Research Agency CEOs at ARF re:think

The second day of the ARF’s re:think conference opened with a panels research agency executives, called "The Research Agency of the Future" with the CEOs of GfK, Kantar, TNS and Nielsen.  Moderator Jim Figura of Colgate-Palmolive said it should have been called "Insights Agency of the Future."

Most of what these CEOs had to say didn’t get beyond what you can read in the press today.  Thus as Joe Mandese wrote in his post on the official re:think blog, the interesting parts of the panel came from reading between the lines.  In fact, most of the talking points were so generic that I didn’t know what company was being referenced for the middle two speakers.  GfK was introduced by the moderator and Nielsen went last by process of elimination.  But for Kantar and TNS, it was a few minutes before I knew what company was being represented.  This was because none of the CEOs told the audience their name, title, or company when they took the podium – they all just started talking.  Perhaps these guys are rockstars of research to the ARF audience.

Klaus Wübbenhorst from GfK proposed his company was best positioned to help businesses – after all, GfK stands for "growth from knowledge."  I asked Klaus about GfK’s brand monitoring plans after the panel.  No response – he looked at me as if I had just asked him to go a grab me a coffee with cream and two sugars.  I asked again, mentioning how TNS and Nielsen were building capabilities in the space.  He mumbled something to the effect of "sure, it’s important."  I asked him if he thought brand monitoring were an important capability for a research firm to have in its portfolio.  Certainly a slow-pitch underhand softball in my book, but it must have looked more like a Matsusaka gyroball.  No response.  Pretty clear he just wanted me to leave; unfortunately, I had to in order to deliver my breakout session.  Note to Klaus:  70 million and growing.  Think about it.

Credit to Eric Salama from Kantar who was aware enough that the Blackberry in his pocket was creating interference with the mic.  Salama says it’s time to mind the gap between what research firms promise and what they deliver.  His firm’s strategy hasn’t changed for four years, built on three principles:  people, innovation, and data quality.  I asked Eric about brand monitoring, too.  He said none of his companies were doing it.  I asked about Visible Technologies – he said, "yes, we have a partnership with them."

David Lowden from TNS had this to say:  "The research company of the future will be a partner with its clients."  "Cost-effective servicing is an increasingly important issue, but quality must remain."  "Clients will only commit to insight that positively impacts business in a meaningful way."  He did mention the Cymfony acquisition as part of their efforts to stay cutting edge.

David Calhoun from Nielsen was certainly different in appearance – he was the only panelist sans jacket.  He also heavily referenced his client-side experience, which others did not.  Calhoun was formerly at GE and mentioned his experience and mentors from there both in his prepared remarks as well as the Q&A.  These remarks certainly pointed out management acumen that puts The Nielsen Company in good hands – hopefully Calhoun will be able to change the industry standard as well and help marketers make advertising work.