|RED C MARKS 10 YEARS WITH A NEW BRAND IDENTITY AND LEAD TEAM|
MICHAEL CULLEN SPOKE TO THEM ABOUT THEIR BUSINESS.
What makes a great qualitative researcher? Its not a trick question. Red Cs deputy MD Carol Fanagan reckons she has the answer. Ideally, it is someone with a university degree who has an innate curiosity, an ability to listen and can analyse what they heard and present it back in a meaningful manner. Fanagan is part of the new management team at Red C, along with CEO Richard Colwell and joint managing directors Sinead Mooney and David Cullen.
They say psychology is useful in market research. Fanagan bucks the trend in that she is a zoologist. No harm in that, as she says psychology is the study of humans while zoology looks at animal antics. What is man but an animal? But she fervently believes that while psychology is a reliable route to a career in research, there are far more people who enter the business who have studied history, economics, English, geography and philosophy
Red C started 10 years ago when Colwell and Mooney teamed up. They had both been senior directors at Lansdowne Market Research and around the time of their departure the agency was taken over by WPPs Millward Brown. Colwell says it was a helpful push factor because at that stage it was the UK doing the Millward Brown expertise with the Dublin office largely limited to fieldwork projects. Not surprisingly, things have progressed since then.
Mooney says the decision to go it alone was fraught with fear a little scary at the start- but they knew their tailor-made approach would pay dividends. The name Red C is based on four words research, evaluation, direction and clarity. The agency is housed in an office block between Fairview and Clontarf, a stones throw from the East Link Toll Bridge and Sean Moore Road. The decision to locate there was an easy one for the two northsiders.
How is the Red C brand perceived in the marketplace? Fanagan was with the Irish Marketing Surveys (IMS) group when Colwell and Mooney quit Lansdowne. She says for the first few years, Red C was seen by IMS at large as the thorn in the side and a pain in the ass, simply because they were winning projects and gaining clients. As with most newcomers hungry for new business, they were seen as small and aggressive the challenger brand.
Fanagan says she jumped ship and joined Red C because of the frustration of being part of an organisation hamstrung by the parentage of the UK and the US and trying to fit a square peg into a round hole in terms of the product being sold. Originally, Fanagan had come from a tradition similar to Red C, namely small, privately-owned companies which did their own thing and had the autonomy to control their day-to-day operations and future direction.
She believes when a company gets bigger and becomes part of a multinational, it results in a diminution of identity. Cullen joined two years ago, having run OI Research. As part of the rebrand marking Red Cs 10 years, OI has been fully merged within the company. Cullen had other offers from other research agencies but what finally swung it for him was what he sees as Red Cs drive – thinking small, acting big, with a roofless focus on client service.
Innovation is something else that convinced him to make the move, including Red Cs online developments and an investment in the agencys own research panel. The can-do approach tied in with OIs vision and there was a synergy between the two agencies. OI began as Outsourced Insight, where the initial intention was to help out SMEs that could ill afford to commission major research. But, with time, thats exactly the space OI soon occupied.
Colwell does not believe market research has been as badly affected by the recession as other marketing services. While adland has been hammered by the downturn, with agencies suffering cuts in fees of up to 50 per cent, Association of Irish Market Research Organisation (AIMRO) figures suggested a drop of less than 30 per cent in recent years. But how research is conducted has changed and the business has had to become less labour intensive.
The days of people standing at doors with clipboards asking homeowners questions are not as commonplace. It had to happen as ways of doing research work for less money needed to be found. Colwell makes the point that because the online projects are of lesser value, the market turnover drops anyway. Agencies are tasked with the same kind of projects but the online work costs half as much as it would in the case of a face-to-face study.
While online work is more and more the future, Colwell says face-to-face still accounts for a big chunk of Red Cs business. For instance, in the work they do for the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA), there is no substitute for face-to-face interviews. Counter intuitively, Cullen says it a recession is a great time to set up in business. You have to be creative, you have to give more than you would in the better times, when demands were a little looser.
Fanagan insists that while online has taken a hold, there is still a sizeable demand for other research services, including telephone interviews and qualitative work. While online has grown exponentially in the UK and US, Ireland has not seen anywhere like the same level of transition. Colwell says no methodology is going to be perfect. It is a case of the proverbial horses for courses and getting an accurate result right by using the right method for the job.
For example, if Red C was trying to do a survev with pensioners online, it can be a disaster zone because there are simply not enough for a representative sample. Cullen makes the point that online can help in supplementing focus group work in pre-tasking projects. Before coming to the groups, respondents can upload video material and so on to help make outputs more engaging and get a deeper understanding of the various topics under discussion.
Why the new identity? Colwell says that when Red C and OI first got together two years ago, the idea was to keep the two brands entirely separate. But as time went by, there was a greater coming-together. The merged entity is about combining the best of what Red C and OI offer the market. Red Dog was hired to create the new look. The Dublin design agency, run by Mary Doherty, won a four-way pitch, which also included the much-respected Creative Inc.
They felt Red Dog hit the balance right in developing an identity which captured the zeitgeist and a modern creative feel, yet, at the same time, reflected well on a research agency which handles clients in finance and other serious endeavours. In terms of price, Fanagan says Red C is conscious of the drive to commoditise research, something they try and avoid at all costs.
Fanagan says clients are less likely to question the price as they are more willing to pay for the team of individuals working on the project. Red C has no wish to be seen as the cheapest, far from it. Rather the aim is to provide clients with products which command a value. Where need be, the Red C off-the-shelf product portfolio includes the Red Express omnibus; Red Alert for sponsorship; the Red Ice online channel and Red C Conjoint for pricing issues.
Red C now employs 35 staff. Looking at the costs to a project, qualitative is more lucrative. But, then again, you must consider the amount of time required for qual studies. Pricing jobs is always a test. There might be a small 5,000 job you might do for a major client an agency is working with all the time which can take an enormous amount of time, but that is what an agency is all about servicing clients and acting as a consultant to them.
Comnenting on Robin Challiss cover story article in Marketing.ie in May in which he reported on the difficulties facing Irelands research industry, Colwell says Red C has weathered the storm better than others, qual has been more heavily hit than the tracking. If clients have to cut out something, chances are they will cut back on the in-depth qual. Cullen says the narrative has been set by the bigger research agencies which have suffered most.
Fanagan believes there was more pressure on qual than quan studies. With qual, agencies are predominantly selling their time and your direct project costs are much lower. Where there is pressure, there is not much business to go after, qual suppliers were increasingly prepared to drop prices. The ratio of price falls for qual were much higher than quan. Mooney makes the point that quan costs are largely predicated by interviewer costs and that is a sensitive area.
Advertising tests costs somewhere in the region of 10,000 and for that a client could expect to get four groups. But Cullen says the costs can be considerable less for clients who wish to do tracking on a monthly basis. The agencys Red Star is specifically designed for ad pre and post testing and in-market testing and tracking using a standardised approach.
Unlike advertising, client conflicts do not really pose a problem in research. Red C is a member of AIMRO, which works to develop standards of practice and represent the interest of research companies in Ireland. It has connections with other research networks worldwide, including Gallup, World Independent Network of Market Research, aka WIN. They have two members on the AIMRO board, Cullen and Colwell, who is the current vice chairman.
NEW TEAM IN CHARGE
The new management team at Red C now comprises Carol Fanagan, deputy managing director; joint managing directors David Cullen and Sinead Mooney, chief executive Richard Colwell and Michelle Lowry, operations director. OI Research merged with Red C.