Hail To The Chief: An Interview With ESOMAR President Dan Foreman
Today’s interview has been in the works for a bit, and I’m very pleased to finally get it out for your reading pleasure. Dan Foreman has been one of those industry movers and shakers I’ve followed for many years, and over the course of the last year I’ve had the great pleasure to get to know him better through his work with various industry bodies and most recently in his roles as President of ESOMAR and Head of Business Development at Lumi Mobile. He is smart, funny, and just a darn nice guy. I think all that shines through in this interview.
Dan has some very interesting things to say about ESOMAR, the future of the research industry, our mobile future, and other topics of particular interest to GreenBook readers. Enjoy!
LFM: Thanks for making the time to chat Dan! There are a lot of subjects I want to cover, so lets dive in. Congratulations on your election as President of ESOMAR! What do you hope to accomplish during your term?
DF: Hi Lenny, of course. It’s always good to talk.
It was all on the election statement, Lenny. Firstly, let me explain the role of Council. The ESOMAR Council’s primary responsibility is to provide strategic guidance from our diverse industry experiences and backgrounds to help the association achieve its overall vision, mission and objectives. This recently elected Council truly provides an all-inclusive, global and multicultural representation of all aspects of our industry.
As President, my role is to facilitate and chair the input from this newly elected Council and based on that input, assist in the formulation, adaptation or updating of our strategic plans for the association. Finally, it is my responsibility to lead the global communication and representation of our strategic plans to all our stakeholders – both within and outside of the industry. So, don’t be too surprised if you see me in your neck of the woods.
So it’s a combination of continuing the great work ESOMAR has been doing, building on the previous 65 years, ensuring the Council works to the election statements they stood for and accomplishing most of what we have discussed today.
LFM: ESOMAR seems to be working to become the global trade org; is that perception true? And if so, what do you hope it will do for the industry?
DF: With members in over 100 countries around the world, ESOMAR is “de facto” a global organization – but it’s important to remember that we’re not just simply a trade organization in the traditional sense. Our members come from all sides of the MR relationship.
With 70 country representatives ESOMAR is in the unique position of connecting with the membership and the industry on both a supplier and user perspective, as well as on a global and local level. This in turn allows the organization to effectively serve as a global industry voice when advocating to legislators to protect interests of the research industry and the strength of that voice comes from the inclusion of local, national and regional perspectives.
So, in that regard, the perception is true. However, a key strength in what ESOMAR does is directly related to the relationships with the local associations. By working with them, supporting them and even helping to launch new ones in developing markets, we are all better able to meet the wider industry needs that affect us all.
The world is changing quickly and so is MR. ESOMAR’s global presence allows for a truly inclusive approach to the challenges and changes our industry is facing. As I said before this is a fairly small industry, albeit growing, and we need to be in this together to truly champion our work and to get our clients and others to do the same. As President of ESOMAR, I hope to see this through.
LFM: Now that you are President, what are your hopes and aspirations for your term in office and how will that balance against your other obligations?
DF: As President, my daily role will be to complement the work of our Association with the real world challenges of the industry, so that ESOMAR can continue to live up to the high standards it sets itself.
Relative to my other obligations, they all complement each other. I wouldn’t be doing it otherwise
LFM: Do you see growth in the importance of Trade Organizations and the role they play in helping their constituents be successful?
DF: In today’s world I actually think these organizations are more important than ever – for many reasons.
We are living in an age where we spend more and more time connecting virtually and less time in person. The organizations you mention provide a great opportunity to get together – formally and informally – both online and off – line.
Additionally, as an industry, we find ourselves facing bigger issues, threats, disparate voices, new ideas and so on. We need a forum to discuss these, reach consensus, respectfully disagree – these organizations provide the right environment for these things to happen inclusively. I think the role of ESOMAR and these other organizations is more critical now than ever before.
LFM: Obviously the industry is changing significantly, with one major change being the entrance of many disruptive players from multiple segments. How can trade associations work with these new stakeholders when they may have a very different cultural and operational perspective from traditional MR?
DF: People talk a lot about ‘the future’. But look around you and you will see the future is already here. There are global economic challenges, challenges to traditional MR, new technologies, new players, companies growing from strength to strength and, sadly, companies struggling. Our challenge is to know what to do about it.
Trade associations, including ESOMAR, are no different, and they too must work hard to remain relevant to their constituents and stakeholders. Within ESOMAR, we started the process of re-thinking and refreshing our proposition some time ago – and we’ve made significant progress. The introduction of our new statutes last year was overwhelmingly endorsed by 90% of the ESOMAR membership. This new structure lays the foundation for ESOMAR to give every part of the industry an appropriate voice – whether that be us as individuals, or as corporates or local associations, new players and more – irrespective of whether it be from an agency or client side.
Since its foundation in 1948, membership of ESOMAR has been based on adherence to a set of common principles, and the application of appropriate rigor to all that our members do. As new stakeholders emerge, it is essential that we provide them with a voice, (to talk about those principles and whatever is appropriate) so as to ensure we remain relevant.
LFM: You’ve been on the client side, supplier side, in big multinationals and smaller innovative suppliers (including your new role working with Lumi Mobile). Stepping back and looking at your varied experience, what is your take on how the industry is changing and where do you see it going?
DF: We have a lot to celebrate. We do exciting worthwhile work every day – we always have – and we will continue to. This works impacts every area of our lives, our clients lives, all of us.
But, how often do we beat ourselves up? We do it on industry platforms and we write about it in our own publications. It’s time for us to celebrate our successes, celebrate our role in business and celebrate the market research industry.
There will be more challenges for the industry tomorrow, we can be sure of that. But I say this – the future is already here – it is what we do today that will shape the tomorrow.
LFM: Well that was inspiring! And I agree; we do solid work that has real impact on the world; I’m proud to be a market researcher! That said, the business model of traditional research is under immense pressure from all the factors you stated earlier. How do we build upon our legacy of value while adapting to the changing world?
DF: You’ve already partly answered that – we do solid work that impacts the world. While the evolution of our business model will vary from company to company, our legacy of ‘value’ has been built on a tradition of rigor. As times progress, and technology and methodologies evolve, so must our definitions and applications of rigor. At ESOMAR we continue to work with all interested organizations in order to facilitate debates around what is the appropriate application of rigor, and then provide guidelines to help you implement them. If we do half of what we’ve discussed today, we will be in the prime spot for building on the legacy, remembering our roots and adapting to this changing world. And I say adapt because that’s your question. In truth, it is to provide guidance/leadership in this changing world.
LFM: Lets talk about Lumi for a minute and we’ll cut to the chase: has mobile research finally arrived?
DF: (laughing) People keep asking this question. And many people have already written the answers. It’s inevitable, it’s all around us and if anyone needed any more convincing you should just search around for what Paul McDonald, of Google, said about it. Google Consumer Surveys was built with the mobile platform in mind. Let’s stop debating and start embracing.
LFM: How can we start embracing the real promise and value of mobile? Where is Lumi getting leverage today and what’s the next phase in the growth of the market?
DF: It’s been said many times before. Extension, not replacement. Then a bit of fuzziness in between. As for the next phase – gosh, if we knew that we’d all be very rich indeed.
In all seriousness, mobile is inevitable.
- Global smartphone sales have overtaken PC sales
- 22% of the world’s smartphones are in China
- There are over 7 billion mobile phone subscriptions in the world
- Kenya leads the world on mobile payment mechanisms
- eBay transacted over $20bn through mobile phone payments in 2012
So the next phase is about speed of adoption, emerging markets, data integration and more. You will know all about this Lenny, given the breadth and type of Clients you work with
LFM: Thinking ahead 3-5 years, what do you think the research industry is going to look like?
DF: Lenny, I have a crystal ball and I will tell you what it says. It has Orwellian double-think. It says that we are going to be marginalized and grow at an unexciting 3% per annum while other areas of the media and marketing services sector, especially those driven by new technology, are rocketing. As spoken by Joan Lewis last year – a case study of an industry not realizing it was in disruption.
But it also says that we are going to be the new breed of professionals, making sense of some amazing complex data from a variety of sources, offering advice to the world to make it a better place.
Unfortunately, as Lord Leverhulme of Unilever famously said…I don’t know which half is wasted.
LFM: The MRS recently released a report effectively redefining the market research space: what’s your take on that and where will that lead us?
DF: This is very interesting and a step in the right direction. The MRS has long held that the information market was bigger than just MR, so this is certainly to be applauded.
ESOMAR too built on the momentum that the MRS initiated some years ago, and have now included a similar measure in the annual GMR study.
I’ve read a lot of comments on both of these reports and the response follows the typical model – some people are very supportive of the findings, some feel lousy about them. All change is both embraced and feared. We must recognize that we no longer have the monopoly on information, and will face increasing competition for both our data collection and interpretation services…to paraphrase Darwin: Adapt or die.
LFM: Alright Dan, last question and this is a fun one. What is the funniest MR story that you can share with us?
DF: Well, the funniest ones I can’t tell you – due to a combination of client, personal, industry and respondent data protection. I can, however, tell you a joke about MR instead.
Following a flaming snowmobile crash, one market researcher asked the other if he was OK. The second said “well, my hair’s on fire and my toes are frostbitten, but overall I feel average.”
LFM: Thanks Dan, this has been great! Best of luck in both of your new adventures!
DF: Thanks Lenny. I know you wouldn’t say this yourself…but you do a great job and I am proud to know you. Personally, and speaking on behalf of ESOMAR, it’s been great to chat and I look forward to continuing to talk over the next couple of years.
LFM. Aww shucks; thanks Dan! And ditto; I’m looking forward to working with you as well. Thanks again!