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The Kantar Group

Eric Salama

Report by Eric Salama

Chairman and chief executive officer

In the summer of 2007, we appointed a creative director for Kantar. The recruitment of Aziz Cami, founder of award-winning design company The Partners, was a first in the history of the research and consulting industry. The thinking behind and reaction to his appointment tell us much about the issues facing us and our clients.

The thinking was simple. No one commissions research as an end in itself. All of our work is a means to an end – product innovation, sustainable pricing, new packaging, cutting-edge design, more satisfied customers, employees who better represent the values of the brand, more effective communication, improved conversion at the point of sale, and so on. Good clients want two things – great insights, and insights and research conclusions which are brought alive in such a compelling way that they propel business people to act.

In areas such as retail strategy and innovation – substantial parts of our business which are growing fast – showing aisle layouts and prototyping new products or packaging drive action in a way that a less sensory or imaginative communication can not.

But the thinking behind his appointment was not simply to communicate insights better, to “tell better stories.' It was to help us make more of the work we do forward-looking and predictive rather than backward-looking and confirmatory. It is undoubtedly valuable to know what has driven perceptions of a clients' brand in the past. And in uncertain times, many clients want to know whether past actions have had an effect. Has my advertising worked? Did the promotion bring new consumers into my franchise? Was my media mix optimal?

As important, however, is to help clients make better decisions for the future. If I cut my price what will the effect be? If I change my media mix in this way will I reach and engage with more consumers? Can I succeed with this kind of service, what will it take? How will future changes in consumer needs affect the way I should go to market?

Robyn Putter, WPP's creative head, put it beautifully when he wrote to Aziz after his appointment: 'My life's thesis is based on Leonardo da Vinci's quote 'It's by logic we prove but by intuition we discover' and Einstein's 'The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind a faithful servant.' We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift. To succeed in your endeavour, you have to find a way of introducing “The possible' into the conversation as opposed to “The probable.' “Way finding' will only really succeed when it encourages clients to embrace more risk and thereby increase the chance of more reward. Up until yesterday, the “Low risk, high reward' investment did not exist.

The client reaction and that of our own people has demonstrated the hunger which exists for us to achieve a better balance between deduction and intuition, between the possible and the probable, between data and insights, between low price commodity and high price magic. Achieving that balance is the key to our success.

And for us to be successful in that endeavour we need a number of building blocks: talented, passionate people who understand our clients' businesses and can anticipate their needs; tools and methodologies which enable clients to roll out global approaches at reasonable cost; an operational infrastructure which engages with people effectively and which delivers high quality data in a timely and cost-effective way; financial success which enables us to invest against our priorities. Against that backdrop, how did we do in 2007?