When I first started working in recruitment communications in the late nineties we were still getting clients used to the idea of researching their target audience before investing in a large recruitment campaign. It was still a fairly novel idea in the world of recruitment advertising. The ability to persuade clients of the benefits of doing their research depended a lot on the clout the client had within their organisation and the quality and the calibre of the Account Director.
I recall the occasional meeting where you would spent a good twenty minutes going over case studies and articulating the merits, benefits and successes of research based campaigns only for an over excited Account Manager in the same room to blurt out, “Of course we understand your time constraints and we can move quickly to get some scamps to you by the end of the week.” Possibly understandable given the perceived risk and intangibility of ‘complicating things’ with research, but they were also the ones most likely to look quizzically with a furrowed brow when there was any mention of ‘online advertising’.
Over time though, research started to elbow its way onto the agenda more often than not. Before ’employer branding’ was used as the fashionable all-embracing term on which ‘long term strategic objectives’ depended on ‘up-front research’ and rigorous concept testing there were organisations adopting the sound principle they were already using in the rest of their business to ensure their recruitment investment was spent as wisely as every other penny in the organisation.
Those who have really have got the point of doing research don’t always need to use research terminology to justify their point of view. You don’t browse John Lewis when buying a new plasma TV and spout out to the sales assistant, “Hello. I’m doing my research.” You’re weighing up in your own mind what type of technology you want. The size of the room in which the plasma will be situated. Whether it’s going on the wall and whether you really need surround sound or the Sky HD wire trailing up the wall. You will have an idea of budget and you will probably have in your own mind a brand name, reliability and if you have done your ‘research’ may have searched online to see what fellow shoppers had to say about the matter. In fact, you’re probably not even in John Lewis, but sat at home searching on Amazon.
Research should be hinged on an instinctive curiosity to find out more and intuitively seek the best way of producing the most effective result. That is all it is. Those who have embraced it with success and progression – whether with their client accounts or internal recognition in their organisation – have asked the right questions at the right time and listened to the answers.
Having said that I’ve immediately raised the issue that research is just about asking questions. Which it’s not, of course. “Get out the clipboard. Let’s do a street survey.” It’s about understanding and exploring the answers and applying these based on asking the right questions. And equally to the right people. It was once suggested to me that to find out about a client campaign to target electrical engineers we should conduct a street survey. There’s never a shortage of people keen to offer advice.
Research that is used in the employer branding arena is often most successful when an element of creative interactivity is applied. Moving away from the word ‘research’ is sometimes a good start as is all mention of ‘street surveys’.
Product and consumer agencies have used creative ways of finding out more about their target audience for years, but in the recruitment communications arena it has not been naturally inherent and has taken some time for the appropriate evolutionary steps to be made.
David Ogilvy, the ‘Father of Advertising’ was a Research Director when he first set up Ogilvy, Benson and Mather which says something about the way in which he conducted and founded his business. It also shows you don’t have to have ‘creative’ or ‘art’ in your job title to think creatively.
In the same way that being ‘creative’ should not solely be the divine right of the creative teams, research is not solely the right of ‘research’ teams. It should be an involved process where knowledge, ideas and experience can add value.
The moment research becomes formulaic it loses its sparkle and creativity to find out something new. The boundaries of methodology rightly exist to protect us from woefully poor research that encourages poor sampling and misrepresentation. But when another focus group is trotted out with the same discussion guide that has been used in countless focus groups before it not only become boring and predictable it encourages predictable results. And those results have to be written up in a way that reflects the nature and structure of the session. A well written and informative, but ultimately uninspiring report.
Those who have worked in research thrive best when working in their specialist area. They know their audience, the market, the clients and can place the objectives quickly into the overall project and global context. Something that should never be undervalued. And occasionally, they’re fully entitled to throw the rule book out the window. Use their imagination. Dare to be creative. And thrive on the challenge of trying something new.