So says Marlo Stanfield. And he has a point.
Reputation means a lot. But reputation is about perception, and there are multiple perspectives in which it can be viewed.
Broadly, reputation can be thought of in four inter-related spheres
- Yourself – your personal brand
- Your organisation (this itself can have several facets, if your organisation is part of a larger conglomerate or affiliation)
- Your industry
- The wider public
Marlo is concerned with his personal reputation among people in the industry – “the game”. He isn’t so worried about the other facets.
With the prominence of polling in the upcoming general election, the research industry is contemplating its reputation among the wider public.
I don’t think it really matters.
This election is more partisan and contentious than any I recall (most likely driven by the likelihood of change, rising prominence of online media giving a voice to more people, and the novelty of the leadership debates). Pot-shots, such as those against YouGov, are inevitable. This article from Research Live shows how YouGov aren’t doing themselves any favours in their need for speed (and this is leaving aside their associations with The Sun/Murdoch/Conservative Party).
I don’t think it matters because the research industry is rarely public facing – the only publicity it really receives is through political polls and PR research.
I’ve written about the problems with PR research in the past, but there is evidently a market for it and so the method prospers. It might damage the reputation of the industry to the wider public but outside of recruitment (of staff and respondents/participants) it isn’t really relevant.
As Marlo noted, it is industry reputation – for yourself and your organisation – that really matters.
It is similar to the advertising industry. Successful companies have a lot of brand equity through the quality and associations of their work – Wieden & Kennedy and Nike, Fallon and Cadbury, HHCL and Tango, and Crispin Porter & Bogusky and Burger King, to give but four examples.
But what proportion of the general public has heard of these companies, let alone recognises and appreciates their work? Not many. Is it a damning indictment of the strength of the marketing industry that it fails in promoting the most basic thing – itself? Not really. Companies attract talent and business through their successes and image – public perception doesn’t factor.
Ray Poynter is rightly concerned with the the ethics of market research but for me, the importance of this is in maintaining business links. There is no adequate means of policing the research industry – anyone can knock on a door and say they are doing a survey – so it is not a battle worth fighting.
Companies stand and fall by the quality of their work – or at least the perception of it within the industry. Sub-standard work that is openly criticised will only harm long-term prosperity.
Self-regulation and recognition, whether through a recognised body like the Market Research Society, or at a more ad hoc level, can achieve this through highlighting good and bad practice.The research industry needs to be more vocal in showcasing good work, and castigating poor work.
This in turn will filter to the individual level, where the talented and ambitious will compete to work for the top companies. This in turn strengthens the work, and thus the industry. It could even permeate to the public.
There is no quick fix to improve the standing of an industry, and in some cases it isn’t necessarily desirable. Rather than look to the big picture, we should focus on the more immediate challenges.
If we all concentrate on undertaking the best possible work, then a strong reputation – for ourselves, our organisation and our industry – will follow.
NB: The clip of the scene with the quote is below (it is from Series 5, so beware of potential spoilers)