AD AGE DATAPLACE;100 LEADING RESEARCH COMPANIES;EVENTS, NEW INTEREST HELP HARD-CHARGERS CLEAR HURDLES, JUMP 11.3% TO $3.7 BILLION

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The leading U.S. research companies appropriately timed their best leap in years for the eve of Atlanta's Centennial Olympics-growing 11.3% in 1995 to $3.7 billion in U.S. research revenues, as the Olympic Games themselves proved more than a symbol of the industry's surging globalism.

Growth in international research returns from these same Advertising Age 100 Leading Research Companies soared even higher, up 19.2% to $2.4 billion (see story on Page 44).

Advances in both U.S. and international revenues recorded in this 21st annual research report have not been so high since the 1980s. U.S. growth was 7.8% in 1994 and 6% in '93.

GREATER RESPONSIVENESS SEEN

A leading cause for the global upswing is a cross-fertilization among marketing services functions. That has led to a greater responsiveness by researchers to general advertising, according to a consensus of research industry executives.

Increased spending in event marketing and an expanded customer base in the communications industry, enticed by new research measuring devices and techniques, also are contributing factors.

"Advertising is driving research. The marketplace for research is opening up," says Kevin Croke, VP-director of finance, Opinion Research Corp., reflecting on the 9.2% uptick in '95 world ad growth among U.S.-based agencies recorded in last month's Ad Age Agency Report.

Driving the U.S. numbers has been an Olympian push in event marketing, much of that tied literally to the Atlanta Games.

GAINS GO BEYOND OLYMPICS

"The Summer Olympics have given the numbers a healthy skew," admits Jim Andrews, VP at IEG. "But the increase goes beyond the Olympics to other sports, to cultural events, trade fairs and civic celebrations."

IEG's every-other-monthly IEG Sponsorship Report, which tracks brand-sponsored event marketing, reports annual spending on event sponsorship in North America at $4.7 billion for 4,800 brands in 1995 vs. $850 million on 1,600 brands 10 years ago. A 16% jump to $5.4 billion is projected for 1996.

"Event sponsorship used to be the toy department of marketing promotion. Today its growth reflects the growth of industry itself, the cost of events," says Jed Pearsall, president of Performance Research. The company saw its 154% growth in U.S. revenues buoyed to event studies conducted for the Olympics and auto racing's Nascar competition.

To some, industry confidence levels are tied to the administration in Washington. Business has gotten comfortable with President Clinton, which has led to increased research spending, says Roper Starch Worldwide President-CEO William Wilson.

Fast information in the form of scanner data and audience-meter readouts are the heartbeats that drive U.S. research revenue leaders Nielsen/IMS International and Information Resources Inc.

NIELSEN REMAINS NO. 1

Nielsen continues as No. 1 among the Ad Age rankings with $860 million in revenues from U.S. operations, up 14.7%.

AA estimates that total is broken down as $270 million for A.C. Nielsen retail-measurement and customized research; $310 million for IMS International pharmaceutical sales tracking; and $280 million for Nielsen Media Research.

Under investment and competitive pressures, Nielsen parent Dun & Bradstreet Corp. is reconfiguring itself into three separate groups, hoping to summon the lightning bolt that will jolt the giant into finding new vigor.

D&B in the redesign will include D&B Information Service, Moody's Investor Service and Reuben H. Donnelley Corp.

COGNIZANT EMERGES

The second company, Cognizant Corp., will house IMS International, Nielsen Media Research, Pilot Software and Erisco.

Nielsen Market Research will split off as the third segment with a tentative implementation date of Oct. 1.

`CLEANER' TO INVESTORS

"The split is not to isolate a fiscal or financial problem at Dun & Bradstreet," says Nicholas Trivisonno, Nielsen chairman-CEO.

"We found markets evolving and wanted to be able to pursue them. To the investing public we will be more clearly identifiable. We will look better and cleaner."

D&B's marketing information services sector, which currently houses Nielsen and IMS, did not perform well in '95, the segment's operating income just 5.2% of sales, down from 14% in '94. Risk management/business marketing and directory information, two other sizable segments, generate much higher income-to-sales ratios.

Responding to Nielsen's critics, Mr. Trivisonno says Nielsen slipped for a couple of years in delivery and quality but last year improved quality and delivery time of retail sales scanner results-it's now 16 days, a turnaround considered high in the industry.

"Our on-time delivery was 95% in 1995, and we're aiming for 99% in 1996," he says.

A scanner usage survey conducted in January by Prevision Corp. gives Nielsen an overall customer satisfaction score of 3.94 to IRI's 3.55 (a 5 rating is the best). Mr. Trivisonno, referring to the closeness of the scoring, added, "IRI is a good competitor, and we respect them."

IRI GROWS 6.6%

IRI stands a solid second in the AA rankings, advancing 6.6% in U.S. revenue to $318.9 million in 1995. IRI is processing scanner sales data from about 20,000 U.S. stores responsible for 85% of the nation's supermarket sales and 50% of drugstore sales.

As Nielsen is attempting to find its bearings with its new corporate structure, IRI is planning to broaden its menu of services by moving beyond market research and needs help to do it.

Part of the expanded entrees will be the purchase of another set of data to help a manufacturer's sales force increase its efficiency "by showing which stores are working well, not so well, and need attention," says IRI CEO Gian Fulgoni.

EXPLORING THIRD-PARTY LINK

All of this comes with Mr. Fulgoni's caveat: "When we get into the area beyond market research, there is no way that IRI alone can handle the load. We will announce shortly a third-party partner such as ActMedia, a supplier of in-store marketing services."

Different takes on research in this report are as far apart as the two Coasts. They reflect two currents of dynamics, one academic and reflective, the other technological and instantaneous.

Performance Research dispatches teams of young, post-college men and women to event or other research sites for interviewing. Dohring Research asks event audiences or trade-show participants to tap in their responses on 9-by-11-inch TrendTrak keypad instruments that display survey questions.

INTERVIEWERS FIT THE CROWD

Performance interviewers dress to fit in and mingle, whether at volleyball beach matches or symphony concerts. Dohring posts its TrendTrak and staff at event entrances and exits for on-site reactions. Performance clients want an open-ended approach to interviews, including discussion.

Council of American Survey Research Organizations says personal interviewing and central location/mall surveying are research techniques through which its member generate 23.6% of their research dollars.

Communications of all kinds are a new life force moving the research business.

"More and more communications companies are conducting major research projects. This is today's bulwark of research much as package-goods research studies were 10 years ago," says Harry E. Heller, president of Heller Research, "and there's far more to this for research companies than just a change in the name of the category."

Mr. Heller says the category shift is requiring research companies to change their mindset from a program cycle of every two weeks, typical of package goods, to a longer cycle.

INTERNET CRAZE

The Internet, the newest plug pushed into the communications socket, is turning on research companies. They want to study it, measure it and conduct business on it.

"We certainly need a meaningful measurement of this new medium," says Arbitron's Thom Mokarsky, VP-communications. Measurement on the Internet is "more an analog of supermarket scanner data."

KRC Research & Consulting is preparing to conduct qualitative and quantitative research on the Internet by putting together a database of respondents on which it can base studies in public policy, healthcare, finance and others, says Scott Dormen, exec VP-general manager of KRC, a unit of ad agency holding company Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon & Eckhardt.

Digital Marketing Services, a joint venture of M/A/R/C and America Online, is testing a Website on the Internet called Opinion Place where browsers can participate in online research. M/A/R/C also is linking its research software to Peapod (a computer grocery shopping system).

Nielsen Media Research has developed a customer base of 100 clients in its effort to develop an Internet measurement system.

"We believe we have the right technology for it," says William Jacobi, current chairman of IMS International and scheduled to be a top Nielsen media officer in Cognizant.

Nielsen and Internet Profiles Corp. are marketing I/Count to monitor Web viewing and I/Audit to verify Internet use.

New hardware and software also is aiding communications research.

INTERNET TRACKER

NPD Group's PC Meter software tracks reach and frequency on the Internet. Macro International's Sound Signature blends radio ad clips with questions for computer-aided telephone interviewing. Such TV mini-meters are still coming.

Pretesting Co.'s Personal Passive Meter, small enough to fit on a lapel or wristwatch, is in shakedown testing, and Arbitron's Portable Pocket People Meter is in the workable pretesting model stage and awaits the development of a useful 21-hour battery.

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