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OPINION1 January 2010

The visibility factor

Opinion

When Arbitron’s chief executive officer Michael Skarzynski appeared before the US House ofRepresentativesCommittee on Oversight and Government Reform last month, he faced a formidable opponent

When Arbitron’s chief executive officer Michael Skarzynski appeared before the US House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform last month, he faced a formidable opponent.

He was defending his company’s PPM technology against the claim that it underrepresents minority audiences, and that as a result the underrepresentation negatively affects the revenue of those radio stations targeting minority audiences. He was up against the tough and insistent Rep Eleanor Holmes Norton who offered a masterclass in clinical inquisition. This dispute has been rumbling along for some time now and, if this hearing was anything to go by, it still has legs.

Putting the intricacies of this particular debate aside, this was a perfect example of research being put centre stage and of methodologies being held to account, under the harshest public spotlight. And that can only be a good thing. The research business is no longer a backroom activity that is hidden under a morass of other marketing functions. It is a key commercial driver, and research findings as witnessed in the case of Arbitron have a direct and demonstrable effect on financial outcomes. The Arbitron case proves that research matters. And Arbitron is not the only high-profile research issue on the slate.

In a few months we can expect a general election in the UK where the politicians will not be the only ones under scrutiny. With a close result expected, pollsters’ pronouncements will be studied carefully, methodologies questioned and biases exposed. Once again, the practice of research will be held to account.

Research makes the headlines again in Germany where data protection chiefs are warning website owners that Google Analytics may be an illegal means of tracking online behaviour. Also, the European Commission has advanced infringement proceedings against the UK over the way it handled tests of Phorm’s online targeted advertising software.

The days of a gentle and academic approach to research are long gone. The days of a sleepy response to research findings are also past. Government, watchdogs and journalists are onto the case. And that, I hold, puts research in a great position. If research is being questioned, challenged and held to account it’s worth, power and influence becomes clear to clients, the public and respondents.

Research in the public spotlight looks like a pretty good way to open the book on a new year. Here’s hoping that 2010 is a year of high achievement through high visibility.

UPDATE 12/01/2010: Since the publication of this editorial in the January edition of Research, Michael Skarzysnki has left Arbitron for giving false information to the House Committee hearing.

@RESEARCH LIVE

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