer you a platform for innovative research. Try to take the floor yourself at association meetings or conferences.

Finally, embrace online conversations. If you don’t have the chance to be part of an event, you can still be active on social media. They are numerous LinkedIn groups or you can follow #MRX on Twitter or one of the many market research blogs. Listen to advocates and critics and form your own opinion. Don’t be afraid to share your own content – you will get honest feedback. Moreover social media is a great platform to let the world see what you are interested in. If you miss an opportunity, someone in your online social network might see it and bring it to your attention. Show your enthusiasm and hopefully you will help attract and inspire even more youngsters to the industry.


Susan Brudvig
Assistant professor of marketing, Ball State University

“We need to make young people realise how important research is to business”

Young people need to realise that market research can provide a path to bigger and better things in the world of business.

College students who enjoy systematic analysis and quantitative applications rarely enter marketing – much less market research – as a first choice. Rather, a typical college student is attracted to marketing either because they are creative and enjoy advertising or because they are competitive and enjoy salesmanship. Although these are valuable qualities, they are not the most important characteristics of a successful marketer. Young people need to realise that being a creative, hard-working people person is not enough for a distinguished marketing career.

This is where market research comes in, because market research forces one to distil key learnings into memorable talking points that have been systematically inferred from logic, statistics, observation and analysis. Frankly, this is one of the most difficult aspects of teaching marketing research at the college level today. From primary school onward students are encouraged and rewarded to express their own, individual thoughts, feelings and opinions. Perhaps this is a uniquely American characteristic of education, but as a result many students struggle to truly understand that their intuition as marketing novices is a fallible substitute for rigorous analysis.

Market research provides the means to learn the discipline required of a skilled marketer. It helps one develop the ability to translate a need into a problem, a problem into a question, a question into an answer, and an answer into a solution. That is an invaluable business skill. For students who seek a career in marketing or business more generally, clientside market research provides a path for learning how to see the world simultaneously through the customers’ eyes and the providers’ eyes. There are few better ways for young people to cut their teeth in the world of business.


Federico Trovato
Vice president of consumer market intelligence,
Philips Consumer Lifestyle

“We need to recruit market researchers who can consult, influence and lead”

?It’s not enough any more just to have technical experts in market research. The situation is evolving so fast you need to be much closer to the business than before, particularly to the marketing function. The fact that market researchers have access to consumers means we could have a really strong impact, but we have to shake off the feeling that research is just a technical or data-producing department.

To achieve this we have to look not just for people with technical capabilities but also consulting and leadership capabilities for creating engagement and gaining credibility with management. I look at consumer insight as being a catalyst for change, so you need people who are capable of delivering that change. If you want to stay close to consumers today you need to know how to change with them and bring that feeling to management and marketing.

When I moved from P&G to the agencyside at Bases, I was hired because I had this mix of knowledge that was about being close to the client in terms of understanding their marketing abilities, their strategies, the way they take decisions, and using that to add value to the research outcome.

Of course, it’s not easy to find the right sorts of people. In my department at Philips we’ve got people from marketing functions, research agencies and consultancy companies. You have to ensure you have the right technical mastery, but even when recruiting people from agencies I look for the ones who have more of a business understanding, who understand how management make decisions, so that they’re capable of influencing those decisions.

Life definitely used to be easier before we were living in this social media environment, and before consumers were so empowered. But best-in-class companies have been trying to move in this direction for a long time.


12 years ago

Expectations also need to be managed of those that breeze into the industry thinking that they know it all. There is a type of graduate (certainly in the experience of mine & many of my associates in the industry, increasingly so over the last few years), that are very keen to do the palm-pressing with clients & the presenting (which of course, is great & also very high profile), but show very little inclination or interest to do the 'nuts & bolts' part of the process - this includes tasks such as writing questionnaires, checking scripts, putting tab-specs together, developing analysis, checking tabs etc etc. Having learrnt my trade in a different (earlier) era, understanding the essentials of research should be an absolute requirement, regardless of how you wish your career to progress afterwards. It allows one to fully understand the process from beginning to end. I'm sorry, but a certain amount of grafting is necessary!

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12 years ago

Research is fundamentally about people. How many other industries do you know where talking to people, finding out about their attitudes and really getting under the skin of brand interaction, is at the core of what they’re about? Agencies are failing to mention the opportunities to experience different cultures a career in market research presents. Global travel and meeting fascinating people you wouldn’t otherwise come across, understanding cultural contexts and macro global trends, should all be drawn on and emphasised when attracting young people to the industry. No two days are ever the same – whether it’s flying to Japan to find out whether a new product can cut through in a crowded market or conducting online research via Twitter, variety is at the heart of a career in market research. As an industry we should be communicating the message that if people fascinate you, then you will love research.

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12 years ago

I'm not exactly a new graduate but I've wanted to get into qualitative research for years and have come up against one dead end after another! The industry always talks about attracting talent but isn't prepared to think laterally. My background is in journalism and PR and I have lots of transferable skills: I'm experienced at interviewing, I can talk to anyone from the CEO to the cleaner, I love analysing people, I'm incredibly inquisitive, I'm good at listening, I can write well and I've got an excellent understanding of how businesses work. I'm planning to do a course with the AQR on moderating groups early next year and am 100% committed to getting into research, I just need a break! If you are interested in hiring me send me an email - yvie.smith@gmail.com.

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