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Call it the new exploration, internationalism of the '90s or reverse migration. U.S. business calls it globalism, and research companies are expanding their markets on a large scale.

U.S. revenues of the 100 Leading Research Companies with U.S. operations rose 7.8% in 1994 to $3.1 billion, compared with 6% in 1993, but their international side advanced at a much steeper 13% to $1.9 billion vs. only a 1.8% uptick in the prior year, according to Advertising Age's 20th annual research report.

The international revenue total of $1.9 billion was generated by 55 of the top 100; 47 of the top 100 in '93 had non-U.S. revenue.

Striking the middle ground was the group's worldwide total of $5 billion in research revenues, up 9.8%. That figure, according to the companies reporting, is projected to increase 15.2% this year.

The list of research companies, extending from No. 1 Nielsen/IMS International to No. 100 Miller Research Group, is ordered by returns from U.S. research activities. Non-research activities of companies in the ranking are omitted from returns.

"International business is both an opportunity and a threat," says Tod Johnson, CEO of NPD Group. "We could go another five years as primarily a U.S. research company, but if we don't go global clients won't be satisfied with just national U.S. information."

Mr. Johnson doesn't tie "global" to a fixed percentage of revenue but associates it with the commitment to go where an existing client goes or pitch new business abroad. Just over a quarter of NPD's total research revenues are non-U.S. compared with 2.5% five years ago.

But given the growth figures in the U.S. and worldwide projected growth for this year, globalism is no one-way street.

"We expect U.S. markets increasingly to be leading markets for multinational corporations overseas, like automakers," says William J. Wilson, president-CEO of Roper Starch Worldwide.

Roper Starch's U.S. research revenues, accounting for 91.3% of its total, rose 3.7% in 1994, while the much smaller non-U.S. revenue side grew 31.4%.

Also prodding research companies is the zap of new technology-instant-information devices plus methodologies that sift and sort, slice and dice databases for a tell-all demographic cross-section "while U wait."

At Nielsen/IMS International, globalism fits like an old shoe. Revenues outside the U.S. claimed an estimated $1.29 billion in '94, or 63% of its worldwide total of $2.04 billion. That share of its total rose one percentage point from '93.

Meanwhile, Nielsen/IMS' U.S. research revenue climbed 5.6% to an estimated $750 million.

Figures shown for Nielsen/IMS cover three units: Nielsen, supplying media, retail and consumer data; IMS International, supplying sales and related medical data to the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries; and Nielsen Media Research, providing local and national TV broadcast information to stations, networks and advertisers.

No. 2 Information Resources Inc. grew nearly 12% to $318.1 million in U.S. revenue in 1994. IRI's non-U.S. contribution climbed 16.5% to $58.5 million.

IRI's plans are big, especially in Europe. In March, the company named Timothy S. Bowles president of European operations. Mr. Bowles formerly was chief executive of the British research company MRB.

"We felt it was important to appoint a day-to-day manager, familiar with the territory, to be on the scene in Europe. We now cover about 75% of Europe," says IRI Chairman-CEO Gian Fulgoni.

"Japan is important, too. The Japanese package-goods market is huge, abetted by high prices," he says.

In September, IRI linked with Mitsui & Co. in a joint venture to help Mitsui organize its warehousing, distribution and stocking businesses. Still, he says, "International is important to us but not more important than our growth objectives in the U.S."

In Canada, IRI and Nielsen have been locked in a pitched battle. IRI got a boost in August when the Canadian Competition Tribunal ordered that A.C. Nielsen of Canada could no longer block release of grocery and drug retailers to research competitors.

"Canada is the most attractive market in the world for us outside the United States," says Mr. Fulgoni. "And Canada has direct relevance for Europe. There also are exclusive contracts in Europe to contend with."

Closer to home, the U.S. Department of Justice in January asked Nielsen for documentation on its sales-tracking business to evaluate questions of competitiveness.

For other big shops in the Ad Age survey, 1994 was a year of solid growth, much of it also propelled by strong international sales.

Walsh International's U.S. revenue for 1994 grew 18.2% to $52 million, led by a 23% increase in non-U.S. revenue to $32 million. Abt Associates rose 16.3% in U.S. revenue to $84.3 million while its international take was $1.3 million, up from $494,637 the previous year.

Abt credits its international increase to contracts from the U.S. Agency for International Development, administered out of Abt's new Moscow office. The contracts assist Russia and other former Soviet states upgrade healthcare, real-estate taxation and data-transmission systems, plus there's a separate effort to prompt the evacuation of Russian military officers from the former Baltic state sector of the Soviet Union by financing housing for them back in Russia.

Maritz Marketing Research, with 10 offices across the U.S. generating domestic revenue of $86.8 million, up 16.7% in '94, got a strong 8% hike in international revenue to $20.4 million. Maritz gets its strong non-U.S. contribution from Europe, paced by its two London operations: Maritz Europa and Research Business. The company has 48 locations around the world.

Walsh International/PMSI split into two separate research companies in 1994, Walsh International, a private company, and the public company PMSI.

Putting a high value on its international posture but wanting to step out of its direct ownership of foreign agencies, Louis Harris & Associates has sold all equity interest in the Harris units abroad and now works for fees and exchange of services.

The Gannett Co.-owned research company sold its European companies, Harris Research Center, London, and Louis Harris France, Paris, to the French researcher Sofres. It continues to work with those units, which still bear the Harris name. Harris continues affiliate relations with the former Harris-owned agencies elsewhere-Canada, Latin America and the Pacific.

Answering the call for quicker, more focused data, research companies have answered with new chips, walkabout/write-upon/listen-in computers, and revised methodologies.

Pretesting Co. has spent a year testing a minuscule device that its president, Lee Weinblatt, calls "the first system for electronic passive measurement of TV and radio stations and commercials."

The device can be worn on a pin or watch, carried room-to-room or house-to-house, and still give a signal.

Arbitron Co., with a similar compact passive meter, is in litigation with Pretesting over who invented the meter.

Marketvision Research uses touch-screen computers in theme parks to obtain real-time responses of children and adults to rides, special events and concessions.

With the hand-held computer, Motorsearch gets immediate reactions from respondents touring displays of concept cars and developmental autos.

Similarly, Research Data An-alysis gives respondents touring auto displays a computer the size of a small calculator, worn like a clipboard with harness, to key in their reactions. For persons who think best with pen in hand, RDA provides a touch-sensitive computer screen for writing; for those who drive best with hands on the steering wheel, RDA offers a voice-activated computer.

Arbitron, which got out of the local TV rating business in October 1993, introduced its NewMedia service for bringing survey information to interactive TV, local cable, online services, satellite broadcasters and ad organizations.

One of its products, NewMedia Pathfinder, will use surveys to develop profiles of interactive media users as indicators of information highway use.

Nielsen Media Research in September formed a joint venture with Internet Profiles to give Internet advertisers an idea of Internet usage, frequency of use and identity of users' employers.

One new BAI methodology, On Target, checks direct-mail programs, name by name, to determine what went wrong and what went right with mailings. Another, Inside Trac, sorts through records of credit-card use to maximize effective use of cards.

To a marketplace already well supplied with surveys of buyers of new and leased cars, Maritz introduced the first syndicated study of used-car buyers, while J.D. Power & Associates has rolled out its newest study, Automotive Performance, Execution, and Layout, to get owners' reactions to vehicle styling and features in seven categories.

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