Trade Event Report
Advertising Research Federation Annual Convention and Research Infoplex 2003 , + + + +
By Al Berrios (contact Al Berrios)
(Editorial: This Report was re-formatted 04.27.04)
Hosted at the Hilton New York (on 54th and 6th here in NYC), it was definitely worth attending, at the very least to understand the size of the industry. I've attended this Hilton for at least 3 other meetings and feel that it's sheer size (I think it's the biggest Hilton in the world?) fosters to a feeling of legitimacy for a meeting of this stature.
Things I didn't like: too many areas under construction during the event, coat check wasn't free, food was so-so, and its size made it extremely difficult to navigate with a load of brochures.
The ARF also provided electronic smart cards so exhibitors could scan us in to send us free info, however, they failed to provide the scanners for the cards to the exhibitors, totally defeating the purpose. In addition, there weren't any visible ARF personnel around to help out with questions. I didn't have any, but it helps me feel better in a gargantuan place like this Hilton.
And one more thing, although I didn't attend any of the conference meetings, like most other large scale meetings, the conference portion was organized so two to three meetings were held simultaneously. Now, if you're like me, and don't like throwing money out the window, you go to every, read every, and talk at every opportunity, making simultaneous meetings a big rip off. If they didn't do this, though, the conference would have taken more than a week and cost a lot more for the venue.
However, the solution would be to cut down on the number of meetings per hour. Yes, there are attendees that like the way their selections are presented, but then again, at over $1000 per ticket, and broad interests in all things research, I'd like to be given the opportunity to catch everything live, and not on some tape.
Things I really liked: free massages (folks, give some business to Oasis Spas, they earned it, and lots of kudos to the ARF that made it complimentary), ease of registration, plenty of comfortable nooks and crannies around the hotel that you could get away from the maddening crowds to relax or reflect on your encounters with research companies, and lots of free food provided by exhibitors. Attendance by exhibitors and attendees was strong in spite of the awful rainy conditions on all three days of the expo.
BOTTOM LINE: There are two ugly truths about the advertising research industry: business is based on references and methodologies are the only differentiator. The problem with the first truth is that research can be molded to prove just about anything to please a client. (Editorial: Just like Saatchi & Saatchi did to prove the effectiveness of their "Verb" anti-obesity campaign for children for the CDC, when other research shows that kids think the campaign is to help improve grammatical skills.)
The problem with the second truth is that I've yet to come across a patented methodology, meaning, if it's effective, it won't be long before your clients are exporting it to their preferred research vendor or your employees are opening up competing shops across the street.
Currently, focus groups and interviews are the predominant methods, with observation playing a quieter role. Effective combination of these is what's made companies successful. Companies can either design data gathering methods, then execute utilizing telephones, internet, in-field approaches, recruitment, and/or high-tech (i.e. surveys on PDAs) or companies can do all these as well as analyze the data for you so it makes sense. And clearly, credibility in the industry is based on methodology, not results.
But with a mature industry at over 50 years old, methodologies that copy established practices are rarely questioned. This all presents a huge opportunity for my firm. My firm gathers data as well as analyzes and advises on it. After an informal survey of around 15 other data gatherers, I am convinced our methods are unique and superior with regards to approach, cost and time.
However, our industry will always thrive as long as cultures, demographics, and current events change and require constant gauging with less intrusive ways and querying on highly specific issues that relate to clients' brands.
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(c) 2004. All Rights Reserved. al berrios & company, inc. Published by al berrios & co. This Report may not be reproduced or redistributed in any form without written permission from al berrios & co., subject to penalty.