The Research Mafia event in Leeds on 14 June saw a spirited debate between youth (represented by Rosy Goodrick from Opinion Leader and Betty Adamou, founder of Research through Gaming) and experience (represented by John Griffiths from Spring Research and Neil McPhee, Nuance Research).
Although the session was billed as a light-hearted quiz, complete with me as MC in a sparkly jacket, a number of important topics were discussed by the teams, including the relative pay of young researchers, how best to attract talent into the market research industry, and whether those clients who seem to insist on only having senior researchers/directors on their account are making a mistake.
One of the points of disagreement and debate related the relative pay of younger and more experienced researchers. The median salary for a 50+ researcher is evidently three times as high as that of 23-year-old researcher. The two teams responded to this issue with very different views. The experienced team thought this pay difference fairly reflected the difference in value to the client, and used the analogy of whether you would rather have a taxi driver who was 50+ and knew the roads or a new driver? The youth team rejected the scale of the difference and retorted that a young driver, who has recently passed their test, who has not learned bad habits, and who is familiar with laws passed in the last 20 years might be quite a good option. My own view is that any sensible client would want most of the work on their project done by a young researcher, somebody passionate and committed to that project, but mentored by a more senior researcher – and they should want to see both parties at the debrief, not just the director bluffing their way through their junior colleague’s work.
When asked about the issue of gender (note: more than 50% of people in research are female, but only about one-sixth of senior c-suite execs are female), the experienced (and all male) team were relatively comfortable with the current situation, pointing at that this was more of a society issue and that many small companies we run by women. The youth (and all female) team were more inclined to see it as a problem, both through lack of fairness but also because if boardrooms were deficient in various groups (not just women but also other groups as well) then the boardrooms would be less able to draw on a wider range of talent and different ideas and perspectives.
When asked about what sort of research would they not want to work on the experienced team quickly listed topics such as tobacco and gambling and expressed the view that nobody should be forced to work on projects they did not approve. By contrast the youth team felt they were up for researching most things, although they did have sympathy with the idea that nobody should be forced to research a topic they did not approve of.
After each topic the audience voted on which team had made the most convincing case – a big ask for the youth team as the experience team had many years of platform and industry experience. After nine topics the score was four topics each (with one being drawn). A ‘golden question’ was created by the audience, asking what grad schools should focus on in making students ready for the research industry. Betty led off with some good points, including the point that not every entrant to research will have planned to be a researcher whilst studying. Neil and John then made a number of excellent points and the contest appeared to have gone to experience. But Rosy, with a last moment intervention, made the point that new researchers need to understand the commercial realities, i.e. that research needs to contribute client’s bottom line – and you could tell by the way the audience and even Neil and John were nodding that Rosy’s well-made point had won the day, and youth prevailed, five rounds to four.
More agreement than disagreement
The game show format probably highlighted more differences than it should have done. Both teams were similar in many ways. Both teams were passionate about market research, both felt it could have a great future, both wanted to attract more talent into the industry, wanted to use the right tools for the right projects, and both wanted to help clients make better decisions.
Even on topics where the teams appeared to disagree more strongly, such as the merits of younger researchers versus more experienced, there was a degree of overlap. For example, John talked about the merits of 26 and 27 year old colleagues, who he thought were excellent, rather than the 23 year olds referred to in the quiz question.
And my view?
I think too many market research companies underutilise young researchers. I think that young researchers should be stretched as far as they are able to be stretched, they should be in the pitch meetings, they should be speaking/presenting at all meetings, they should be handling the day-to-day work, and they should be involved in presenting the results. Young researchers should also be trained, be supported, and be mentored. They should not be wrapped in cotton wool, if they make a mistake, or fail to take responsibility for themselves or their project, they should be told so. I believe in giving them opportunities and in letting them know if they let the company or themselves down.
I have been employing young researchers for 30 years, and they keep getting better and better. The problem, IMHO, is that as most of us get older we forget what being 23 is like. Today’s 23-year-olds are more rounded, have more business awareness, are more technology aware, and are more media savvy than any youngsters before them – they have less of some other things, but education tends to be a zero-sum game.
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