At Asia Talent, we receive a constant trickle of mail from fresh graduates and others considering a career in market research. Invariably, one of the first questions asked is: How do you feel about working in market research? Now, putting aside any bias stemming from all at Asia Talent being ex-researchers, this question prompts some potentially tricky responses.
After explaining our potential bias, the enquirer will often broaden the question to ask about trends: who’s hot to work for; what they can learn; and who provides employees with security, challenges, opportunities, career paths, and career structure.
These questions are also about what is happening in the industry, where the industry is heading, and what the future holds.
If you follow – even briefly – conversations on social media, and survey responses captured in the regular Asia Research Magazine industry research questionnaire, it is clear that there is disquiet as to how the industry is placed, where it is heading, and how participants feel about their own involvement.
What is behind these queries?
We have, for a while, been facing events that have affected our industry: primarily, lack of investment from European- and North American–based head offices in research in Asia, which, in turn, has been caused by contractions in their domestic and closer regional economies, resulting in a slowdown in clients’ investment in customised research. Looked at from another angle, budget allocations for marketing and advertising (from where most research allocations originate) have come under serious pressure and, in many instances, have seen significant reductions.
This is evidenced by recently published trading results for the major research agencies, which clearly illustrates the dual lack of profitability and organic growth in most regions.
Broadly speaking, the result is that research agencies in Asia are competing under diminishing returns to secure business, generate turnover, and retain profitability. There is pressure to reduce costs and fees, while maintaining output and reporting standards. The result is that more is being required of employees, who are under additional pressure as leaving colleagues are either not replaced or replaced by employees lacking adequate skills and experience – too much work for too few skilled researchers, late nights, lost weekends, unreasonable deadlines, complaining clients, complaining bosses and line managers …
Our industry is living through the second difficult trading situation in six years, as are the buyers of market research. There was once a perception that market research was immune from many economic shifts. That is clearly not fact. The set of events has made many researchers, at all levels, somewhat nervous about their prospects and the future.
However, all is not lost. As the cycle moves on, research investment in our region will increase, additional researchers will be required to manage the increased workload, and so we may have even more work for too few skilled researchers, later nights, weekends that don’t happen, and even less reasonable deadlines.
So, how do you feel about working in market research? Well, it’s something like a prolonged roller coaster ride: the highs are brilliant, but the lows can be gut churning.
Author, Andrew Wood, Asia Talent
First published in Asia Research Magazine Q1, 2014