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NEWS27 June 2019

Obituary: William Schlackman

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William ‘Bill’ Schlackman passed away on 31st May 2019, aged 88, at the Shell Point residential retirement complex, Florida, US.

Earlier in the month he had been injured in a fall, and ultimately suffered a heart attack that proved fatal. His funeral took place on 4th June in Fort Myers.

Bill is regarded by many as the father of UK qualitative market research, having brought the methods and processes of motivational research work to London in 1960. In recognition of his influence and contribution to the industry, he was made a fellow of the Market Research Society.

Born in December 1930 in the Bronx, New York, Bill grew up in Brooklyn. He described his family as “quite poor”, relating how he would often come home from school and see the family’s furniture in the street because his father couldn’t pay the rent. He did well at school, eventually studying psychology at Brooklyn College, and at City College gaining a Masters’ degree.

Working as a delivery boy in 1954, Bill collected a package from Ernest Dichter’s Institute for Motivational Research for delivery to a magazine office. He opened the package and discovered a report on motivational research. Realising this was work that he could have done, he approached Dichter for a job. Initially rejected, he returned in 1956 with reports he had written while freelancing and was hired immediately.

At Dichter’s Institute, Bill was at the centre of a dramatic expansion of applied psychology in market research. Paul Lazarsfeld, the first psychologist to advocate the package of techniques now known as qualitative research, had been Dichter’s tutor and supervisor in pre-war Vienna. In America, Dichter became the pre-eminent populariser of those methods throughout the 1950s. Bill described Dichter as “the most brilliant man I’ve ever met in the marketing and advertising field”. 

At Dichter’s suggestion, Bill spent a year in London to support David Collins’ Motivational Research Centre. Soon after his return to New York, Bill married Jone Pannaman, an English woman; Dichter then asked Bill to set up a new London office, in 1960. Bill and Jone stayed in England for the rest of his career.

Bill set up his own business in London in 1961. The establishment of qualitative research legitimacy, and the trigger for its 1980s expansion owes much, if not most, to the Schlackman Research Organisation. He enjoyed ideas, creativity, and the analysis of both clients’ problems and qualitative data: activities that he shared with colleagues. 

He liked to employ psychologists, or people who at least knew something about psychotherapy or psychoanalysis, and frequently used concepts from those fields to arrive at explanations for respondent desires and anxieties, with which to derive advice for clients. 

Offering both qualitative and quantitative research, the Schlackman Research Organisation, with David Drazin as Bill’s partner, recruited stellar researchers who eventually became MRS fellows and leaders of their own companies, including Tim Bowles, Martin Callingham, Terry Hanby, Bob Dance and Susan Owen. 

On the primarily-qualitative side, Bill’s employees at this time read like a who’s who of those who influenced and developed such research over the subsequent three decades, including Peter Cooper, who founded Cooper Research And Marketing (CRAM), Wendy Gordon, Pat Cockett, Colleen Ryan, Roddy Glen, Lawrence Bailey, Susie Fisher, Freda Bear, Peter Lovett, Prosper Riley-Smith and more. 

His importance – especially in the history of UK qualitative research – could hardly be overestimated.

Bill and Jone had no children, but Bill became a much-loved uncle to the children of his sister Ruth and Jone’s brother, Irvin. One nephew, Nick, reports how Bill was more fun than other adults: possibly because of Bill’s mischievous non-conformity.  Jone tried to keep to ‘healthy food’; Bill would take the nephews and nieces out for a burger or a hot dog.

A memorial service for Bill Schlackman will be held on Thursday 11th July at 2pm in the Cypress Room, Woodlands, Shell Point, Fort Myers, Florida 33908.

The references below give much more information about Bill’s life ( 2 ), his work ( 3 ), and his place in the developing success of qualitative research ( 1, 3 ).

By Lawrence F Bailey and Simon Patterson

Reference:

( 1 )  Bailey, L.F. ( 2014 ) The origin and success of qualitative research. International Journal of Market Research, 56, 2, pp. 167–184.

( 2 )  Bailey, L.F. & Patterson, S. ( 2013 ) Interviews with William Schlackman. Oral History of Market Research, 12 [The Research Network: audio archive: https://www.mrs.org.uk/resources/oralhistory#12 .  A video extract is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vSdFRpd6Vc ].

( 3 )  Patterson, S. & Malpass, F. ( 2015 ) The influence of Bill Schlackman on qualitative research. International Journal of Market Research, 57, 5, pp. 677-700.

1 Comment

5 months ago

Very sad news. As Laurence/Simon's obituary shows, we have published two papers in IJMR citing Bill's major contribution to the development of market research methods and the leaders of the next generation of researchers. Bill also undertook some seminal research projects for me when I was at the Automobile Association, which I enjoyed working with him on, and he also authored an important paper on relationships with clients which is still as relevant today as when it was published.

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