Buckingham Palace with crowds on the Mall

Judith Staig reports for the AMSR on this year’s virtual sessions:

Love them or loath them, industry conferences are usually an opportunity to meet friends old and new, to figure out how to shake hands whilst balancing your tote bag, a coffee cup and a shortbread biscuit, and to embarrass yourself by being a little bit too enthusiastic at the evening disco. But COVID-19 has put a stop to all of the fun and driven the MRS Impact annual conference online.

I’ve been fortunate enough to attend both of the Impact conferences that have been conducted online due to pandemic restrictions. The overwhelming feeling I took away from both was a sense of pride in our industry, the contribution that we make and our resilience and ingenuity. The theme for this year was reinvention – looking at how we have recovered from the pandemic, what we have learnt and how we can grow and strengthen into the future. It struck me that the Archive of Market and Social Research has an important role to play not only in cataloguing the past but in being a part of that future.

So many of the sessions spoke about purpose and integrity and the need not just to put people before profit, but to do the hard work of figuring out how to put people AND planet first (and that means ALL of the people) AND still make a profit.

Paul Polman, former CEO of Unilever talked about the courage that is needed in business to take the high ground and ensure that your business leaves the world a better place. Dan Breznitz spoke about how innovation really works, and what communities really need – so often the opposite of what government policy has allocated to them. There was an important debate about diversity and how to move past box-ticking and make our organisations truly inclusive, and a keynote with Child’s Farm founder, Joanna Jensen, who told us how her absolute commitment to her values and principles is what has set the brand apart. 

The conference closed with an inspirational interview with James Timpson, whose company has been quietly applying its courageous business practices for generations: the firm hires people who have been in prison and empowers employees to make their own decisions about how they run their stores.

One of my favourite sessions (apart, of course, from the AMSR team of Phyllis, Adam and Alice discussing the buried gold in the Archive – watch out for more on this session soon) was the provocation by Danielle Todd. She told us that we should stop catastrophizing about the end of the industry, worrying about the value that we bring, and assuming that we can be easily replaced by bots and just get on with doing the creative and impactful work that we are so capable of.

I agree that sometimes in the research industry we do forget to be proud of ourselves and to understand the contribution that we make. From the outside, we can sometimes be seen as the underdogs; less glamorous than the ad industry, a subset of marketing, lower down the food chain than management consulting. But this is far from the truth.

In financial terms alone, we are certainly an industry to be proud of. In 2021, during which you may recall we were in the grip of a global pandemic, the revenue from market research and polling in the UK alone was estimated to be £5.1bn. As Danielle pointed out, that’s 3.9 Kim Kardashians.

And beyond revenue, there is hardly a product, a service, an ad, a political campaign or a policy decision that has been made in this country in the last 70 or so years that hasn’t been touched in some way by market research. We have an incredible history and heritage. And that is where the AMSR comes in.

We are the custodians of our industry’s history and heritage to date and, with the new modern collections, we are creating the history and heritage of the future. If we ever need to feel proud of our industry and what we have achieved, we need look no further than the Archive of Market and Social Research.

Contributed by Judith Staig
Date posted: 05th April 2022


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