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Responsibilities of a Marketing Research Specialist

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Q - What are some of your responsibilities?

A - I have a direct responsibility for one of our accounts-a food store-and if they have a problem that relates to their overall communication and would like some research done on it, they talk it over with the account people or sometimes come straight to me. That is one example. Advertising agencies will sometimes, without a request from the client, take a piece of creative work, like a storyboard or something, and try to get an idea of how that piece of work is performing, how well it is communicating what they wanted, and so on. In that instance, the creative person and the account person for that account decide that they want to check out that piece of work, and so then they would talk to me.

My responsibility is for the supervision and planning of the appropriate research to comply with the specific client's needs. This covers both advertising and product research, and both qualitative and quantitative research within those two groups. Some of our clients have only one person within the research department, and we are their direct research arm in terms of the design, implementation, and oftentimes analysis of the research. Some of our larger clients have twenty to forty people in their research department, and here we take on more of a consultant's role. We may not actually field and implement the research, the client might do that, but they welcome our involvement and input. It really varies from client to client.

If we are involved with a client with a limited research staff, we work with them in terms of proposing what we feel might be needed, for example, in the area of advertising creative development. The company may take on a more active role in terms of product evaluation and assessment, but anything that falls in the advertising area probably falls within the agency research function and thus is our responsibility. I will oftentimes get involved with the first step of development, which involves focus groups. If the research is in an area where the company has little familiarity with the marketplace we might be called upon to conduct some focus groups. If we do not actively implement a study, we work with the client's research department. We try to complement their efforts and build a total picture.

Q - How do you spend your time at work?

A Usually my first contact is with an account services person rather than, say, a creative person. If the work is for one of our clients, then we tend to meet more with account services, but if we are doing a project for our own internal needs-our own internal creative needs, for example-then I might meet with both the account person and the creative person who is involved in the development of the work.

First of all I try to arrange a meeting with the people who are involved in identifying the research problem, and that could be the client, the account people, or the creatives (copywriters and art directors). We sit down and talk it through, and then I write a proposal for the research. The proposal includes a background section on what we understand the problem to be, a section describing our research procedures, the rationale for those procedures, a description of who we are going to talk to and why we chose them, and a cost estimate. In the preparation of the proposal, I have to contact outside suppliers, like data collection companies, to find out what the costs would be for the project. Then I take the proposal to the account people and obtain their approval. If it is a qualitative study, which is my specialty, the next step is to write the discussion guide for the discussion itself. (You have to have background information, and guidelines for how you want the discussion to take place.) For example, you want to know how often, if ever, they drink milk, before you show them a commercial about milk. I must also get approval on the discussion guide from the client. If it is a quantitative study, then I arrange for the writing of a questionnaire and arrange for the writing of a screener, which is simply a device that allows you to get the correct type of respondent for your study. You need a screener for either quantitative or qualitative work, and you have to write a screener that defines for the data collection company what it is that you want. Then we go out and conduct the research.

After the research is done, we come back for the analysis. If focus groups were used, we'll listen to the tapes again; in the case of quantitative work, we go over the computer printouts and make decisions about whether we need additional runs in order to get the information we need. When I am writing the questionnaire, I also set up headings for the computer printout ahead of time, because we subcontract our computer work. We need a week to analyze the information and, ideally, a second week to write it up. But more often than not, what actually happens, especially with focus groups, is that I am expected to come up with something within three days. We call that top line, in which we just get one or two of the major findings. After delivering that to the creative people or to the client (so that decisions can be made), we go back and write a full report.

I got in a little before 8:00 and reviewed some writing I had done, worked on a report I'm doing for one of our clients, did some editing, and had a morning meeting with another client. I left for that at 9:00 and one of our research assistants joined me. We had some business meetings, and in the course of driving out to the client, we recapped some of the things that we wanted to address in this meeting. We met with the client for about an hour and a half, drove back, ran across to the deli for sandwiches to go, brought them back, and started to edit some more of the report. We had to get ready for another meeting with one of our clients who was coming in from out of town. The pace is very fast.
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