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Leading u.s. research companies are finding the international circuit to their liking.

The researchers noting international business in this year's Advertising Age 100 Leading Research Companies report returned non-U.S. revenues of $2.4 billion, up 19.2%.

Like the U.S. domestic gain this year, that's the biggest growth since the 1980s.

Pumping up their non-U.S. muscle, research companies are opening offices, buying foreign research organizations, forming networks and creating joint partnerships.


Although 71 companies reported '95 international research revenue, Ad Age ranked only the top 25 because this group represented almost 99% of the total. The chart's "no-shows" are not without their success stories.

Performance Research climbed 122% to $200,000 in non-U.S. revenue as it provided special-event interview services to Coca-Cola Co. and the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games.


Nielsen/IMS is No. 1 in international revenue-as in U.S. returns. The giant operation does 78% of its A.C. Nielsen business and 62% of IMS International outside the U.S. With a long-time dominance in Europe that is fast spreading to Asia, Nielsen/IMS rose 18.2% in 1995 international revenue to $1.53 billion. Nielsen/IMS does 60% of its work in Europe, Middle East and Africa, 20% in U.S. and the remainder in the rest of the Americas and Asia.


In the Asia-Pacific area where Nielsen expanded two years ago by purchasing Hong Kong's Survey Research Group, growth was a substantial 18% in 1995. So far revenue is up about 20% in first quarter '96. Nielsen's total workforce of 17,000 is preponderantly international, with only 2,200 in the U.S.

All three research units under London-based WPP Group's Kantar Group-Research International, Millward Brown and MRB Group-showed substantial non-U.S. growth for 1995, including 26.4% at RI, 22.6% at Millward Brown and 8.7% at MRB Group.

Contained in NPD Group's 16.6% improvement in international revenue is its equity share of revenue from GFK Marketing Services, a Nuremberg-based company purchased last year.

Information Resources Inc. also partners with GFK, but in consumer products research rather than NPD's field, electronic durables.


Such multiple involvement is not unusual in Europe where a single research company may cover many different fields.

IRI is expanding abroad now that it believes it has won the U.S. scanner consumer package goods measurement race against A.C. Nielsen. IRI leaped to $40.8 million international revenue in '95, up 200% from a relatively low base in '94.

"In Europe we're the new kid on the block," says CEO Gian Fulgoni.

"Now that we've had some solid gains we can move ahead," he says, predicting 40% to 50% grow in '97 international returns.


In major elective surgery, IRI last July cut away its Express package-goods software business, selling it for $100 million to Oracle Corp.

"Oracle is a $4 billion company," explains Mr. Fulgoni, "so they could spend what it takes to enhance Express." Referring to his company's history of financial stress, he says the cash infusion "eliminated our debt and added to our financial reserves to expand our international business."

Freed last year-by action of the Canadian Competition Tribunal-from what were judged to be Nielsen's unfair restrictions on competition in Canada, IRI is moving ahead in that market. Macro International, with an international gain of 17.6%, took major steps in Russia where it researched consumers' long-distance calling patterns and preferences in Moscow and St. Petersburg.


Opinion Research Corp., off a slight 2.9% in '95 non-U.S. revenue, made moves to strengthen its overseas reach. After opening a Hong Kong office in August 1995, it established a research network of affiliates in 23 nations.

Lieberman Research Worldwide, up 47.4% in non-U.S. returns, has made a similar move, expanding its network of interviewing services to non-equity affiliates in 60 countries.

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