The problem with writing about career development 70 years ago is that I’m far too young to hark back to 1945 and, frankly, I don’t know anyone in MR that isn’t. Some are dead. Most are happily retired and are therefore paying little attention to Impact – least of all to a column about career building.
My time in MR (swallows hard) dates back to 1996, which, for this piece, I think is quite far enough thankyouverymuch. Learned scholars of ancient MR history should consult MadMen (not strictly MR, but close enough. And a fine excuse for a Netflix binge).
20 years ago MR agencies were after people skilled in classic qual and quant methodologies, who could efficiently execute a research brief, usually for others to interpret. Such methods could, by and large, be learned academically and applied vocationally, giving junior researchers a fairly linear and well defined career path to pursue.
Back then ‘insight’ was rarely mentioned. Field-based research was the mainstay, which required mobilising teams to get out there and engage face to face with consumers.
Today, demands on researchers are both more complex and more strategic, requiring the career minded to adopt a vastly different outlook. The digital revolution has enabled a whole new level of data collection, community engagement and analysis, fuelling global demand for research services, and giving MR pros the chance to reinvent their profession. It’s worked, too. The value of MR has been recognised and elevated in the wider business. As a result, more is being asked of the MR function than ever before, something that has, as direct consequence, immeasurably broadened the career options for MR pros.
But options can also breed confusion; not everyone responds well to a blank piece of paper. Entrepreneurial researchers are flourishing, bravely exploring the digital landscape and jockeying with digital marketers, advertisers, creatives and communications professionals to carve out their value-niche in today’s hyper-connected world. Social media, particularly LinkedIn, plays a huge part in today’s career development. A strong, vocal and articulate presence online demonstrates your digital skills, which is essential for anyone focusing on big data, online insight or social media analytics. And let’s not forget that the techies are also here, building their strategic influence and threatening to disintermediate traditional MR with data mining, predictive analytics and machine learning techniques.
Change is today’s constant. What’s in today is outdated tomorrow. As clouds of available research data billow to unimaginable proportions and automated robots threaten traditional methods, today’s smart research will conclude that they have little choice but to climb aboard the bullet train and embrace change as the new normal.
Luckily for me, we don’t need to go back 70 years to know that MR’s biggest transformation has occurred in the last 20. What is most important now is that we as researchers continue to question our existence and justify our commercial value because a slew of new competitors, all of whom have a seat at our client’s table, are doing this already.
Take comfort in the fact that nothing can replace experience, and remember that knowledge is power. Get yourself noticed, roll with the tech and don’t rob yourself of opportunities by failing to get stuck in, because yesterday’s MR is different to today’s and will be different again from tomorrow’s. Count yourself lucky: this is no backwater profession.
Join the debate, tweet @SineadH.
Originally published in Impact Magazine 2016