OPINION27 September 2019

Jump on board

Opinion UK

The Market Research Society is running elections for its main board next year. Phyllis Macfarlane, its current chair, explains why standing is a good idea.

We’re running elections for MRS Main Board members at the beginning of next year and I thought it would be useful for those of us involved to share our experiences in a series of articles looking at what it’s like to be one and what ‘exactly’ is involved. We’d like more people to think about standing for election, either now or later in their careers.

I’ve been on the board since 2012. My main motivation was that I could see that the market research industry was – and still is – changing and I thought I could help the MRS navigate the change.

I personally love the challenge that change brings – how to see the trends and anticipate (and help shape) the future and carry people along with you.  In 2012 the MRS had already re-branded and adopted the ‘Evidence Matters’ strapline, plus we had an exciting new CEO in Jane Frost – so we had a great platform to build on. We’ve achieved a great deal. The trend towards insight and away from pure market research had meant that we were losing large client memberships and we’ve reversed that.

We’ve grown revenues from training and conferences significantly. We’ve introduced initiatives like diversity, mentoring, &More, data analytics groups and qualitative researcher and recruiter qualifications. We’ve also simplified the governance structure; previously it was rather convoluted and held us back from extending into new areas.  In the background we’ve continued to support, develop and regulate industry standards and guided the whole industry through the horrors of the GDPR process. Not an insignificant responsibility!

But the change in the sector is relentless. Too many new agencies see themselves as having a multi-layered business with research only a part of what they do (albeit a fundamental element), and somehow, they don’t think about membership and contribution to the MRS. So, the future challenge is to continue to broaden the footprint bringing in those for whom research is part of the offer, not necessarily the whole.

It has, of course, always been like this – I’m old enough to remember the debates about whether customer satisfaction and mystery shopping were part of market research; you’d be surprised how many researchers considered that they weren’t. And before that, the huge arguments over quota vs random sampling, and the validity of telephone interviewing.

So being the MRS chair and on the MRS main board is all about managing change – moving forward while not losing the heritage, appealing to young people and new agencies and clients – being relevant to their ever-broader roles in the decision-making process.

My favourite analogy is that we’re like the fashion industry – we can take on all the new and exciting ideas coming out of places like St Martins and art schools everywhere, while still harnessing the couture and tailoring skills that underpin everything, responding to changes in retail and production methods, and taking on issues like plastics, waste and underpaid labour. It’s not a bad comparison to learn from.

So think about whether you could be an MRS board member either now or in the future. Read the articles from other board members in the coming weeks and consider whether you would relish the challenge and be able to make a difference.

You can find out more about the MRS Main Board vacancies and process for nominations here.