MEDIA: FORUM; What is the real role of media industry research?

This week’s Media Research Group conference in Barcelona will debate the fundamental question of just how much weight should be borne by industry standard research? Alasdair Reid asks should it stick to providing the figures that comprise the basic trading currencies or should it attempt to do all the clever stuff too?

This week’s Media Research Group conference in Barcelona will debate the

fundamental question of just how much weight should be borne by industry

standard research? Alasdair Reid asks should it stick to providing the

figures that comprise the basic trading currencies or should it attempt

to do all the clever stuff too?

Whenever the issue of media research comes up these days, it is taken

for granted that the ‘industry standard’ providers could be doing more.

The assumption is that no-one in advertising should rest until

everything anyone ever wanted to know about media is quantified and

generally available on disk.

But has the time come to start questioning the real role of industry

media research? The Media Research Group has devoted a special debating

session at this week’s MRG conference in Barcelona to the issue. The

motion will be: ‘This house believes that the industry should provide no

more research than allows the seller to sell and the buyer to buy.’

Proposing the motion will be Mark Cranmer, the managing director of

Motive; opposing it will be Phil Georgiadis, the chief executive of

Initiative Media.

Mark Cranmer says he will be urging the industry to be more realistic

about what it can achieve. ‘As media consumption fragments and the

patterns become more complex, the role of industry research should be to

establish a base-line currency recording exposure to various media,’ he

insists. ‘It must provide a credible, reliable and robust measure of

exchange in the market.

‘But I believe that we shouldn’t expect industry research to ask too

many questions about consumer behaviour. To increase our understanding

in that area, we should be spending more money discretely on a project-

by-project basis - we can then use that insight to apply our judgment to

the base currency and ask questions about value.

‘What this means, of course, is that we should be spending less at an

industry level on the hard currencies of research while, on an

individual basis, spending more to understand the behaviour of the

consumers of the individual brands that we work on.’

Cranmer is anxious, though, that his views aren’t misconstrued as an

attack on the research industry. ‘I see it as a liberation - at the

moment there is too much resource going into research that doesn’t make

a big difference on individual brands and doesn’t allow us to

differentiate ourselves as media practitioners. That, I believe, should

be the role of media research in the future,’ he says.

The stance that Phil Georgiadis will be taking in the debate is that,

without the current levels of research, the industry as a whole would

find it difficult to function. ‘I will argue that what we do with

qualitative research is effectively a separate issue,’ he states. ‘I

will suggest that even if we could cut the quantitative budget and use

that money to fund qualitative research, it would be a mistake.

Negotiations would become more, not less chaotic.’

Georgiadis concedes that there may be times when a spotlight needs to be

turned on a particular area - perhaps of interest to everyone or maybe

relevant to a particular product market. ‘However, I will argue that the

choice of where the spotlight shines is made by intuition,’ he adds.

‘And one of the most dangerous aspects of little pockets of agency-

driven media research is a tendency to over-react without taking into

account the broader picture. The line I will take is that pockets of

qualitative research in the past have frequently turned out to be

irrelevant or unworkable.

‘This is not because qualitative research is worthless but that it is

wrongly directed. I will make a case for sophisticated quantitative data

that will show everything and will be available for everyone. The

expansion of industry research - and the way we use it to diagnose our

problems - is the only method of forcing the business to acknowledge

that the media buying and selling system should be changed more

radically than we currently realise.’

Georgiadis stresses he is playing devil’s advocate at the session. This

doesn’t necessarily represent his heartfelt opinion. But does he reflect

the views of any in the business?

Brigitte Saxer, the advertisement marketing manager of the Independent

and the Independent on Sunday, concedes that if industry research gives

no more than bare essentials, buyers and sellers will be forced to look

elsewhere for an edge in negotiations - but she’s not entirely happy

about it.

‘People who conduct their own research are quite rightly free to publish

whatever extracts they choose and this leads to an increasing number of

negotiations where one side has more information than the other,’ she


‘Good research is expensive and by sharing the cost and the information

among us, we get excellent value as well as a highly regarded and

accepted currency. Individually conducted pieces of research may lead

the way or force people to take quicker action on certain issues. But

the industry has a responsibility for maintaining the high standards and

fair play that currently exist in media research.’

Phil Gullen, the managing director of Carat Research, says that the

fragmentation of media and the increasing use of non-traditional

communication vehicles in any campaign makes industry research less and

less relevant.

‘That’s increasingly the case as we approach the 21st century,’ he

maintains. ‘Barb cannot report on cable channels, Rajar no longer has

room to pre-print a full list of available stations and the NRS covers

less than a tenth of consumer magazines available on the newsstands.

Decisions on sponsorship, database marketing and promotional activity

are made without any industry research to use as a crutch.’

Gullen argues that the future lies in bespoke research that will allow

individual advertisers to assess the value of all of the elements that

make up their communications mix. ‘This will involve getting into the

minds of the relevant consumers and understanding the relationship that

they have with the available media. But it still has to focus on the

fundamental questions - the ‘What did we achieve?’ and ‘What did we

sell?’ questions,’ he maintains.

‘As for industry research - it needs to concentrate on providing the

most relevant and comprehensive currency for buyers and sellers. This is

a difficult enough task in itself without expecting it to do more.’

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