You get a tremendous variety each day. You deal with many different types of companies; some are very sophisticated, and some are very unsophisticated. They also have very different styles and represent a myriad of products and services-durables to services to packaged goods. It is a tremendous learning experience.
The nice aspects of research with an advertising agency are that you get to see so many different marketing problems in a relatively short period of time and that you get fairly deeply involved in each one. There is a lot of freedom in how you do what you do.
Without credentials, it is tough to land a job in an agency research department, but not impossible. If you can demonstrate an ability to perform high-powered, state-of-the-art research functions dealing with advanced research methodology, computer techniques, sample construction, research design, and analysis, then you stand a good chance. But be prepared to be put to the test... early. Some internships (nonpaying) are available and extremely helpful in getting hired.
A big function of the advertising agency research department is to provide consulting services to clients and the rest of the agency. So communications are a necessity. And not just the basics. It's not an easy task to communicate complicated research results to those who are not
The marketing research department of an advertising agency is typically termed "lean (not an indication of diet), meaning that there are very few excess personnel. Each person on the staff is capable of performing most, if not all, research functions necessary to provide data upon which to base a decision. Because of the limited human resources, the department is made up of Ph.D.'s in various fields, M.B.A.'s with a number of years of experience, and occasionally a B.A. with a solid research background.
Each member of the research department typically has account responsibility, just like the rest of the agency functions. And each member also provides assistance to other accounts when help in their area of expertise is needed. The whole department really operates as a team, helping out when another is in a "crunch" or when quick results are necessary. ("Sure, I'll run that twenty-seven-variable multiple regression study for you.'")
In order to describe in detail the activities of the research specialist, two reference volumes of statistical techniques and a dictionary of multivariate methods would be necessary. So we won't go into any detailed descriptions.
A study is initiated a couple of different ways. An account executive may come to the research department and present a question to the individual responsible for that particular account, and a meeting between the client, the account executive, and the research account executive takes place to outline the project. A representative from the client's research department may call his or her research counterpart at the agency to initiate a study or get advice on a study being conducted by the client's research staff. The research account executive may sense a need to evaluate an advertisement or product image and initiate a meeting with the account executive, the client representative, or both. When the agency is planning on "pitching a new account" and needs some evidence to show that they can do for the client what no other agency can, the research department may be called upon to project what kind of results their advertising would produce (based on a number of assumptions, of course). Whatever the means, the result is the same ... a research study starts rolling.
When the project is outlined, the research specialist wears the hat of a project manager. The same functions take place. A proposal is developed detailing the method, form the results should take, time frame, and cost. The project is executed including enlisting subcontractors if necessary, conducting focus groups if necessary, constantly examining incoming data, "putting out fires," and staying within budget and time constraints. The results are collected, refined, cross-tabulated, and analyzed, and a presentation is made to explain the results and answer any questions about how they were obtained. If necessary, a report is written detailing the findings.
A big difference between a supplier project manager and an advertising agency research specialist is that while the supplier usually has an analytical department to conduct complex computer analyses and take care of all the complicated statistical processes, the advertising agency specialist often fulfills these functions. Another thing to keep in mind when comparing suppliers and advertising agencies, is that the agencies are concerned with the communication aspect of the product and the attributes perceived by consumers as a result of advertising messages. They may act as consultants for product development studies conducted by the client, but will rarely participate in the execution of this kind of project.
Although the requirements are tough, there are good reasons for preparing oneself for a career in advertising agency research, not the least of which is a considerable salary. The people are all first-rate, the pace fast, and the projects widely varied. If you've got the determination, there may be a desk-top nameplate for you in an advertising agency somewhere.