REDISCOVERING MARKET VALUES : Market research is finding new uses as a
valuable public relations tool
INTERNET ACCESS: The World Wide Web offers a huge new audience and the
potential of speedy responses
DEATH OF A CLIPBOARD: Questionnaires on lap tops and interactive
television allow more personalised responses
The days of misleading statistics have gone. But market research, which
is not blatantly biased towards the client, is being seen as a valuable
commodity. Mary Cowlett reports
There are signs that professional PRs are wising up to the fact that
market research is a tool that has been abused in recent years.
Bastardised surveys with puffy statistics are not hitting journalists’
desks with quite the same tiring regularity. There is a realisation that
properly conducted research is a highly valuable method of positioning a
As Andrew Jones, former brand planner at Courage and Bates Dorland, and
current planning director at Countrywide says: ‘If a client doesn’t know
how they are perceived or want to be perceived, then market research can
be the starting point.’ But what kind of research should you use?
In terms of corporate identity, continual tracking by an agency like AC
Nielsen, can help a company to identify changes in public perception.
This does not always work so well against the mass market, bearing in
mind the financial resources usually available for such exercises. But
keeping abreast of the perceptions of opinion-formers over a period of
two or three years can produce tangible results.
Picture this: the reputation of brass rivet company, Rivet UK is in tatters, but by ingenious restructuring it doubles its market share and reduces its dangerous emissions by 50 per cent over three years. Yet, stop Joe Average on the street and ask his opinion of the company and he’s likely to know nothing about Rivet UK - his response is worse than useless. But, ask the editor of Brass Rivet Weekly, and you’ll get a valid point of view based on fact and opinion. As Jones says: ‘The point is to find who to talk to, what to say, and how you should be saying it.’
For the service sector in particular, research can be the right marketing tool to create an issue, as a means of placing a company and driv driving campaigns.
Stella Hitner, managing director of The Reputation Managers (TRM) says:
‘ We use the technique all the time, especially in business-to-business
work, when you need to create an issue, as you have no concrete products
to work with.’
Twelve months ago they conducted telephone research on 100 business
managers about what contingency plans they had if their business went
under as a result of a major computer crash. As a piece of valid
research, conducted by TRM, the findings were published as a report on
behalf of their client Comdisco, a world leader in computer disaster
recovery. Coverage of the major finding that, in this scenario five
million jobs could be under threat, found its way into the computing
press and the business pages of the national broadsheets.
Similarly, in the healthcare market, because of codes of practice
governing the pharmaceutical industry, you are not always directly
promoting a product to consumers, so an issues-based campaign is often a
Mark Chataway of Interscience says: ‘We frequently use research to
decide the ‘personality’ of a brand, especially when the brand is PR-
Questions addressing who the respondent would most like to receive
advice from on a health matter lets them gauge how people feel about a
health issue and pitch their campaign accordingly.
Recent research commissioned by Interscience from Spectrum Research
for a new prescription coldsore remedy, Smith-Kline Beech-am’s Vectavir,
quizzed 1,037 sufferers and 100 UK GPs. The findings of patient
embarrassment and GPs’ lack of interest in a minor ailment formed the
basis of a PR campaign aimed at the professional press, encouraging
doctors not to wait to be asked before prescribing.
For testing creative ideas and evaluating the progress of a campaign,
market research is not implemented as often as it should be. Jones says:
‘We have loads of wacky ideas, but who are we to know, in our lofty Soho
offices, what a housewife in Stockton-on-Tees will think of it?’
Chataway goes further: ‘Most of us belong to the top 10 per cent of the
population and so do our friends - good market research should put us
back in touch with reality.’
But big bucks need not be an impediment to tracking how your strategy is
shaping up. ‘Mention market research and your client immediately thinks
they’re going to be hit by a pounds 10,000 survey,’ says Hitner.
‘Take internal communications, something as simple as a readership
survey card in the in-house magazine can provide an effective check that
the right messages are reaching the right desks,’ she adds.
However, when you do decide to approach an agency, their major gripe
about clients is the lack of respect for the fact that they are the
professionals. According to Chris Goard, group marketing director at
Taylor Nelson AGB too often PR staff fail to bring in the researchers at
an early enough stage. Furthermore, he says: ‘Clients often present
agencies with the questions rather than the objective.’
Kevin Hawkins, director of communications for Safeway points out that
there is an assumption that complex data can be analysed in-house. He
stresses the difficulties that can arise, such as misattrib-ution by
respondents - mistaking editorial content for TV advertising - or
reluctance by respondents to give an honest opinion to a representative
too closely linked to the company.
He adds: ‘A professional agency gives you a detached third party who can
interpret and read between the lines.’
With the ever increasing emphasis on accountability, evaluation is
usually the only weapon with which to defend the small slice of the
marketing pie that public relations gets.
Whether you are going upstairs to beg for a larger budget, or trying to
qualify campaign achievements to your client, statistics may be your
only concrete evidence.
Fiona Longhurst, director at Band and Brown Communications has run two
market research driven campaigns over the past year for British Telecom
on price perception and the BT Business Connections service. ‘You’ve got
to stand up and be counted for your own discipline, from a clients point
of view,’ she says, ‘they want to be able to stand back and see the
various elements of a campaign.’
With more sophisticated media tracking methods now available, building
other tracking methods into a campaign is a bonus to all.
But, while highlighting the discipline as ‘the fundamental approach for
any company to spending its marketing budget’, Hitner says that PRs do
not use market research nearly enough and when they do, they are not
creative enough. She says: ‘People tend to view it as simply facts and
figures. Market research needs a good PR campaign. People have a very
narrow view of how it can be used, and a lack of knowledge of it’s
On-line opportunities: Netting a new audience
The Internet is still in its infancy, but already market research
agencies are excited by the vast opportunities it could offer.
In its simplest form the Internet can be used as a desk tool for
background information. Using the search facility, topics can be pulled
up relatively quickly, by entering key words. In addition, according to
David Walker, associate director at Research International Specialist
Units (RISU), there are over 15,000 bulletin boards on the Internet
where diverse interest groups can be reached, that by more traditional
methods would be difficult to identify.
His company has recently conducted qualitative research on on-line
gaming for an undisclosed client. By accessing the on-line discussions
of the interest group first, RISU were able to gain valuable insight
into current issues and identify likely candidates for in-depth
Furthermore, NOP Research Group, have conducted research on actual
Internet users, initially screening them with an attitudinal survey,
while collecting their e-mail address for follow up.
The company’s tracking work, on topics such as lifestyle, media
consumption and reasons for using the Internet, is updated and reported
to a syndicate of 20 companies every six months, most recently on July
According to Robert Lawson, research executive at NOP: ‘The two main
growth areas for Internet research are web page research and on-line
His company sends respondents to a web page then follows up with an on-
ine questionnaire on aspects such as design and content. It also
conducts discussion groups where respondents can contribute off-line at
their leisure - useful for International research.
An alternative technique is Internet Relay Chat (IRC), where everybody
is on-line simultaneously, with an on-line moderator.
While the Internet is undeniably a cost-effective way of conducting
research, penetration in the home market is poor. Research is limited to
technically minded individuals and academics.
Other problems are screening, as respondents self-select and the
restricted capabilities of cabling and modems.
Jeremy Wyndham, managing director of Public Attitude Surveys, argues
that the Internet ‘makes a mockery’ of the market research industry.
‘The industry has got carried away with new technology,’ he says, ‘and
undermined the basic principle of market research that you use a sample,
representative of the rest of the population.’
Furthermore, Neil Preddy, marketing director at AC Nielsen, says that
while his company uses the Internet to communicate with clients, it is
not planning to conduct any serious research in this area in the UK at
the moment. Although they did publish results in November last year of a
survey done on behalf of CommerceNet on Internet users in the US and
Canada However, Walker is optimistic that with the increasing use of
fibre optic cables, via cable TV, speed will improve a thousand-fold,
and facilitate the addition of graphics, video and complex sound. This
will make the Internet a more popular medium and level out the
Research questions: The next generation
Nowadays, it is unlikely that you will be accosted on a street corner by
a researcher brandishing a clipboard.
You are more likely to be preselected and approached over the phone. At
the other end, the interviewer will be feeding your responses into a
computer. According to Richard Jameson, director, NOP Corporate and
Financial, computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) is the
fastest growing area for data collection in Europe, and no wonder. The
average speed of turnaround 10 years ago for two to five Omnibus
questions on a sample of 2,000, used to be three or four weeks, now it
is 10 days or sooner, he says.
Things have also speeded up in computer-assisted personal interviews
(CAPI), where developments in lap top computers mean that questionnaires
are sent out overnight via modem and collected data is downloaded at the
end of the day back to the main computer.
However, hi-tech developments bring more than just speed. Michael
Warren, director general of the Market Research Society, points out the
improvement in quality of data: ‘Interviewers no longer have to flick
around, it is all preprogrammed.’
Also, according to Graham Kelly, associate director of BMRB
International, respondents perceive self completion on a lap top as
being more confidential than pen and paper in a sealed envelope. This
encourages greater honesty which is particularly useful for sensitive
issues such as health, personal finance and anti-social behaviour. To
encourage technophobes RSGB Continuous has introduced ‘pen’ technology,
where answers to precoded questions are entered by touching the screen
with a pen, and responses to open-ended questions are written directly
on the screen.
Rather than have an interviewer visit in person, since November 1995,
NOP Media has undertaken an interactive television trial on the
Cambridge cable television network. Commissioned by a consortium of
companies ranging from NatWest and Tesco to BMP DDB Needham Worldwide,
the scheme covers 100 homes in the East Anglia region, surveying them
once a month on topics such as lifestyle, media consumption and
purchasing power. It also provides access to the Internet via a VCR-
style infra-red handset. The advantages of this medium are flexibility -
questionnaires are downloaded to homes as and when respondents wish to
participate it is possible to show video clips, useful for pretesting TV
advertisements. Disadvantages are the current lack of a voice facility
and the need for a larger sample.
Soon, you could earn yourself a free burger or pizza by undertaking a
‘customer satisfaction’ telephone questionnaire in a fast food
restaurant, after your meal. Ruth McNeil, deputy managing director at
Research International says the advantages of this method of data
collection are anonymity and immediacy to the event, but points out the
disadvantage of self-selection. While her company is trailing the method
in this country with 0800 numbers they are not as advanced as US
agencies, where telecom operators offer customers free local calls.
The increasing sophistication in technology and the proliferating
mediums for collecting data are having a huge impact on client
expectations. As Warren says: ‘The faster turnaround of data means the
pressure on agencies if very great indeed.’
He adds ‘While the larger agencies have formed conglomerates with the
financial resources to respond and the smaller agencies increasingly
specialising, it is the middle sized agencies who have the biggest
Contacts: Market research specialists
Name Details Contact
NOP Research Group Full service agency. Tony Lees
Ltd Specialist divisions: consumer, 0171 612 0439
corporate and financial,
healthcare, mystery shopping
Consensus Research Corporate business and financial Sue Jarvis
International mainly adhoc, individually 0171 592 1700
Research Full service agency specialising Ruth McNeil
International in FMCG, advertising, media, 0171 656 5000
Millward Brown Full service agency specialising Rosi Ware
International Ltd in advertising and brand research 01926 452233
AC Nielsen Full service agency specialisations Paula O’Meara
range from continuous marketing 01865 741690
information and advertising
expenditure measurement to
Taylor Nelson AGB Full service agency specialising Chris Goard,
in consumer, healthcare, Group
media, business and financial Marketing
services research director
0171 608 0072
Public Attitude Full service agency specialising Jeremy
Survey in social, financial, business Wyndham
and automotive research. 01494 532771
Originally owned by Guinness and
alcoholic drinks are their flagship
Spectrum Research Full service agency specialise in Tricia Henry
research to support communications 01242 524157
initiatives in education and
information services. Also do
Switch (taking prescription drugs
over to OTC)