Magazine article Marketing

The Messenger Boy Comes of Age

Magazine article Marketing

The Messenger Boy Comes of Age

Article excerpt

Is the role of the in-house research manager under a cloud -- or just changing fast? Robert Dwek investigates the evolving relationship between client companies and their consultancies

The market research industry has not had such a bad recession. Its annus horribilis, 1991, is already fading into memory and in the past two years leading MR agencies have seen very solid sales growth of around 8% pa. But despite this healthy glow, there is the feeling that a fundamental change is underway in the relationship between agency and client. There are indications that agencies are having to adapt to enjoy this post-recession party.

To understand why this is, we must turn first to the client. Where once a marke research department acted as the interface between market research agency and marketing department, in many cases today it has shaken off this messenger boy status. No longer a small cog in a large wheel, the MR department is commissioning, processing, analysing, strategising and delivering, not a ponderous proposal to the marketing department, but a fully-fledged corporate communication. A call to action, no less.

In some instances, albeit still a minority, there is no longer any buffer at al between marketing director or brand manager and their market research agency. O course, the cynics assume such closeness has a recessionary staff cut-back feel to it, but others see it as a logical extension of the modern marketing world's move towards decentralisation, computerisation and ever faster turnaround times

Tony Cowling, chief executive of Taylor Nelson AGB, the UK's largest market research agency, is not one of the cynics. He believes the most notable shift i the agency-client relationship in recent years has been the fact that agencies "are increasingly expected to present their results in a way they would not hav been called upon to do before".

What was seen, until relatively recently, as the job of the in-house MR staff - processing, tidying up and generally translating from fact and figure gobbledegook into slick corporate-speak -- is now considered integral to the agency's work. "There has been a move towards branded products and standardised services," says Cowling. "The agencies have had to become adept at delivering user-friendly reports."

He points to two of his own company's products as examples of this trend: Optim is a recently introduced service which predicts how a new product will fare, thus cutting out the need for in-house legwork; while the AGB Superpanel servic is a continuously updated monitor of the way 8500 UK households respond to products and brands available in the marketplace. Both Optima and Superpanel ar typical, says Cowling, of the new generation market research, where "the client doesn't need to interpret results afresh each time".

But is this off-the-shelf approach to agency commissioning really as good and a in-depth as its predecessor? Cowling compares the transformation to the way one of our most ubiquitous modern office tools, the computerised spreadsheet, has evolved. "You can now have a spreadsheet that sort of does what you want for [pounds]100, or you can pay [pounds]10,000 for one that does exactly what you want." Affordability equals availability equals compatibility, so that with a bit of luck "eventually the [pounds]100 spreadsheet will be able to do exactly what you want".

Richard Jameson, director of international research at NOP Corporate, also considers that the changing relationship is a good thing for agencies, but he has some reservations. Although it is gratifying to be used for "more consultative work and less fieldwork", he is concerned that too much pressure i being put on in-house MR departments and believes that in some cases they are understaffed and overworked. This could, he feels, put a strain on the client-agency relationship, which in turn could lead to fewer commissions for agencies.

So what do they make of it all from the other side of the fence? …

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