RESEARCH AND EVALUATION: Echo Research is the largest player in R&E with turnover almost double its nearest rival

1 Echo Research - £4,065,895

Independent Echo Research is the largest player in the research and evaluation market by a long shot, with UK turnover almost double that of its nearest rival. Media evaluation accounts for 94 per cent of its income from a portfolio of services that includes market research, media analysis and communication planning.

The agency reports 'steady' growth this year. Chief executive Sandra Macleod says that good performances in sectors such as finance, pharmaceuticals and the public sector have counterbalanced declines in areas such as telecoms during the year.

'We had very big contacts with very significant players (in telecoms) who are either no longer there or severely cut back,' she says.

The key staff appointment for 2002 was the arrival of Nick Winkfield as director of stakeholder studies. Winkfield, a former managing director, Europe, at research firm Wirthlin was formally appointed at the start of 2002. His arrival coincided with what Macleod describes as a split in the agency's client base, with strong interest in both basic and high-end services, as the middle ground is being squeezed.

With a UK turnover of more than £4m, more than half of Echo's work comes from international business. The Surrey-based firm has also had an office in the US for the last three years.

The analysts team includes more than 30 different nationalities and the company is currently working for more than 110 clients. These include financial giant Swiss Re, BAE Systems, Daimler Chrysler, Nintendo, Zurich Financial Services and Hong Kong-based PCCW.

2 Millward Brown Precis - £2,300,493

As part of WPP, the world's biggest marketing services company, Millward Brown Precis has access to expertise in a wide range of fields, and this has helped the company develop its client portfolio during the year.

'We can stretch to meet client needs in lots of unpredictable ways,' says chief executive Fergus Hampton. The firm derived all of its £2.3m income from media evaluation last year, with almost half of its business coming from car and automotive clients.

New business wins this year for the 180-strong team include Accenture, Canon Europe, Hyundai and a project to assess the impact of brand associations with the latest Bond film Die Another Day.

The company's strength in the automotive field sees it currently working for around 20 car companies in the UK. Other sectors where it has garnered a mass of work this year include finance, retail, tourism and travel. Around 50 per cent of the business is conducted outside the UK and key overseas clients include Audi, BMW, Coca-Cola, Jersey Tourism, Sony and Transco.

The main new development in the pipeline at the moment is precis3, a completely automated content analysis tool. The system, which has seen Millward Brown Precis create a new team of seven, aims to be able to detect key messages as well as the tonality of those messages in coverage. The system is currently being tested by the agency's clients with the aim of having one whole sector covered before the end of the first quarter of the year.

4 Metrica - £1,511,337

Metrica is another company claiming impressive growth rates. Joint managing director Richard Bagnall says the company is 'probably busier now than we have ever been'. The firm is aiming for 20 per cent growth for its current financial year, which runs until April, although Bagnall concedes that the company has had to work a bit harder over the last year to maintain this level of growth.

'There's a lot of interest coming from IT sector at the moment. I think the general view in hard times is that there is more pressure than ever to prove that you can measure what you are doing; measure your output, measure return on investment,' he says.

Eighty-three per cent of the company's income is from media evaluation. The company offers more research services through sister company, Metrica Research, also owned by the Portfolio Group, which also includes Portfolio Communications, an IT and business-to-business consultancy.

The 20 full-time staff and 55 analysts work mainly on UK business, although an estimated ten to 15 per cent of its total income comes from overseas trade, particularly from the US and Europe. 'Even though we are based over here, we can do the work about 30 per cent cheaper than the equivalent companies can do over there,' says Bagnall.

New business wins including banking giant HBOS, computer images specialist SGI, Six Continents, the NSPCC as well as third generation mobile player 3, helped its cause during the year.

Overall the company has a strong position in financial, telecoms and charity sectors. It also has a significant chunk of government business, including the Audit Commission and work for COI.

6 Mediatrack - £857,593

Mediatrack chief executive Nicholas Grant says the independent company had its best ever financial year in 2002 and that 2003 will be 'slightly less good'. 'The second half of this year is going to be tough, but we are quite buoyant about the future,' he says.

The agency's international strongholds include the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Africa.It also carries out work in the US and Asia.

It garners a good deal of UK work from the telecoms and financial services sector, working on the initially friendly Kingfisher-Castorama merger as well as the demerger of mmO2 from BT. It has recently expanded its work for Guinness, Marks & Spencers, Rolls-Royce and BT, as well as adding Kingfisher, Sainsbury and Societe Generale as new clients.

Grant says the development of services such as pre-pitch analysis for agencies, pre-result analysis of coverage to help companies prepare for interviews and rapid analysis of results coverage has led to a lot of project work: 'It's certainly a major growth area and it's usually with existing clients, simply because if an existing structure is already in place it makes it easy to graft it on.'

Its strength in the financial sector is underlined by the company's ownership of specialist subscription publication Banking and Mutuals Reputation Monthly, which provides a regular analysis of the sector.

The last year has also seen a re-organisation with teams moving into an account management system. The company has recently appointed Robin Lewis from marketing agency EMO to work on new business, while client services manager Janet Raeburn has joined from Fleishman-Hillard.

9 Impacon - £500,000

Ranked number nine in the table, small independent player Impacon has long-term relationships with a number of key clients, including the BBC, Channel 4 and BT. It has also worked extensively with government - current clients include the Inland Revenue, the Department of Health and the Food Standards Agency - as well as Nickelodeon.

Managing director Paul Georgio says the London-based firm, which derives 85 per cent of turnover from evaluation, has also completed some project work for PR agencies in the last six months. The company is purely UK-focused, with sister company Panarc International handling overseas business.

The UK business has 13 staff, while a further three work for the international operation. Georgio says the UK business has been steady, largely as a result of its own policies.

'In the UK, I think we have been more or less level over the last two or three years,' he says. 'We've never really gone for outright growth.

Our own feeling is that to do this sort of work properly, you need well-trained, competent people, so we end up having to train them ourselves.'

A major service introduction this year will be an online facility that allows clients to interrogate data produced in a variety of ways. The system is currently being trialled with the BBC, BT and the Food Standards Agency, but should be opened up to the rest of the client base in the next three months. The idea is that with clients able to drill through the numbers themselves, Impacon will be able to focus more on the evaluation side of the business, says Georgiou.

- Independent firm Report International came in third place with £1,516,580 derived entirely from evaluation.

More than three quarters of the company's turnover comes from the telecoms and IT sectors, with other strengths in automotive and FMCG.

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