Report Writing Standards (Again)

Jul 19 2012

In the latest issue of Research, Gill Wales writes about the standard of market research reports and it’s depressing reading (link here). The article, ‘Will this do?’, cites examples of where market research companies fail to deliver value and suggests that the problem is endemic. I agree based on what I see in my work, and it’s a topic that has come up frequently in this blog (for example in “Show me the money” and “5 questions every innovative researcher needs to ask”.

The most depressing part of the article is reading about client’s frustrations with agencies, and as one says, “We try and explain to agencies how critically important the report is  …. but it seems to make no difference.”

The core of the problem that Gill Wales touches on is the business model of agencies, where senior time is focused on selling more research and the actual job is pushed further and further down the chain to juniors including that of report writing as the main deliverable of the work. Agencies will claim that this is the result of the push for more and more competitive costs, but the truth is that this is becoming a destructive spiral as lower costs lead to less senior time, leads to poorer deliverables, and so on. If reports are getting worse, why would any client want to pay more for rubbish?

In fact, the whole business model of large agencies needs to change, and maybe changes in data collection and the rapid decline in cost per interview will force their hands. It is becoming self-destructive in that if juniors are not properly mentored and supervised when writing reports they will struggle to develop the right skills for the future. Finally, it seems self-defeating in that, as Gill Wales points out, all the creative and analytical thinking is going into selling and not delivering. No industry can sustain that kind of behaviour.

If I were a client I would be hiring good creative thinkers with experience of the category, company or research approach and getting them to work with data collection specialists. I wouldn’t hire big research agencies (but then I would say that wouldn’t I?). The way things are going is not good for the industry, and the big agencies don’t seem to care enough to want to change. I may be a small fish in a big pond, but I do hope the industry and its key players start to get the message or it faces a hard future.

If you buy something once and it fails you can forgive, but if you keep buying and it keeps failing there comes a point when you either decide to go elsewhere or you do without it. Market research cannot continue to fail clients.

One response so far

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