Commissioning research

By The Drum | Administrator

April 2, 2002 | 7 min read

It's what these people who stand with clipboards on Sauchiehall Street do, isn't it?

Market research, in layman's terms, might be just this, but it is also a way of helping a company with researching its latest project and guranteeing success. But with only 15 market research companies in Scotland, out of a total 600 in the UK, exactly how do you go about commissioning the right consultancy for your research project, just what will you get from them, and how do you guarantee that it will actually work?

Jo Fawcett of George Street Research accepts that there is still a misunderstanding when it comes to what market research companies do.

"Public perception is mixed. People who have experienced market research first-hand are always positive about it. But there is still a misconception from people who have had no experience, believing it's all about asking what kind of toothbrush you use," she says.

But what do agencies look for when they are commissioning a piece of market research?

Ruth Lees, planning director at 1576, says: "Reputation and expertise drive the choice, although the choice is very limited in Scotland - some are better known for their qualitative skills, others for their quantitative, and this does influence your decision."

Dave McGlone, planning director at Faulds, echoes this thought, adding: "Some research consultancies are great with kids or finance, so it tends to be horses for courses for anything but the real bread and butter stuff. It boils down to people in a lot of cases - people I know can turn things around quickly to get me out of a hole, or people whose qualitative skills I admire."

Yet creatives and researchers do face the problem that their relationship can be, at times, tenuous.

Jim Law, MD of Market Research UK, notes: "There is a concern within advertising agencies that we as market research companies are dumbing down ideas and trying to stifle their creativity. Market research companies have to understand this, and should be careful about how they interpret the message that they are researching."

McGlone agrees, commenting: "Too many market research agencies kill their creative ideas because they can't see beyond the execution detail, as they don't listen."

Money undoubtedly comes into it. As Louise Miller, head of market information at the Scotsman, explains: "I prefer to use research consultancies in Scotland rather than in England because they are more aware of the media in Scotland. There is also the cost factor - English companies will undoubtedly charge you more."

Judith Meldrum, marketing research manager at the Daily Record, agrees: "If you do some things yourself, depending on time restraints, it will obviously cost less, which is an added bonus."

People on both sides of the fence believe that you do need to work closely with one another in order to achieve your target.

Law explains: "If you are researching a project that is unknown territory you sometimes don't know what you are going to find. In those cases it is very important to work closely with the client, in case the project is of a complex nature, where you might have to change strategy all of a sudden."

Beryl Wall, associate director of Accent, says: "We belive that working closely together with the client is essential to the smooth running of a project. A face-to-face set up meeting is invaluable in establishing an intial rapport and understanding and we continue that process by maintaining regular contact with the client through subsequent meetings, by telephone and email throughout the project."

Lees adds "Poor research is often the result of an unfocused or rushed briefing. It is easy to say 'Let's do research to solve the problem we have' but if you don't define the problem or really interrogate why research will be helpful, it's a waste of time and money."

Market research companies can also suffer from a lack of contact with their client.

"After you have finished working on a project the client might ask you about X, Y and Z, which you haven't even touched on. It can be a problem, but as a research company you just have to be prepared for those types of eventuality," comments Hugh Hoffman of Hoffman Research.

Although sometimes the client can be less than helpful, as he explains: "The amount of time spent varies depending on the person and the company. The most extreme case that I have come across was a submission to a public body for a tender that stated that if there were any problems with the brief a question had to be submitted in writing. If you were to contact them by phone your application would be rejected.

"I realise that government offices have to be seen as being unbiased, but I think this was taking it too far."

That said, there are still pitfalls when using market research, with results sometimes going awry.

Miller comments: "It can go wrong if the research company doesn't understand the nature and the direction in which you are going. Not delivering the results on time is probably the biggest cause for concern, as you rely on the results to carry on with what you are doing."

However, despite all business sectors now relying more than ever on research, there is still only a relatively small core of consultancies in Scotland.

Fawcett believes: "Traditionally, companies have seen Scotland as only 10 per cent of the UK and would have assumed that there is little research that needed to be focused exclusively in Scotland."

Hoffman adds: "A lot of Scottish clients will go south. If you have a big name behind you, for example MORI, it does go in your favour in terms of publicity."

With this being the case, how easy is it to find an agency in Scotland, and is there enough of a choice?

Meldrum says: "It would be nice to have a large choice of companies just for a bit of variety. But because they have worked for other newspapers they do know what kind of information we are looking for. A larger choice would be a bonus, but the people who are out there are very good at what they do."

Dave McGlone agrees: "There are plenty of choices out there, with some great agencies and some very average ones. Scottish ad agencies no longer think that they have a divine right to business, but I get the feeling that some research companies still do."

Ruth Lees thinks differently: "There's not enough choice at the moment - it would be good to see some new blood and innovative ideas coming through."

So, how do you know when you've got it right? From a market research perspective Wall says that when you get repeat business is usually the best sign that the client is happy with the service and results received.

She says: "You know you've got it right when everything comes together on time, when the client is happy and can act with confidence on the information supplied."


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