Nick Hiddleston likes research. He began his career in 1985 as founding director of research at the UK’s TMD Carat Advertising Ltd and, today, he is worldwide research director at the world’s largest media services group, ZenithOptimedia, owned by the Publicis Groupe.
In 23 years, Hiddleston has pioneered several global surveys and developed research tools and techniques, such as the insight research project, the media brand values survey and the media-in-mind survey, and created a multimedia planning and awareness tool called Matrix—these are used as benchmarks in research by media agencies around the world.
Hiddleston is in India to train the Mumbai and Delhi offices of ZenithOptimedia in new research systems that have been developed in the area of media awareness and market prioritization, “so we can roll the tools out and make sure the local offices are trained simultaneously to achieve consistency in standards globally,” he says in a conversation with Mint. Edited excerpts:
What is the role of media research, and how has it evolved?
Media research is the means of evaluating the currency between the buyer of advertising space and the media owner. If a brand has to choose one media over the other, it is the research we do that helps them make this choice. India is among other countries that have realized the importance of this research, as nowadays communication is no longer about television and print. It’s a 360-degree approach and the advertiser needs to be more informed about what works and what does not.
India is one of the sophisticated markets in respect to media evaluation. In India, if you want to find out who’s watching television, there are bodies that supply data. But, we bring awareness and understanding of the benefits or disadvantages of the other communication opportunities, such as outdoor and new media, through the research.
Are agencies in India receptive to research?
Most top media buying agencies such as MindShare, Initiative and the other big agencies have research divisions that give them a competitive advantage. But, more than agencies, today, big clients prefer to invest in agencies that invest in research tools and techniques.
It is expensive for smaller agencies, as some studies can cost anywhere between $50,000 and $60,000 (Rs20-24 lakh), so it is a significant investment. But, I think even these agencies will have to provide some research when pitching for clients as they will never win the big clients if they don’t assure them the knowledge of all communications. Even in our research surveys—take the touch point survey, we did 300 surveys in 34 countries, of which nine surveys were done in India.
How would you compare India’s research capabilities with global standards?
For Zenith, India is one of our most important markets as it is one of the fastest growing ones. We are predicting advertising growth at 6%, so this is why I’m here—to make sure our global standards apply here.
But, for other agencies, too, the role of research has gained tremendous importance with the emergence of Internet and digital technology. The merging of advertising agencies and the influence of international agencies has done two things: Since the buying strength is more, the role of research has changed from a cost to an investment and, secondly, the international agencies will insist on this investment. So, India’s research capabilities are forced to be at par with global agencies with the influence they have on one another.
Do you face any challenges in applying the same research or is it modified for each country?
The real challenge in India is the digital media and the use of Internet, which has not yet reached its full potential in India. But we are looking into this and are developing some econometric modelling tools which will enable us to take out surveys that will be specific to one country and help in differentiating from one global model.
We do have focus groups that are always talking to consumers and we look at the different consumer behaviour which, in turn, helps us differentiate one market from the other.