OPINION1 April 2010

The stamp of authority


Watchdog Postcomm is mulling over suitable action following the discovery that Royal Mail rigged research into service quality.


Watchdog Postcomm is mulling over suitable action following the discovery that Royal Mail rigged research into service quality.

Here’s what happened. A whistle-blower contacted Postcomm with evidence that test delivery addresses were circulated to Royal Mail workers and managers. Staff were able to recognise the test mail and prioritised it to ensure it arrived on time. The perfect example of a market research story taking centre stage in the national press for all the wrong reasons. For full details see our report.

This really is a monumentally depressing tale for anyone involved in the business of research. It doesn’t matter if you’re a client, an agency or even a journalist on an MR trade title, this is publicity that we could all do without. It’s a story that plays directly into the hands of cynics who believe that market research is open to abuse and manipulation. And those cynics exist.

The Royal Mail incident offers a salient reminder of why so much debate, thought and action is rightly devoted to the issue of research standards.

The maintenance of those standards and ethics is, arguably, becoming harder. Everyone knows that some marketing chiefs can be a little macho in the pursuit of insight and edge at all costs for corporate gain. They are driven by an insatiable hunger for the new, the fast and the cost-effective. They demand ‘good’ research, but the number of those wanting ‘good enough’ research is growing. It’s interesting to note that few research agencies are openly selling themselves as providers of such a service – for now.

If ‘good enough’ research really does gain traction, will this be research that is based on ‘good enough’ standards and a ‘good enough’ ethical approach to, well, respondent confidentiality,
for example?

The creation, communication and maintenance of standards is not an issue that should be thought of as niche, fusty or irrelevant. It is absolutely key to success. It ensures transparency, rigour and, most of all, authority.

As this issue goes too press I’m about to head off to Research 2010. You can pretty much guarantee that here will be no end of innovation, creativity and imagination on display from the research and insight business. However, I am hoping that in the breathless dash for the new and vibrant, conference will not completely lose sight of research’s firmest and most enduring bedrock – quality. Reach for the stars by all means, but keep an eye on your footing.