Agency of the Year 2005: Market Research Agency of the Year - Nunwood Consulting

Last year's winner has built on its success with extraordinary growth and international expansion, not least through its business with Nokia.

In a year of consolidation in its industry, Nunwood Consulting stands out as an agency that has grown organically. The Leeds firm was Marketing's Market Research Agency of the Year 2004, and has reached new heights in 2005. Its outstanding growth in a mature market make it a worthy winner once again.

Nunwood is on course for a turnover of close to £6.5m in 2005 - a 44% rise. Its rate of expansion is extraordinary given the single-digit growth of the industry as a whole. The agency has also expanded internationally - non-UK revenues are up 100% and now account for 20% of the business.

After several years of double-digit growth, Nunwood is poised to enter the top 20 UK research agencies. It is proof that medium-sized agencies can still prosper in a market that is polarising between the giant networks and the boutique hotshops. This year it has won 21 clients, including Matalan, Virgin Trains and Northern Rock, and has not lost any of its existing clients.

In fact, Nunwood has expanded its work for many of its clients. Late last year it began work for Britvic on a new product development project.

This year it expanded the relationship to include concept testing, boosting the value of the account fourfold. The studies, involving face-to-face and web surveys of Britvic's target audience, gave the soft-drinks company insight into where it should be spending its innovation budget, and several new products are anticipated.

One of Nunwood's most successful projects has been for Visit Scotland.

The tourism body's advertising was overhauled as a result of the agency's research in the key markets of France, Spain and Germany, leading to a leap in brochure requests and website hits. The new activity saved money by introducing a single creative idea across all three markets. So effective was the study that it won the Award for Outstanding Research at this year's Marketing Research Awards.

The agency has also demonstrated a clear commitment to innovation with the launch of Fizz, its intranet for clients. The service, which builds on Nunwood's Knowledge Systems product, acts as a store of research reports, statistics and other information that clients can access simply.

Fizz has already been adopted on a global basis by Nokia, which approached Nunwood to develop and implement a single online point of presence for its consumer insight information, allowing Nokia's management to make fast, accurate, informed business decisions. The service was rolled out in July, just four months after Nunwood was commissioned. Usage figures have risen steadily, and more development is planned. The next stage will see third-party research suppliers feed their results directly into the system, minimising the amount of time Nokia's research team spend handling data.

The Post Office has also benefited from Nunwood's investment in technology.

It began working with the agency in 2004, and now has an online system based on Fizz that collates data from a range of research firms.

At a time when most agencies are talking about insight, Nunwood is taking steps to deliver it. It has set up a consulting team to focus on the broader implications of research, and in particular the issues of brand development, implementation of innovation and marketing strategy.

Nunwood's growth has led to a restructure of its business. It recently set up its econometrics, management consulting and web analytics divisions as separate companies, each with its own managing director. The initiative is designed to give the heads of those divisions further incentive to succeed and drive their parts of the business. With talented research staff at a premium, Nunwood managing director Clare Bruce believes it is vital to hold on to key staff if the agency is to continue its success.

As well as retaining employees, Nunwood has needed to hire extra staff to keep up with its burgeoning client roster. Its headcount is up 55% this year, and is nearing 100. The agency offers two pay increases a year and a scheme that offers rewards tailored to the recipient, such as a season ticket to Huddersfield Town FC or vouchers for Selfridges.

Nunwood's success has gained recognition from the industry this year.

It was shortlisted for the 2005 BMRA award for Best Agency, and won it the year before.

Expect to hear more about this agency in the coming year.

PREVIOUS WINNERS 2004: Nunwood Consulting 2003: Incepta Marketing Intelligence 2002: Ipsos UK.

BEST OF THE REST

Perhaps the biggest news in the research world this year was Ipsos UK's surprise £88m takeover of MORI. The tie-up, announced out of the blue, will extend Ipsos' public opinion research capacity and take its turnover close to £100m.

There was far more to Ipsos' year than the acquisition, though. The agency achieved organic growth of 12% in the UK on the back of about 40 business wins. New clients include Sport England, for which it is conducting a major survey into sport and recreation habits, BP and the Department of Trade and Industry.

In addition, Ipsos withdrew from the British Market Research Association and became the first big agency to sign up to the Market Research Society's Company Partner Service, as the body extended its membership from individual researchers to companies.

This was also a landmark year for Synovate. The company has expanded rapidly in recent years through an aggressive acquisition strategy, and on 1 January rebranded all its businesses in this country Synovate UK.

The agency has picked up some major UK accounts in the past year, notably a continuous ad and brand tracking study for Boots and the ad hoc research business of Transport for London. On a global scale, it has expanded its reach through acquisition, and launched a worldwide online and panel research service called ViewsNet.

The business' strength was seen recently when Sir Martin Sorrell referred to it as his 'primary interest' in considering a bid for parent Aegis.

Another big research firm performing well is BMRB, which recently picked up the BMRA's Best Agency and Quality and Service awards. The agency has been particularly successful this year in public-sector research, winning projects for bodies such as the Department for Education and Skills, Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Scottish Executive. It has succeeded despite upheaval in the business, as it moved into purpose-built premises in April.

BMRB's client service is among the best in the business. It runs a series of seminars for clients to share its expertise, and this year's programme attracted more than 130 applications.

An international footprint has helped Flamingo achieve impressive growth.

Its UK turnover rose 18% in its last financial year, and is expected to jump 19% in the current one. It has also seen its offices in Singapore and San Francisco expand rapidly.

The agency's work includes researching the right communications approaches, and recent projects have included activity for Levi's Anti-Fit and Guinness.

It is seeking to broaden its offer, and this year set up a dedicated youth division.

Flamingo's expansion follows a series of account wins, including SABMiller, Braun, Mazda and Trinity Mirror, while existing clients such as PepsiCo and Unilever have increased their work with the company this year.

HPI Research is a mid-sized agency growing fast. Its 2005 turnover is up 20% on 2004, with client wins including Nissan, Visa and John Lewis.

An ad-tracking specialist, HPI this year set up an office in New York, which has already conducted projects for Nokia and Visit London.

HPI is also banking on innovation to fuel growth. This year it unveiled a research tool called Superglue, a quant/qual technique that assesses the effectiveness of multimedia communications. It is already being used by AOL, Sky and Homebase.

When it comes to growth, few agencies in the sector can match YouGov, which pioneered the use of online research. Its turnover jumped 50% in the year to 31 July.

YouGov's opinion polls have become a national press staple, and in the May General Election it predicted each party's share of the ballot to within 1%. But there is more to the company than political polls. It has carried out bespoke projects for clients such as Asda, and in September launched BrandIndex, a service that tracks daily perceptions of 1100 brands.

YouGov is primed for further expansion. It floated on the AIM early this year, and is expected to use the proceeds to acquire other agencies.

Firefish is a smaller agency that is making a mark. Founded five years ago, its clients include Unilever, Britvic, Budweiser, Nokia and Nike.

Its turnover is set to rise more than 25% this year following nine account wins, including Canon, Burger King and Allied Domecq.

One of the agency's biggest growth areas is Firefilms, a division that uses film as a research tool. The technique can pay dividends: Firefish picked up the Market Research Society's Prosper Riley-Smith Effectiveness Award for a filmed project for Nytol.

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