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Smart Hiring Pays Big Dividends

Are Market Research executives really embracing this "New Talent for A New Age"concept? Beth Rounds asks Lock Collins, Cambiar's Human Resources Practice Leader to weigh in on the topic

by Beth Rounds and Lock Collins, Cambiar Partners

Over the past year, the Cambiar partners have been writing, presenting and blogging about The Winds of Change within the MR industry.  Leading companies across the value chain are listening, evaluating business models and setting strategy for the future.  In addition, new entrants, many from outside our industry, are adding to the mix as well as challenging the status quo.  With all the change happening, executives are also realizing that their talent needs are changing.  Joan Lewis, Global Consumer and Market Knowledge Officer, P&G, said in the recent ESOMAR Global Market Research Report, “the element of research that will have to change faster is the profile of people – people who can show integrated thinking, courage and leadership, with less emphasis on back-room analysis or sales. …what we need are more talented people who can build the industry.”  We agree! Where in the past the individual project was king, now the relationship dominates. Corporations expect their business partners to know the business, bringing a holistic array of information to bear on the issue at hand.

All this is good, but are MR executives really embracing this “New Talent for A New Age”concept?  I asked Lock Collins, Cambiar’s Human Resources Practice Leader to weigh in on the topic.

Beth: In the area of human resources and talent, what do MR executives want these days?

Lock:  Clearly clients are looking for  those unique individuals with grounding in market research combined with the ability to understand and discuss marketing with senior management the key business issues that they face.  In our industry, that’s a rare combination. Of course, they need to have a track record of success and must be passionate about the industry.

Also, it seems that we’re moving away from the traditional “hunter-farmer” models with companies structuring around account managers that “have it all”.  Desirable candidates can listen to a client’s problem, develop solutions, oversee the project team and provide insights.  These people are truly the “renaissance men/women” of the market research industry.  Add on top of this, individuals will need to have a POV on the New MR world and be story tellers.  This is a tall order for most!

Beth: Are clients starting to hire specialists or mostly generalists?

Lock: Right now, I think MR firms are still looking for generalists, especially at the account management level.  We’ve had discussions with firms regarding their interest in hiring researchers outside traditional marketing and business channels.  For example, some companies have hired graphic designers to support their reporting and presentations, and others are experimenting with hiring individuals that understand story telling — journalists for example.  I can see this trend picking up steam in the next couple of years as the new modalities gain acceptance.

Beth: No company can afford a wrong hire.  What recommendations do you have for improving a company’s success rates?

Lock: Managers have to be serious about interviewing and selection.  All too often hiring is treated way too casually.  There are a number of best practices in this area that I’d be happy to share at a later point, but in my experience great managers are looking for candidates who possess those intangible behaviors that will lead to success in the position.   We’re doing more to help our clients focus on the desired behaviors and characteristics, as well as a strong organizational fit vs. the traditional list of research methodologies and knowledge of the end-client’s industry.

Beth: On the flip side – it still seems like a competitive employment market.  Do you see any trends in what employees or prospects want from an employer?

Lock: Our sense is that individuals with 0- 5 years of experience may be operating in a traditional employment environment, not much different than twenty years ago.  At the more senior levels, where our practice is focused, candidates are consistently looking for a few things:

  • Autonomy and the ability to develop solutions in an unconventional way – not the way “we’ve always done it”.  With this autonomy comes a blurring of work and personal life, with individuals wanting to working on their own schedule in their own location.  Some of our clients prefer to have employees engaged in the day-to-day activities of an office.  We’re finding that more and more of our clients, however, are expressing the flexibility for senior level employees to be located anywhere.
  • Among our candidates, we are also noticing the desire to walk away from the large established research suppliers. Many more are now attracted to entrepreneurial opportunities in which they can “build something”.
  • Finally, senior candidates are not looking for a job.  They are interested in moving a vision forward and financially sharing in the results.

Beth: What is the role of recruiters like Cambiar’s Talent Practice in impacting strategy?

Lock: As part of any corporate strategy, executives look to the major trends that are affecting clients and research companies alike. The MR industry is poised for great change and we are starting to see how those macro trends play in to the types of talent that we will require in the future.  As we all know, a successful business strategy can’t stop at a new and improved sales and marketing plan. To borrow a concept from Jim Collins of Good to Great fame, having the right talent  in the right seats on the right bus is critical to the success of any organization.

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4 responses to “Smart Hiring Pays Big Dividends

  1. Interesting piece. As a former communications planner hired by research agency with the grand title of Creative Director I can certainly recognise that different skillsets are being brought in to the research industry. And having seen other research agencies hire creative directors who are from a planning rather than a design background this is a job title worth watching. Creativity is essential through the research process – through project design, through how the fieldword is conducted, and not least in analysis so often the Cinderalla, And so much more than making the charts yummy for the final presentation! As your article makes clear the killer app – is the ability to link research to the marketing task in hand. Which is where planners are usually in a position of strength. Many planners being great pragmatists even when their research skills may be basic. Here at Spring we suffer the indignity of being christened with job titles by our colleagues after we have settled in. Alongside my creative director job title I have another which I wear with pride: Magic Duster!

  2. Thanks for your comment. I think it will be easier for some companies to excel in this new world. For example, a company like Iconoculture has been at the forefront of hiring a wide variety of talent (from journalists to planners to researchers) to combine research and expertise to provide a fully integrated view of consumer values and behaviors around the world. Traditional research firms will need to invest and experiment with new talent and organizational models going forward. I want to emphasize the word “invest”. Another great article on this topic is an interview Robert Philpott, recent CEO, Synovate. Check out

  3. I agree this is where the industry needs to go. Turning the what into the why and so what has always been necessary, but now it’s critical. And the ability to analyze data from disparate and disconnected sources and pull it together into a meaningful, memorable and useful outcome is sorely needed. GreenBook, as always, is ahead of the curve. It’s my experience that companies (agencies, firms and clients) are still very risk-averse in hiring. creative-thinkers who want to have more flexibility, appropriate control over their approaches and solutions and some ownership in their successes are pretty scary to the more traditional hiring people already in the organization. Sadly, it usually takes something even more fearful — revenue decline, new management and/or a rush of firing to open the doors for these types of positive and profitable changes.

  4. HI,
    Thanks for the comment Amy. I do think that there are some that are ahead of the curve. We worked with over 30 companies last year (as you may know we are a consulting firm to the MR agency world) and some are really “getting” it. And those that get it, know that they will need to invest in new types of hires and train. We are starting to see the need for synthesis skills which is a somewhat different skills set. What types of individuals are the best at this?
    Would like to hear what others think?

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