The advertising-to-PR communications group WPP is a bit like
Procter & Gamble - it prefers to keep its name in the background, and
let its brands be the stars. Now it appears to be harnessing its
corporate strength in market research, in a strategy change that could
be of major significance to the international industry.
In the UK, Taylor Nelson Sofres is the largest single research company,
but it is comfortably outgunned when WPP’s subsidiaries, Research
International, Millward Brown and BMRB are added together. With its
other research interests taken into account, such as Goldfarb
Consultants in the US, WPP ranks third in the world behind ACNielsen,
and the healthcare research specialist IMS Health, with Taylor Nelson
fourth. Research currently accounts for a fifth of WPP’s total
So why change something that appears to be working well? The answer lies
in the race to establish fully effective global services and in the
substantial resources needed to for many research techniques.
Five years ago, the group bundled its research interests into a new
holding company, Kantar.
’It started as a simple holding company, designed so that just one
person reported on market research to the WPP chairman, Martin Sorell,’
confirms Kantar chief executive David Jenkins. ’But our role is evolving
as the marketplace evolves. We need to be punching our weight.
’The entry cost for developing a new market research service is much
higher than it was and that is the big structural change. It’s no longer
a case of having a bright idea and executing it via ladies with
’Our major companies have their own identities and branded products, and
often have to pitch against each other. It is in the backroom investment
areas where we can use our leverage.’
There are three examples where Kantar can be seen to be taking a more
influential role. First, at the start of last year, it launched Kantar
Media Research, dedicated (according to WPP’s annual report) to
’becoming the global provider of a full range of media research
services, TV audience measurement, print and multimedia measurement, and
Second, it has bankrolled BMRB to speed up the global roll-out of Target
Group Index (TGI), a service well known to UK advertisers and agencies,
and already established in the US and a few other countries. Last month,
it held near-simultaneous launches in Germany, France, Spain, Brazil,
Argentina and Colombia.
’TGI has to meet the needs of local advertisers and agencies,’ says
Richard Silman, BMRB’s managing director. ’But gradually clients have
been talking to us about using the product regionally, or preferably
globally. What has pleased us is the number of clients who have signed
up even before the release of data.’
Finally, Kantar is involved in a major internet initiative. Research
International has already released some details of plans to build a huge
panel of 200,000 internet users in the US, even supplying PCs to some
households, to ensure it achieves a properly balanced sample. The
concept is to be run out across Europe and the Pacific and, it’s
claimed, could compete aggressively with much telephone research on cost
Now it looks as though the project could press ahead under the Kantar
name. That’s not just because of the cost but because Jenkins is anxious
to avoid the separate companies in the group duplicating investment.
’Everyone is dabbling in internet research at the moment and we are
right in the middle of deciding what is the best thing to do,’ he
The internet is a big issue for many of the leading research
Among many examples, Ipsos RSL and GfK have established a partnership
with the leading US specialist Media Metrics. They’ll establish a panel
of internet users who have agreed to have software installed on their
computers, tracking which web sites they visit.
MORI, meanwhile, claims that the internet and new media are its fastest
growing business sectors. It has set up a new division, e-MORI, focusing
on all the electronic technologies. Last month, it launched a suite of
services, including e-public, which is claimed to be Europe’s first
on-line internet access panel. In time this will have 10,000 members,
who will be rewarded with beenz - the web currency - for participating
Taylor Nelson Sofres has signalled its serious intentions by telling
investors it plans to increase its internet R&D budget by 50% next year,
to 3% of its global revenues, or about pounds 11m. Its income from
internet research this year is expected to be about pounds 8m, and is
’We are responding to an inevitable change in the way information is
collected, delivered, and moved between individuals,’ says chief
executive Tony Cowling.
’It is not difficult to understand how, as a tool of the trade, it will
save large amounts of money. We have to do this, just like any other
The group is involved with the internet on three fronts. It is using it
as a marketing tool to promote itself, and as a means of delivering data
to clients. It is competing with others to set up panels for collecting
research information. And, because it is a major player in measuring TV,
radio and press around the world, it is involved in measuring the
effectiveness of web advertising.
Cowling is cautious about ultimate growth prospects in this sector,
He points out that measuring TV is a dollars 650m-dollars 700m (pounds
450m) international market, accounting for 5%-6% of all market research.
Even if web advertising eventually catches up with television
advertising, the data will be cheaper to collect. ’We find it hard to
assess how big a market this will be.’
Not that Taylor Nelson is totally obsessed with the internet. This
summer’s purchases have included WHF (Southern), which was the largest
independent mystery shopping specialist in our league tables, lying
fourth behind NOP, Research International, and Maritz/TRBI.
NOP dominates this particular UK market, with a turnover from mystery
shopping three times as great as that of its nearest rival. However, its
ambitions to take its expertise across Europe have been hampered by its
lack of a pan-European network.
As a first step to remedying this, it announced a collaborative
partnership with the French research company, MV2 Conseil. The leading
US mystery shopping supplier, Shop ’n Chek, is similarly reported to be
developing Continental ties.
Once again it underlines the importance that research companies now
place on the international aspects of the market. Hard-pressed marketing
departments don’t want too many agencies to deal with and, if one
research company can provide global data compiled with a common
methodology, that will do very nicely, thank you.
Takeovers continue on the world scene at a startling pace, and there
certainly isn’t space to detail them all here. One worth mentioning,
however, was the recent acquisition by US-based Opinion Research
Corporation International of another US company, Macro, which
specialises in public-sector research.
The acquisition had the affect of pushing ORC several places up the
international research league table. However, the reason for singling it
out is that it illustrates how research agencies seek to wring maximum
benefit from such deals.
ORC International in London already has a major interest in public
sector work (see panel). ’These are fairly early days, but we are
exchanging ideas with Macro and placing some of their staff in our
Islington office, to see how our shared skill base might open up
opportunities within the European Union,’ says UK managing director
Similarly, Infratest Burke and BJM have both been acquired by the US
group NFO Worldwide relatively recently. Infratest Burke has launched an
NFO brand equity tracking product, Market Mind, in the UK.
It is also talking to BJM about whether some of its research products
and areas of expertise are appropriate for its sister company’s client
base and vice versa. ’There is a lot going on,’ says chief executive
To conclude this roundup, it is interesting to note that The Research
Business International, one of the UK’s leading specialists in
qualitative research, has reported netting some major contracts, which
should start to show through in next year’s results.
Bought by Maritz, and now part of Maritz TRBI, it lost some senior
directors who enjoyed a high profile in the industry, like its former
chairman, Wendy Gordon, and business plateaued.
However, it recruited Janet Kiddle, former executive planning director
at Team Saatchi, two years ago to join its international qualitative
research division. She took over as managing director in April.
’We have certainly stopped the retrenchment that was happening,’ she
says, ’and we again have stable management at the top, which is reaping
benefits. We have also moved our offering on, evaluating web sites,
expanding our financial services division, and setting up a specialist
healthcare unit, which is a big step forward.’
Top 20 Market research agencies
Rank Consultancy Turnover % Staff % of t/o
1998 1997 change conducted
(pounds m) overseas
1 Taylor Nelson Sofres 96.55 87.73 10.05 1321 22
2 NOP Research Group 73.77 67.43 9.40 582 25
3 Research International 62.33 52.43 18.88 432 47
4 Millward Brown Int’l 55.62 47.91 16.09 496 42
5 BMRB International 31.82 29.11 9.32 360 17
6 Ipsos-RSL 28.93 25.75 12.37 300 19
7 MORI 19.62 18.19 7.86 216 12
8 Information Resources 19.57 17.02 15.02 342 0
9 Maritz/TRBI 19.28 18.69 3.19 211 54
10 The MBL Group 15.97 15.08 5.85 152 39.6
11 Infratest Burke Group 15.84 14.02 13.01 194 12
12 Martin Hamblin Group 12.12 11.16 8.61 128 44.8
13 GfK Marketing Services 11.86 11.14 6.42 198 0
14 Simon Godfrey Assoc 9.08 8.48 7.03 40 57
15 ORC International 8.66 8.61 0.52 110 27
16 Isis Research 8.6 6.6 30.30 120 90
17 The Added Value Company 7.2 5.57 29.29 97 50
18 DRSM Group 6.8 5.8 17.24 51 50
19 Insight Medical Research 6.56 5.19 26.50 45 60
20 Total Research 6.51 5.31 22.47 60 85
Ranking of the top 20 market research companies is by turnover. Many
research companies specialise, however, either in particular market
segments such as healthcare or advertising, or in the use of particular
techniques, such as quantitative or qualitative.
Because ’qual’ research does not require the same level of investment as
major ’quant’ surveys or tracking studies, qualitative specialists are
under-represented in the top 20. More details about this sector, and
other areas of specialism such as mystery shopping or telephone
research, can be found in the full market research league table on the
Marketing web site (www.marketing.haynet.com).
Public-sector research, including government services and local
authorities, is reckoned to be one of the boom areas in market
Ben Page, who heads MORI’s public sector division, acknowledges that it
is accelerating, although he criticises the popular media for suggesting
it is a new phenomenon.
There are new aspects to it, however, including the People’s Panel,
which is claimed to be a world first. Run by MORI for the Cabinet
Office, it quizzes 5000 consumers on a regular basis about how
government services are performing and could be improved.
But Page points out a lot of interesting work is also being done by
local authorities. New ideas include People’s Juries, in-depth
examinations of issues in which a panel of consumers can summon and
cross-examine officials, examiners and local MPs. ’As an exercise in
engagement, this has something to teach the private sector.’
Infratest Burke’s Scottish subsidiary, System Three, is benefiting from
a surge in work relating to the new Scottish Parliament, while ORC
International has won a five-year contract from the Employment Service
to monitor staff attitudes.
This article was first published on Marketing