Want to work in marketing research? Read on for the final part of Red Pill’s Top Ten Tips for aspiring or new researchers.
So you’re still here after reading the first five tips? Good! Without further ado, here are your final five. Absorb them well!
6. NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK.
Just as good marketing campaigns create awareness and interest for a product or service, it’s the same with your own job search.
If you know you’re wanting to enter the marketing research profession while still studying, ask your course leader or marketing research lecturer if they know of any alumni now working in MR. Perhaps your course leader also knows some higher-placed contacts. Either way, ask for an introduction: nothing ventured, nothing gained. In a similar vein, ask your lecturer or course leader whether it’s possible to invite any alumni or other marketing research industry contacts back to the department for a special lecture or seminar.
What about in-person events or meetings? Bear in mind that the vast majority of marketing research agencies are based in London and South East England. If you’re already based there, that’s great. You can join and attend networking events run by R-Net, the Market Research Society networking group for new researchers. There’s also The Research Club, which originally started with London events and now has a busy calendar of events around the world.
If you’re based out of London but have secured an interview with an agency there, try to stay for an extra day or two, so you can also fit in meetings with your informational interviewees (‘agents’). Face to face always trumps phone or email so meet them for lunch or a quick after-work drink to put a face to the name, to thank them for their help so far, and for any pertinent updates regarding the company and possible openings. And remember to be nice to them!
Despite London and the SE being the primary marketing research ‘hot spot’ in the UK, there are other MR agencies located around the country. The same rules apply wherever you are based. Whilst the number of agency contacts may be fewer, there may be large companies with in-house customer insight managers who could be approached to speak at your class, or to have a chat on the phone with. Researchers are a friendly bunch. Many of them will be glad to help or see the next bunch of rookies coming through.
Set up your own marketing research networking group if there are enough local agencies and big companies with in-house researchers. Get your university marketing department involved too: all sorts of possibilities may present themselves.
7. KNOW YOUR LIMITS.
Deadlines and marketing research are synonymous with one another, especially when working on multiple projects simultaneously. This isn’t an issue when there has been good project planning. But just like in the military world, no plan survives contact with the enemy. Or very rarely. Invariably when a project goes ‘into field’ (meaning the fieldwork or data collection phase) something will crop up. Accept it and potentially some extra hours behind the desk when it happens. But learn from it too: understand why it occurred and how you can avoid it in future.
That said, there’s a problem if you’re habitually working late on projects. That’s a sign of either a) the project manager underestimating the time and resources required, or b) someone higher up trying to cost cut, relying on junior staff taking the strain. This of course is completely counter-productive. All that will be produced is a pissed off employee who will be having more thoughts about leaving their job than actually doing it.
In fact by the 1960’s there was already a plethora of study data over the preceding four decades showing that working more than 40 hours per week is counter-productive. As Sara Robinson succinctly states: “Working long days and weeks has been incontrovertibly proven to be the stupidest, most expensive way there is to get work done.”
Let’s put this into context. Whilst lives have been lost in some industries due to overworked employees making critical errors, marketing research isn’t the same. Nonetheless, attention to detail is vital in MR. It’s remarkably easy to make mistakes when the clock is ticking and you’ve got a lengthy ‘to do’ list. When mistakes are made, you’ll have cost the company time and money and/or jeopardised the project timeline. There’s also the distinct possibility of upsetting the client – which at its worst could mark the end of your business relationship with them.
The solution? Push back. Learn to say ‘no’. If you’re not already keeping timesheets, then do so yourself and monitor your hours worked. Short term increases in hours is one thing. But when it becomes accepted and required on a continual basis, the line in the sand has been crossed and it is time to act. Talk to HR if necessary. But do not suffer in silence.
8. STAY OPENMINDED.
A good rule in life and not a bad one for your marketing research career either. Be open to the opportunities that might come your way. George Bernard Shaw has some cracking words on the subject, well worth quoting in full.
“People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, make them.”
Just as a good researcher should be thoroughly objective with survey data or depth interview transcripts, you should carry this through in your personal life too. Evaluate yourself, how your career is progressing, and most importantly, whether it’s to your liking. If not, what needs changing? Maybe you’ve been a quanty for years and now have a hankering for some qual. See if any opportunities for involvement exist in your company. Ask to get involved, perhaps on a voluntary basis if necessary to learn more about it.
If you’re hankering for adventure and you work for one of the global research networks, why not see about transferring to an office in a different country? Whilst hard to say what impact it will have on your long-term career, that’s not really the point. It’s about personal growth as well as maintaining an income.
Also be mindful of the fact that further down the line your personality, attitudes and objectives may markedly differ from your current mindset. In the beginning you’re bursting with enthusiasm to be part of a dynamic company and wholeheartedly embrace the culture. Fast forward ten years: re-do the exercises you completed in ‘Parachute. How much has changed? Maybe you’re dying to escape corporate life surrounded by others and instead launch your own consultancy. You may well be attracted to different tasks and activities, different work environments, different people.
9. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER.
This is a bit of a no-brainer but nonetheless should be reinforced. There are many ways you can stay on top of your research game as your career develops. In fact there’s nothing stopping you from doing so right now. From your laptop you can immerse yourself in the previously mentioned Green Book website which is a treasure-trove of insight and discussion. Check out their GRIT Reports which give a great overview of the MR industry. Don’t forget to visit the MRS and ESOMAR websites periodically.
Away from your computer, get off your butt and attend the various networking events and if you can, the MRS Conference. This is recommended not only for the seminars but the opportunity to rub shoulders with the movers and shakers at the various breaks and networking events surrounding it.
Your ever-increasing project work will naturally improve your knowledge and experience. But if you’re in a large global agency, don’t neglect their knowledge base, located on their intranet and accept any training opportunities offered.
Also, don’t limit yourself to the research world. What use is creating a great quant survey or running a focus group well, if you don’t know much about why the research is being called for in the first place and how it is likely to be used? Learn about marketing planning and strategy for starters, moving on to broader strategic management concepts and frameworks. If you stay put in the MR world, it won’t do you any harm. If you decide to move wider within the marketing world, it will do you the power of good.
10. DON’T TAKE ANY SH*T.
At some point you may encounter someone being dismissive of the MR industry (let me guess: they’ll mention standing on a street holding a clipboard. Yawn.). This is mostly based out of ignorance, so pity them rather than hitting them. Besides, you’re in an industry that works with innovative and dynamic companies and brands, playing an invaluable role in their progression in their business and marketing journeys. That’s pretty cool.
You’re part of a global community of smart cookies that gets to the nitty gritty of products and services, customers and competitors. For intelligent and naturally curious individuals, it’s one hell of an industry to be in. Oh, and it doesn’t cause cancer and hasn’t brought about a global financial crisis either (that on its own counts for a lot). So hold your head high!