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Market Research (MR) firms are making a comeback after a steady decline in growth rates, according to a report released by Inside Research, an industry publication.

In June, Inside Research unveiled its list of the Top 50 U.S. Research Firms, which states that in 2003 the top 50 research firms generated $5.8 billion in revenue in the U.S. and nearly $11.5 billion worldwide. Putting an additional 147 Council of American Survey Research Organizations (CASRO) with the top 50 MR firms (totaling 197 companies), brings sales for market intelligence to nearly $6.4 billion in the U.S. and $12.1 billion worldwide.

In 2003, the top 50 MR firms collectively realized a one-year revenue increase of 5.9 percent. (All CASRO participants saw a 5.6 percent increase in annual revenue in 2003.) This marked a banner year for these enterprises. The top 50 companies saw a steady reduction in their growth rates from 8.9 percent in 1998 to a low of 3.6 percent in 2002 before bouncing back in 2003. We thought the growth would have been about the same [as 2002], Laurence N. Gold, editor and publisher of Inside Research, told American Demographics. The revenue surge is partly due to a rebounding economy, an uptick in advertising and pent-up demand due to shelved research initiatives, Gold adds.

Making the top 10 were VNU Inc., IMS Health Inc., Information Resources Inc., Westat Inc., TNS USA, The Kantar Group, Arbitron Inc., NOP World U.S., Ipsos and Synovate.

For the third consecutive year Ipsos remained the fastest growing U.S.-based MR firm. The company's revenues soared 477 percent between 1998 and 2003, compared with the industry average of 50.6 percent.This helped bump Ipsos up two spots to the ninth largest in 2003 from the No. 11 spot in 2002. Several acquisitions helped to facilitate its fast growth.

Harris Interactive Inc, is the second fastest growing MR firm, garnering a 332 percent revenue increase over the same period, beating NOP World U.S. and The Kantar Group with 249 percent and 180 percent growth respectively during the same time frame.

Inside Research does not forecast revenues. Several factors make it difficult to forecast an accurate growth rate, according to the periodical's founder, Jack Honomichl, president of Marketing Aid Center Inc., in Barrington, Ill. One such factor is the relationship between the U.S. dollar, the euro and the yen. Another is the outsourcing of various back-office functions from U.S. research companies to countries where the rates are lower, such as India and The Philippines, which tends to reduce the cost of service while providing the same value.

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