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OPINION28 November 2016

Why the MRS Awards matter

Awards Opinion Trends UK

With the MRS Awards one week away, John Gambles of Quadrangle, the awards sponsor, offers his thoughts on their importance to the industry. 

This year will be the fifth successive year that Quadrangle has sponsored the awards. Beyond the warm, fuzzy feeling we get from giving something back to an industry that we, to some degree, earn our crust in, there are a couple of harder-edged reasons for our sponsorship of the awards: first, it raises our profile and is a good thing for our brand to be associated with.

Secondly, to support the MRS financially: we think the research industry – however one defines this in 2016 – needs a strong trade body to represent its collective interests externally, to drive the standards agenda (today, that’s more important than ever), and to be a forum for promoting and recognising great work on both the client and agency sides.

Like all trade bodies, the extent to which the MRS is able to do this effectively comes down to funding, and it’s worth noting that stronger industries tend to have better-funded trade bodies.

As an industry, it’s enormously in our interests to have the strongest trade body possible, which is why I have long argued that corporate membership is too cheap: nickel and dime-ing on membership fees is short-sighted and a false economy. Along with the annual conference, the awards are one of the two main set pieces the MRS does every year.

Rather like other industry awards, the MRS Awards create a platform for the industry to show its best face to the world. This is important, strategically and economically: they matter for the well-being of the research industry as a whole. Whether this platform is leveraged to the full is a different question which, again, takes us back to funding.

The other thing that the awards do is give the industry a chance to take stock. Not in a complacent, self-indulgent way – though we do see some of that – but to get to examine what the best looks like and get a sense of the zeitgeist.

Yes, they also mean winners get to celebrate and to take something home to put in the boardroom or reception, though that’s a side effect and not their purpose: the MRS Awards are about the research industry, not the individual winners or losers.

And, here, we start to get to the essence of why the awards matter. With any awards – from Oscars to Knighthoods – their value derives from three things: how you enter; who does the judging; and what’re the criteria.

The best industry awards are open to all, judged by customers and peers, and both transparent and explicit in their criteria. The more these three things are true, the stronger the awards and the more they matter to an industry – both customers and suppliers.

Awards matter because they raise standards, drive competition and – in recognising ‘the best’ – focus our attention on what’s important. Back in 2012, deciding to sponsor the MRS Awards wasn’t an easy call for us.

Unlike most agencies, Quadrangle didn’t start life in the research industry, but as a customer of it. Our roots are in management consulting; we moved into the research space in 2007 because we were dissatisfied with the quality of what we got from the industry. This was rooted in differing definitions of research’s quality. Our view was – still is – that the only definition of research quality that matters is impact at client.

But our experience as a customer was that the industry saw quality as something to do with the process of research, rather than its purpose. We thought that was wrong then, and we’re more convinced now.

Our twitch about sponsoring the MRS Awards was that we’d be putting good money into supporting something that was more about recognising means than ends. Since 2012, the awards have evolved quite considerably and our twitch has diminished, though it does remain a concern.

But it’s a concern about the industry, not a parochial one. What sits behind this twitch is our belief that the industry does not fully grasp its own value proposition and therefore undersells its worth to its customers. We would love to see this change and see the awards – and the work of the MRS more generally – as being pretty central to this.

The value proposition is only partly about creating customer knowledge, understanding and insight; that’s because the true value of this knowledge, understanding and insight is only realised when it’s used. That’s where research has impact and that’s the only place where – in both the short and the longer-term – the industry’s customers find out whether their investment in research has been worthwhile.

There’s terrific work being done across the research industry that’s having real impact at client; there are some seriously good people on both the client and agency sides and, particularly in the last few years, there’s been fantastic innovation around data and digital. It’s right that we identify and celebrate these successes and that’s what the MRS Awards do.

Ultimately, though, the reason the Awards matter is that they are, by far, the best platform for the industry to prove its true value proposition to customers.

That’s what the MRS Awards are for, and that’s why Quadrangle sponsors them.

John Gambles is chairman of Quadrangle

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