BACK ROOM BOFFINS R.I.P.: Don’t call them number crunchers - researchers turbo-charge your sales strategy. By James Curtis

It would not be too much of a stretch to portray sales people as masters of the universe, heroically striking deals that keep media empires afloat. At the same time, it would be easy to imagine a dusty back room full of bespectacled anoraks - researchers whose job it is to churn out facts, figures, graphs and reports.

It would not be too much of a stretch to portray sales people as

masters of the universe, heroically striking deals that keep media

empires afloat. At the same time, it would be easy to imagine a dusty

back room full of bespectacled anoraks - researchers whose job it is to

churn out facts, figures, graphs and reports.

But the back room boffin is an extinct species - if, indeed, he ever

existed in the first place. In today’s complex and fast-moving media

world, sales people are more reliant than ever on research to give them

an edge.

Far from being someone to call when you need a data run, researchers now

find themselves at the strategic sharp end when it comes to closing a


Ross Webster, ad director of youth titles at Emap Elan, says: ’I

remember when you used the research department for things that a monkey

could do. But now you need professional people who can provide insight

to help you add value when you’re talking to a client.’

Webster says he frequently goes to client meetings with a research


’I need to be able to tell the client something new, something he can’t

just get off his computer - and that’s where good research is


Webster adds that the quality of information he can take to a client is

changing the nature of selling, from the old-style confrontation to a

more consultative approach. If a media owner can convince the client

that it dominates its sector, then much of the sales battle is won.

The biggest factor behind this culture shift is technology. Much of the

basic data that used to be provided by researchers is now accessible on

a computer. Readership and viewing figures, adspend and other top-line

information should all be on the sales person’s desktop, freeing the

research department to undertake more strategic, complex tasks.

Aida Muirhead, head of research at Emap Elan, says: ’Technology has

allowed us to shift a lot of the easier research tasks onto the sales

team. Having the information to hand allows us to focus on bigger


These ’bigger projects’ include bespoke research designed to give the

sales team an edge in their market. For example, IPC has conducted

extensive surveys into the beauty market to support sales on Now. And

Emap Elan has one of the most authoritative studies in the teen market

with its Youth Facts report.

Webster says this has been of immeasurable use: ’TGI and NRS data

doesn’t cover my titles - there was a massive hole in youth market

research. Investing in our own research has been vital.’

Emap has just completed its biggest study into the beauty sector and

also plans to conduct surveys into how young people use technology.

The same eulogies can be heard at Channel 4, where London sales manager

Mike Parker says information generated by the research department ’forms

the bedrock of all the arguments we make’. Collaborative projects with

other media owners, like the influential Roar tracking study into the

youth market, and the new Viper research, give Channel 4 an

authoritative edge with clients. ’We’re able to make a lot of emotive

arguments about the value of Channel 4, but the research means we are

able to underpin them with empirical facts,’ says Parker.

Despite his admiration for their work, Parker admits to becoming

frustrated when researchers come over all intellectual. ’Sometimes they

give us too many academic answers. We’re sales people and we want a

sales argument.’ Parker says the best researchers are those who can

convert their boffin-like thoughts into sales-speak for the front-line


Hugh Johnson, head of research at Channel 4, admits ’communication

between sales and research can be a problem’. He says: ’It’s easy to sit

in your office and get bogged down in what you think is really

interesting stuff, but then not be able to communicate it to the sales

team who, in turn, can’t explain it to an agency. You have to put

yourself in the shoes of the sales people.’

The harmony between sales and research seems to depend very much on the

culture of the company. One research manager, who prefers to remain

anonymous, says the relationship is strained to say the least. ’We do

some very significant, high-ground work. Agencies and advertisers love

it, but a lot of the sales people think it’s a waste of time. They’re

only interested in negotiating the deal, and once they’ve got it in the

bag, they walk away. They don’t realise the deal relies on our data,’ he


He observes that the problem is worst in places where the ads are

easiest to sell. In contrast, media owners in the most competitive

sectors tend to ensure their sales teams use research to its full


Christina Hartley, head of ad marketing at IPC, says the research

department must be proactive to ensure that sales people realise its

full importance.

’We could all stay in the back room,’ she says. ’But this job is what

you make it.’

An indication of how much research and sales have been integrated at IPC

is the fact that researchers work on the same commission incentives as

their sales colleagues. Hartley says: ’I haven’t seen this anywhere

else. As well as making it clear we are as valuable a resource as sales,

it also makes us aware of how our work is helping to make money.’

Muirhead, who worked on the agency side before coming to Emap, says

agencies’ sophisticated use of research has had a big influence on how

seriously sales people now view it. For many, it’s a case of keep up or

lose face.

She says: ’When sales people are talking to agency people, they need to

know the figures and what they mean. As agencies have become more

strategic, sales teams have had to move into line.’

Ultimately, with the market becoming more competitive than ever, sales

teams need all the USPs they can get - and increasingly those points of

difference are coming from the research department. As Channel 4’s

Johnson says: ’As media fragment, we all have to look harder at the

value of what we’ve got and also understand the value of our

competitors. It’s up to researchers to understand sales people, and be

proactive in providing them with the strategic insight they need.’

AIDA MUIRHEAD, head of research, Emap Elan

Aida Muirhead is described by a member of Emap’s sales team as ’our

research guru’. As head of research across the Elan division, she and

her team of four are responsible for 17 titles, providing support for

around 80 sales people.

These titles cover areas as diverse as youth, fashion, parenting and

homes, and Muirhead admits her role requires her to ’change hats

constantly’, according to which area she is working on. However, her

task is made considerably easier by having researchers dedicated to each

of the markets covered in the Elan stable.

Having joined Emap four years ago from Initiative Media - where she was

also head of research - Muirhead certainly knows a few things about the

research game.

’The job has completely changed over the years,’ she says. ’In the past,

the lack of technology meant that research was primarily about number

crunching and providing simplistic analysis.

’Times have changed and with the arrival of powerful technology and a

more complex media world, the research function has become an upfront

marketing tool.

’Nowadays, sales people rely on researchers for real strategic input and

we have become an integrated part of the sales team.’

CHRISTINA HARTLEY, head of ad marketing, IPC Christina Hartley joined

IPC from Emap Elan two-and-a-half years ago.

She and her five-strong research team work on IPC’s six weekly women’s

magazines, including Woman’s Own and Now, and TV titles such as TV


They support a 30-strong combined sales force.

Hartley says: ’People think researchers are anoraks, but if you know me,

I’m anything but.’ She says the lot of the researcher on the sales floor

is much better than it used to be. ’There was a feeling that if you

weren’t in sales you were second rate. People used to ask ’ever thought

of going into sales?’ as if they thought research was just a training

ground for what they do.

But we’re definitely on a par with them - you’d never say we were back

room now.’

Despite their apparently harmonious relationship, Hartley says it is

important to remember that sales and research people are very different

beasts. ’They are two distinct skills and you should never try to make

one like the other - if you do it’s certain that you will cause a

culture clash.’

HUGH JOHNSON, head of research, Channel 4

Hugh Johnson joined Channel 4 in 1991 - two years before the station

started selling its own airtime. He says he was brought in from British

Satellite Broadcasting to inject ’some commercial nous’ into Channel 4’s

research, and that’s still his key role today. He defines this as

interpreting existing data and commissioning new research to ensure the

sales team ’keeps going in the right direction’.

Johnson is an influential figure in the research sector and instigated

two of the most important studies to hit the media world in recent years

- the Roar survey of the youth market and the upmarket consumer analysis

Viper. Although Channel 4 co-operates on these surveys with other media

owners, they were conceived by Johnson and the channel’s media


Johnson says that studies like this show how far the research function

has changed in recent years.

’It’s now all about using research to understand your audience better

than anyone in the industry, including agency people who can often be

cynical about information. You need insight with real value,’ he