Media research: in rude health and more essential than ever

Media research: in rude health and more essential than ever

Newsworks’ insight director Denise Turner talks about her judging experience at this year’s Mediatel Media Research Awards

This week the media research community gathered in the auspicious surroundings of the Banking Hall to celebrate the sixth year of the Mediatel Media Research Awards, celebrating all that’s great in our corner of the industry.

I had the immense privilege of being a judge, along with colleagues from across the industry representing agencies, media owners and research companies, and of course the lovely David Pidgeon from Mediatel itself – who despite claiming to know nothing about research, is incredibly insightful [I’m blushing – Ed.].

Amid many different awards competitions in the media community, what is unique about the Mediatel awards programme is the single-minded focus on research.

Approaching the judging, I decided to look at how research is defined to use as a yardstick by which to measure how good the entries were.  There are various definitions, this one being my favourite:

“Diligent and systematic inquiry or investigation into a subject in order to discover or revise facts, theories, applications, etc.”

For me the key questions were:

1. Was the research clearly thought out and executed?

2. Did the research reveal something entirely new or just as important, a fresh perspective?

3. And last but definitely not least, did the research make a difference?

The winning entries across the categories definitely measured up to my yardstick! It was clear that an increasing diversity of approaches are being employed, yet at the same time, they are adhering to the fundamental principles of investigation and application that makes good research stand out from the crowd.

There have been questions over the last number of years as to whether we still need good ‘old-fashioned’ research when we have access to so much behavioural data. I saw clear evidence across the entries that both are still very much needed.

One standout phrase for me came in Wavemaker’s winning ‘Agency of the Year’ entry that described its approach to research as “walking in people’s shoes”. There is simply no substitute for talking to people to understand and dissect motivations.

This week was not only a great celebration of a vibrant and thriving media research industry, but an inspiration, and a challenge to do even better work”

It’s also not an either/or approach to answering questions. Many entries cleverly blended different methodologies in the same project to address very knotty problems.

Standout ones for me came from the BBC World Service who had several that did just this across multiple markets, such as its ‘Fake News and the Ordinary Citizen’ project. The global audience measure work was an eye-watering undertaking to create a single customer view using existing datasets across multiple markets and devices.

Research is a vital tool to enable questions to be asked. I saw entries that were not afraid to challenge the industry – such as the ‘Empathy Delusion’ from Reach Solutions and house51, calling out the tendency for us all to operate inside a London bubble.

I was incredibly pleased to see continuing evidence of how research can really make a difference in future activity. OMD UK’s Christmas planning entry addressed an age-old question around when to advertise in the run-up to Christmas to achieve maximum impact.

And MediaCom’s Game Changers even led to a new show around women’s football on talkSPORT.

It’s not always about big picture questions either. Research has a vital role in answering very specific questions and providing a new perspective, and Thinkbox’s work on the difference between long and short ads was a prime example of this.

Sometimes great research lives under the radar, doing a sterling job of driving media activity and providing the rationale for media choices. One of my favourite categories celebrates the communication of research. Magnetic’s winning entry ‘Pay Attention’ succeeded not just because of the quality of the work, but also fantastic activation.

I’ve always said that great research needs a marketing plan!

For me, this week was not only a great celebration of a vibrant and thriving media research industry, but an inspiration, and a challenge to do even better work.

I’ve been working in media research for almost 30 years. Judging these awards makes me very proud of our industry and it is encouraging to me that media research is in very rude health.

It is needed now more than ever.

Denise Turner is insight director at Newsworks

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