Media Researchers and the long road to ‘Excellence in Research Presentation’

Last week the research project I led for Metro and MailOnline, Millennial Rules, won the Mediatel award for Excellence in Research Presentation.

It was a happy moment, standing on stage with Ryan Uhl, Head of Operations, Insight and Creative at Mailonline, Charlotte Pilgrim, Head of Insight at Metro UK and Barbara Feeney, Head of Trade Marketing at Metro UK.

It was a particularly good thing to happen three years after starting my own business, Neil Sharman Ltd.

Around the time I went self-employed I attended The Media Research Group conference in Berlin. There someone quoted Richard Marks (head of judges at last week’s Mediatel awards) saying today’s media researchers are like chefs, concocting their insights from a range of ingredients, not single sources. Greg Gowan of ITV garnished the point, saying today’s media researchers need to be celebrity chefs because presentation is so important.

Why is presentation more important than ever?

When I started in media research I had a computer (the salespeople didn’t have them) and a long shelf full of reports. A brief would come in and I’d get the reports down and fire up Telmar. When there was something to say, people were keen to hear.

A few years later a brief would come in and before the chance to get facts and figures together, my inbox was full of emails from colleagues sending around links to articles. We all had the Internet now. Often the email didn’t contain an explanation of how it was relevant. It was an insight free for all (or insight free, for all).

Now the good researcher had to be one step ahead of the link sprayers by being proactive and having analysis done and on the shelf, ready to be adapted to the briefs that came in. There was generally less patience to wait for a considered view.

Attention spans were getting shorter because there was now a lot to be distracted by. It didn’t just apply to the media researcher’s internal clients but the company’s external clients too.

‘Insight’ was in great supply and disjointed points were being easily passed off as insight in the new day of text light, image heavy presentations. Design could lend gravitas to the flimsiest points.

With ‘insight’ more broadly defined and readily available, the job of insight was changing too. It wasn’t enough to make good insight led points to support your place on a press schedule. You had to sell without selling; points made overtly no longer needed listening to.

Suddenly people were talking about ‘thought leader’ research that ‘added to the debate’ and sold oh so softly. Media researchers needed to be more widely informed rather than ‘deep dive’ experts on their corner of the industry.

It became quite a golden age for the curious media researcher; we were now dealing with broad and fascinating topics. I’ve tackled happiness, achievement, baby boomers and commuting and delved into disciplines like behavioural economics and marketing science.

So, years later, wearing the cap of Neil Sharman Ltd, I found myself pitching at MailOnline and Metro’s Kensington headquarters for a thought-leader project about millennials.

People told me it was too broad a topic to tackle as millennials span a decade and a half but if people can write books about the Romans (who spanned 500 years), surely I could find something to say about millennials.

It was a brave pitch and I have to take my hat off to MailOnline and Metro for going for it. I asked them not to try and add to a vast amount of often-disjointed insight into millennials. I asked them to help make sense of what was already written because so much is confusing and contradictory. We’re told millennials are short of attention but the most educated generation. They are leaping up the career ladder thanks to their digital dexterity but they are economically shafted and unable to get a job. They work their fingers to the bone but are lazy and entitled.

In short I suggested we should explain the contradictions and take the time to join the dots, not add others.

What I also have to take my hat off to my clients for is this. Although I worked with CrowdDNA and Alligator on the qual and the quant, there was an army of people within MailOnline and Metro who worked on the project too, from designers to trade marketers, event organisers and copywriters. The post project drinks event filled a beer garden.

The research was launched with a celebrity packed game show called Who Wants to be a Millennial, at Advertising Week Europe. So really I should name check Joey Essex as one of those on the team too.

The design of the micro-site is excellent and designed to give something to those seeking quick insights and those seeking full detail and clarity. The microsite contains a longhand report with several chapters as well as advertising rules, top traits and millennial views that feed off it.

One of the judges, David Pidgeon, editor of Mediatel Newsline, summed the result up as follows: “As someone whose job it often is to communicate the results of complicated research to a broad audience, I was particularly pleased to see that the winners really went to some lengths to bring the work to life and find interesting ways to ensure people could engage with the results”.

Indeed, that is true. I’m glad it showed because a lot of people deserve a lot of credit for getting the project the recognition it deserved.   I wasn’t the chef (and certainly not a celebrity chef) but one of many working hard in the galley.

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