OPINION1 January 2009

Table-hopping economics



All the finely tuned briefs and lovingly honed questionnaires will be of little use if your respondent base is ill-defined and skewed. Getting hold of the right respondents for the right survey has never been an easy task. However, if you were looking to test opinion to the current economic conditions and gauge research business confidence you’d have done well to attend the Research 2009 awards ceremony held last month at London’s Royal Lancaster Hotel.

This was a gathering of agencies, clients and researchers of all grades, from owners to junior execs. The awards celebrated success at
every level and across every discipline. It seemed the perfect place to do a highly unscientific and methodologically wobbly study of how the research business is faring amid the financial storm. We won’t win any awards for our work and it’s highly unlikely that we’ll set up our own research house off the back of the experience.

Before we’d embarked upon the ‘study’ we’d prepared our headline – “Doom Dominates Industry Bash” – and expected to see researchers, heads down, weeping into their salmon en croûte.

The reality turned out to be somewhat more heartening. The reaction on both the agency and client side seemed creditably measured. You didn’t get the sense that anyone was blind to the dangers ahead, but it was clear, from most that we spoke to, that agencies have seen this coming for some time and are as prepared as they can be. However, as MRS chair Rowland Lloyd said in his welcoming speech, while the traditional research markets will undoubtedly take a knock, emerging markets overseas are continuing to offer highly attractive rates of growth for research and insight. Many organisations attending the event made great inroads and investments into these markets during the years of plenty and look set to reap the rewards. While those rewards may only offset losses elsewhere, there aren’t many other industry’s that even have that offset option.

The evening celebrated best practice, emerging talent and commercial nous. Whatever happens over the next year or two, you can be sure that this event was not a farewell to those principles. If anything we expect the industry will provide more visible evidence of its expertise, give talent more room to thrive and sharpen its commercial canniness.

Our survey of industry players proves once and for all that research is best left to researchers. But even allowing for the questionable methodology, it’s clear that when backed into a corner, research is going to come out fighting.