Ipsos, the publicly quoted French market research group, made its first move into the UK with its acquisition of RSL. For a number of years the Harrow-based subsidiary was known as Ipsos-RSL, but the operation has now rebranded itself as Ipsos UK.
Staff numbers have increased from 330 to 350 during the past 12 months, and turnover is predicted to rise by 7.5%, from £40m to £43m. These are respectable figures, and probably ahead of the average for the bigger research groups in what has been a particularly tough year for many companies.
But it's not for the expansion of its business that Ipsos UK has been singled out as Market Research Agency of the Year, so much as for its long list of innovative research methods, many of them harnessing the latest technology.
Diageo subsidiary Translucis projects a mixture of editorial and advertising onto plasma screens in trendy bars and clubs. It knows that more than one million young people visit these premises every week, but wanted to be able to tell advertisers how long they watched the screen.
This technical problem was put out to pitch, and was won by Ipsos with a methodology claimed to have developed by the CIA and FBI. Miniature video cameras are mounted on selected screens. The number of people looking at the screen in a 30-second period can then be carefully analysed. Measurements are taken at different times of the day and night to track variations in viewer behaviour patterns.
Ipsos also claims to be the first agency to develop a means of testing interactive advertising. Developed with its advertiser client and a software company, it uses special PCs to tell the researchers if respondents choose to press the red button and go interactive, and what they do when they reach the microsite.
The agency is currently testing the use of double-screen computer-assisted interviewing for the National Readership Survey. Respondents see on their own screen material that the interviewer might normally have to show on card or via videotape. Again, Ipsos believes that it is the first in the UK to use this technique.
For British Airways, Ipsos has been conducting a continuous ad-tracking survey and a regular brand equity study among frequent flyers since June, via the internet.
Using virtual reality technology, the company is also able to create virtual pharmacies and supermarkets in which consumers are free to explore shelf displays, promotions and packaging, and even ask the pharmacist questions.
The agency says it is currently pioneering new methods of modelling the effects of advertising promotion on price and sales for a major packaged goods manufacturer, in order to identify the optimum spend for profit maximisation.
Its Next*idea branded product is one of the few largely quantitative systems available for advertisement testing at the storyboard stage. Demand for the product, says Ipsos, has been "amazing" - "We have done 150 concepts for one client in the first nine months of this year."
As a media research specialist, Ipsos UK has major contracts for the National Readership Survey, Rajar and BARB. According to its submission for this year's league table, its work is almost 90% consumer-focused and includes continuous surveys (37%) coupled with quantitative and qualitative research.
Major client wins achieved by Ipsos UK during the year have included AXA group, British Airways, Eurotunnel, financial services company Goldfish, McDonalds and Pfizer. One significant loss from the roster was the Abbey National bank.
NOP RESEARCH GROUP
In terms of UK turnover and staff numbers, it has been a static year at NOP Research Group, which is part of research and business information company NOP World. But there have been a number of developments that are worth noting.
On the technology front, NOP has built an advanced 'server farm' in Miami that houses 40 servers.
The agency now boasts a single, integrated system for the electronic collection of survey data, panel management and web reporting.
The agency is also taking important steps to increase creativity. Eighty volunteers across the organisation are available at short notice to participate in ideas generation and brainstorming sessions. Quarterly 'business showcases' provide an opportunity to discuss best work. Creatives from other sectors have also been invited to a series of lunchtime meetings.
NOP Research Group is the UK market leader in mystery shopping. It now has a panel of 700 disabled shoppers in order to help the company's clients assess how successfully they are meeting the needs of the country's 8.7 million disabled adult consumers.
WPP offshoot Research International is not allowed to talk in advance about its financial performance. The fact that staff numbers are down by 5% at 448 indicates that it may not have been a sparkling year overall, but that doesn't detract from some interesting new thinking.
As the UK's leading consumer research specialist, its comparative databank on brands is a huge asset. This led to the launch this year of Brand Edge, which plots brand equity against consumer familiarity with the product or service, and is claimed to be the best predictor of whether brand share will rise or fall.
Analysis of RI's concept screening database of 9000 brands is said to give insights into what makes a great idea great, and how to manage ideas that are ahead of their time.
The company has recently completed an extensive and controversial 'qual' survey on global brands. Among the findings of the report is the discovery that a new wave of branding is emerging, based on consumer attitude.
No turnover forecasts are yet available for 2002, but MORI staff numbers have risen by 25 to 375. Chief executive Brian Gosschalk is confident it will outperform the industry: this rates as "consolidation" in a company that grew by more than 25% in each of the two previous years.
A recent initiative has been the establishment of MORI's Qualitative HotHouse, a team dedicated to developing more insightful ways of conducting qualitative research.
One example of its work was the development of unique viewer profiling techniques to help the Broadcasting Standards Commission to understand public attitudes to soap operas. "This research has shown us how far the boundaries can be pushed," said BSC research director, Andrew Millwood Hargrave.
Another groundbreaking study, for Macmillan Cancer Relief, explored children's attitudes to cancer for the first time - a sensitive project that some thought impossible.
MORI has benefited from the boom in government research. But the examples above, plus its report on English football and its discovery of 'The New Meldrews', demonstrate that it follows a far wider brief.
INCEPTA MARKETING INTELLIGENCE
The diversification strategy of marketing services group Incepta has led to the acquisition of DVL Smith (now Citigate DVL Smith) and 'qual' specialist Hauck Research Services. The two maintain separate premises and identities, but liaise regularly, and come under the banner Incepta Marketing Intelligence.
It's been a good year. Turnover is projected to be up nearly 20% at £17.05m, staff numbers have risen from 137 to 142. Some clients have reduced or deferred spend, but no account losses are reported. Wins include Sainsbury's, British Airways, Littlewoods and the Abbey National 'qual' account.
IMI is pursuing "significant and bold expansion" in the UK and in the US. It has doubled the size of its telephone centre, and invested in new, high-tech viewing facilities.
Among the year's highlights, Hauck presented its report, Project Aeonian, on perceptions of ageing in UK women, to 40 client teams. Citigate DVL Smith is rolling out its Brand Momentum model, already adopted by Cisco Systems.
MMR FOOD & DRINK RESEARCH WORLDWIDE
Proof that a specialist independent can make it to the top tier is MMR's progress over the past four years.
Turnover rose from £3.6m in 1999 to £8m last year. Now it's projecting a 37% growth in turnover for 2002.
The agency was founded in 1989 with the aim of commercialising new research methods that, it believed, would add value to clients' research. This year, it has launched Healthcare Research Worldwide. Can it repeat its success in a different area?
Half the agency's business is based on the technique it calls Liking Segmentation, based on the belief that there is no such thing as 'the consumer', and that even in a very narrow product category there are people with different beliefs, attitudes, needs and preferences.
Product Adoption Screener is the agency's new concept evaluation and volume prediction package, based on the principle that a new product will only be bought if it meets the individual's needs and desires better, differently or more cheaply than existing products. Also new is P4, designed to establish direct links between consumer preferences and recipe parameters, to optimise taste and quality.
Interpublic's NFO WorldGroup's restructuring of UK subsidiary companies now settled, the organisation is expecting revenues to be up by 7% to around £48m. Profits should rise by 30%.
The agency has added important new accounts in telecoms and financial services. Boots has increased its spend with consumer division NFO Infratest, and Unilever has given it more international work.
Co-operation between the qualitative and financial services divisions have resulted in bi-monthly syndicated 'qual' reports on consumers' attitudes toward key financial decisions such as whether to switch banks or use internet banks.
Four leading drinks manufacturers have combined to support a syndicated study of buying behaviour. The study is based on 2000 interviews each quarter and examines issues such as product choice.
In the medical arena, a joint operation between Infratest Burke and German-based researcher GfK has ended. NFO has launched its Europe-wide business, NFO Health.
A paper 'I Hear You Knocking' won the ISBA award, at the Market Research Society Conference, for the best contribution of the year to understanding how advertising works.
TOP 20 MARKET RESEARCH AGENCIES
Rank Agency Turnover 2001
1 Taylor Nelson Sofres 119,500,000
2 Research International 73,437,000
3 NOP Research Group 71,936,000
4 Millward Brown UK 67,939,000
5 NFO WorldGroup 45,079,000
6 BMRB International 44,709,000
7 Ipsos (UK) 40,000,000
8 MORI 33,900,000
9 Information Resources 33,811,000
10 Maritz TRBI 24,230,000
11 Martin Hamblin GfK 17,245,000
12 ISIS Research 15,560,000
13 Incepta Marketing Intelligence 14,249,000
14 Total Research 14,195,000
15 Added Value 13,060,000
16 GfK 12,800,000
17 ORC International 12,745,000
18 BPRI 8,659,000
19 Hall & Partners (Europe) 8,200,000
20 MMR Food & Drink Research 8,138,000
Source: Marketing League Tables