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Researching relationships

By The Drum, Administrator

February 25, 2004 | 7 min read

Couples have long turned to counsellors and psychiatrists to iron out the creases in their relationships. And it appears that, when it comes to work relationships, problems are also bubbling under the surface. Turning our watchful eye over market researchers and creatives, the situation is no different – researchers feel they’re being blamed for stifling creativity and agencies are urging researchers to catch up with an evolving marketplace. Realising it’s time something is done, the least Dr Adline could do is offer a comfortable couch for them to bare their souls.

First up to unburden himself is Duncan Snape. The marketing manager of Sheffield-based Periscope Ltd commented: “There are some researchers out there who aren’t very creative and, though they might be very good in some areas, they are too literal in their thinking to be classed as creative researchers.”

As a researcher himself, Snape’s cage is clearly rattled by fellow researchers who let the side down, giving creatives fodder with which to allocate the blame for stifling the creative product. However, Snape is quick to call attention to the creatives who use this blame as a distraction for their own inadequacies. “There are also some creatives who aren’t very good, and the work they turn out can be poor. When a good, creative researcher tells them this, they blame the researcher, who didn’t ask the right questions or probe the right points or place enough emphasis on certain elements of an ad and too much on other elements. Some creatives can be self-absorbed and find someone telling them they’ve got it wrong an affront to their skills.” Snape added, “Researchers pick up the blame sometimes because they are at fault, and sometimes because they are right but the agency can’t accept that they aren’t.”

Could it be that the stubbornness and friction between researchers and creatives is inevitable, due to the role they play in the process? Anne-Marie McDermott, managing director of Quaestor Research and Marketing Strategists, believed that is the case and sympathised with the two parties in the situation. “ Ad agencies often feel research focuses too much on execution without understanding the overall strategy, while researchers often feel left out of the development process, especially at the critical early stages.”

Alchemy Research’s managing director, John Shepherd, is also appreciative of how creatives may feel about researchers. He stated: “Certainly, the interpretation of the research is always going to be much stronger and more insightful if the research agency is able to get to grips with the product and market sector over a number of studies.”

However, Alexandra Cottrell, who handles client services at Earl & Thompson, is far more acrimonious in her view of any animosity that persists in the relationship. She commented: “A good ‘commercially effective’ creative should be able to deliver absolute creativity, regardless of sector, whilst working within technical parameters laid down by the nature of the target market.”

Cottrell commented: “Bottom line – don’t shoot the messenger! The only way we have found that we can break through the trust issue is to totally educate the customer, and the creatives, as to the value that research delivers. It is only natural human behaviour to avoid criticism and adopt a sometimes overly defensive attitude. But, at the end of the day, creatives and, to a degree, customers must realise that it’s not about what they think but what their customers think and, more importantly, want.”

So is the relationship terminal? Evidently not, as market researchers and advertising agencies work together frequently. McDermott believed the friction is waning. “All parties now have a growing realisation that successful campaigns have research at their core. Creatives have realised how they can benefit from research while clients are less likely to commit precious budgets solely to an advertiser’s gut feeling.

“Rather than treading on toes, I think market research has matured as a discipline and is now gaining more recognition and trust amongst senior marketing managers,” she added.

It’s the advertising agency that is next to warm the couch, in the form of Ian Noble, joint managing director of Bristol-based BCLO. “We’re strong supporters of research. We often use them as an objective bridgehead between our clients and ourselves. We’ve had experiences where the work we’ve done and really think will work has been rejected by a client – that’s when we would bring in a market research company to provide objective results. Clients can be too close to their business to be objective and we’re obviously going to be subjective about our own work, so market research can be used as a very effective tool,” Noble said.

Can you sense the “but” on the horizon? Well, Noble didn’t disappoint.

“Research is very much developed to support traditional media like press and TV ads – it needs to support the mass media. There are a lot of new media channels now and I think the majority of market researchers haven’t caught up with them. Things like DM, SMS and Online – clients and agencies have worked hard to evolve and researchers need to ensure they keep up with them.”

Robin Horsfield, who left the world of the traditional market research company seven years ago to launch Brahm Research, an independent arm of the Leeds agency, agrees with Noble’s observation. He stated: “The way that research looks at advertising is outdated – over the last 10 or 15 years, it has moved backwards. Claims that researchers stifle creativity are justified – it’s down to a lack of understanding.

“Effectiveness depends on interpreting results and that boils down to experience. People don’t always mean what they say and it’s important not to take it literally,” he added.

It’s Horsfield’s association with Brahm that he believes puts him and his team a cut above other researchers. He argued: “Research is the voice of the consumer and the agency trusts in us to be that voice. We know advertising works, whereas on the conventional market research side they’re not necessarily in tune with how the advertising industry works. It’s very processed, almost like a sausage factory – they fail to approach it logically or creatively.”

Has Brahm struck gold by creating this type of research organisation? Maybe we’ll see more agencies following in its footsteps. Or is there still a way for the traditional market researcher to live in bliss with an ad agency?

Snape had some suggestions: “When researchers and creatives can go out and have a drink and a laugh together. When the researcher marvels at the creative’s ability to do what they do, and the creative marvels at the researcher’s ability to do what they do. And when there’s strong account management working hard to pursue the client’s best interests.”

Keen to emphasise the need for the two to work closer, Shepherd commented: “If it’s something that’s just ‘bolted on’ at the end, almost as an afterthought, it will always be difficult for it to be accepted by creative agencies, who’ve probably worked long and hard on a campaign. So, build relationships, involve research agencies early in the creative process, trust in their skills and then learn from the insight that they can bring to the process.”

McDermott, who shared Shepherd’s view, added: “Research should be seen as part of the process that informs decisions and enhances the development of an ad campaign.”

While it may seem like researchers and agencies are tugging at either end of the rope, they are both working at doing the best job for the client, and the passion that both parties show must be a reassurance to clients wanting to spend their marketing budget shrewdly.

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