OPINION11 March 2014

Making an impact


Research doesn’t just change the commercial outcomes for brands and businesses, it also affects the lives of ordinary people, says Sinead Jefferies.


Preparing my session for Impact 2014, the MRS Annual Conference, has genuinely given me pause for thought as I realise how much of a difference the work we do can sometimes make.

It took me back to my early days as a young graduate researcher when – for the first time – I got a sense that the work I did actually touched the real world. At that moment, I understood the power that I held to shape real outcomes. I was able to phone my parents and say, “Look, this is what I do”.

Let me share my memories of that occasion. I was a fresh-faced 21 year-old graduate working in the omnibus team at BMRB. It was a fantastic launch-pad for my career as our clients and subject matters covered a huge range, and I got to take responsibility for my own projects pretty quickly. Admittedly a lot of it was focused on turning things around as quickly and accurately as possible, and we didn’t really know much about the context around the research, or what happened with the results. But perhaps that’s why this particular project made such a mark.

“I was a young graduate researcher when – for the first time – I got a sense that the work I did actually touched the real world. At that moment, I understood the power that I held to shape real outcomes”

I did a very small piece of research for Burger King about whether people preferred their burgers grilled or fried. And they showed the research as part of a TV ad, so my research (if not my name) was in lights. I felt very proud – although perhaps a bit less so looking back on it now as I’ve worked on many more ‘important’ projects since. But what the Burger King research showed me was that the work I did connected with the wider world, and I’m not sure that I’d realised previously the potential for research to do that.

It’s certainly one of the reasons that I’m still here, in the industry, many years later and why, a little bit older and wiser, I’m delighted to be putting together a session for this year’s MRS Conference that will showcase some fabulous projects that really have had a powerful impact on the lives of people in the UK.

One such project was a case study that evaluated how development work for cancer awareness led to a campaign that has actually helped people spot symptoms before they become untreatable. Now that really is an example of how research can save people’s lives.

We also have a project that reveals how insight into the lives of the critically indebted is helping shape the advice they need. These are people whose lives are crippled by debt, but through the research there is now the real possibility of them finding a way out of the terrible situation in which they find themselves.

And finally, we have research that is helping to transform the lives of children who, for whatever reason, aren’t living with their own parents. The research is helping to shape the way adoption services communicate with prospective parents, meaning more kids having happy, secure homes.

So research really does have the capacity to change lives for the better – and we mustn’t forget that. I remember someone once saying to me, “It’s only market research, no-one’s going to die”. Hopefully not – but, perhaps because of a great piece of research, someone might live. This sentiment reinforces why this is such a wonderful industry and how we are not just changing the commercial outcomes for brands and businesses, but also the lives of ordinary people.

As we prepare to share some of the great things we’ve achieved at this year’s MRS Conference, I thought I’d invite others to share their own ‘impact memories’. What was the first project you were involved where you realised you’d made a real difference? Was it truly ground-breaking, or something a bit more mundane – like mine?

  • Sinéad Jefferies is managing director of Opinion Leader. Her session – ‘Improving lives: Ideas for supporting families, health and prosperity’ – is on day two of Impact 2014. Click here for details.

1 Comment

10 years ago

I too have had the keen satisfaction of making a difference. At the beginning of my career I helped save Radio City Music Hall and design safer uniforms for McDonald’s employees. Recently my insight work led to a financial literacy website enabling Millennials to achieve their dreams.

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