OPINION1 July 2009

Bottom line on top managers


?In an interview with the Guardian last month, Gordon Brown admitted that it was difficult to formulate a long-term strategy for the country when buffeted daily by fresh financial crises. It appears that the vision thing has to take a back seat while leaders sort out the leaking pipes, faulty wiring and subsiding walls. We live in an age of emergency repairs.

The research business is having to undertake some unpleasant plumbing duties of its own. As the recession bites, agencies are cutting costs. For some it’s a plan for wringing every drop of extra margin and, for many, a strategy for survival.

A slew of agencies have reported redundancies and we’re aware of even more that have that plan on the slate. The voices that confidently predicted that research would ride the storm are starting to sound hollow.
It’s clear that this recession will have a profound effect on the shape of the research business. Consider the nature of the redundancies being made. In the last recession, cost cuts were made by recruitment freezes and culls at the junior level. This time around agencies require a far heftier dent in the wage bill and so senior managers are being hit hard. For some of those companies making cuts in the upper echelons, survival is assured. But what effect will this have on the future provision of research?

In removing that layer of seniority you ensure a lower cost base, but you also remove a layer of experience and consultation skill. Experienced consultants, those executives who add real insight and value to research findings, will be missed. For the past ten years agencies have jockeyed for this more consultative role. At a stroke they may be dismantling all they have built.

In his article The Procurement Paradox, Andrew Wiseman acknowledges that agencies are having to cut costs to satisfy procurement departments that place little importance on the ‘added extras’. They just want the data and they’ll go for the cheapest option. For some procurement operations seeking out the best research solution requires the same level of creative thought as the hunt for the best toner cartridge. It’s all about comparing quote for quote.

In this age of emergency repairs, we all have to live with these uncomfortable realities. No one knows when the recession will end. But here are three things we do know. The recession will end. Research budgets will increase and clients will, once again, want consultation on top of the data.

If the research business is manned by staff who have only been created to keep costs low by pumping out the numbers, how will that client need be satisfied?