Aurora Magazine

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“Local clients are going through a transformation"

Published in Jan-Feb 2017

In conversation with Edouard Monin, Chairman and CEO, MENA, Ipsos and Abdul Sattar Babar, MD, Pakistan.

Mariam Ali Baig speaks to Edouard Monin, Chairman and CEO, MENA, and Abdul Sattar Babar, MD, Pakistan, on Ipsos’ new strategies for Pakistan.

MARIAM ALI BAIG: What brings you to Pakistan at this point?
EDOUARD MONIN: Ipsos is a multinational research company which was established in France by Didier Truchot, the current President of the company. It is the only company in the world founded and managed by a researcher. When Truchot established the company in 1975, his objective was to serve the French market. After a successful period in France, he began to look at developing the activities of Ipsos outside France; he started with Europe and then step by step he covered most of the countries in the world. Concerning this region, in 1992, when I joined Ipsos, I proposed developing the business in this part of the world. We started with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Jordan; and every year or two we developed a new market. We came to Pakistan in 2011; Pakistan was picking up and our UAE-based clients in particular started asking for research information about Pakistan. When we enter a market, we have two scenarios as to how to go about it. We either start from zero; we recruit a manager, hire people and start a company or we acquire a company. Whether it is about starting or acquiring a company, we always look for the best in the country in terms of contacts, knowledge and credibility in the business. I had the opportunity of meeting Babar, who is one of the most knowledgeable persons in this business.

MAB: What is the opportunity now in Pakistan?
EM: There is a growing interest from multinational companies about Pakistani consumers. According to data published by ESOMAR in 2015, the market research business grew by 2.2% globally, but in Pakistan, it grew by 8.7% and according to ESOMAR, an investment equivalent to €25 million went into the research business in Pakistan. These figures are still low compared in terms of per capita of the population, but nevertheless, in terms of percentage there is significant growth relative to the rest of the world. Of course, we cannot compare Pakistan to the GCC countries where the investment in 2015 was €225 million. The cost of research is different; in Pakistan, it would be about 50% less compared to Saudi Arabia.

MAB: Why is the value of the investment less here?
ABDUL SATTAR BABAR: Firstly, the cost of manpower in Pakistan is much cheaper compared to the GCC and other countries. Secondly – and this is the most important factor hampering the growth of market research in Pakistan – there is a tendency among clients not to pay decent money for research; any research they undertake externally is just done for the sake of it. It becomes a vicious circle; if clients do not pay decent money for market research, how can such companies afford to hire quality people to undertake the research?

EM: If I compare this scenario to other countries in the MENA region, it was the same few years ago. In Egypt, for example, prices used to be very low, now they have gone up because clients are beginning to appreciate the value of research, and therefore, demand is growing.

MAB: How holistic is your approach to clients in Pakistan? Is it just analysis reporting, or do you look at what brands can do to consolidate their market position?
EM: Our clients are partnered by dedicated teams who follow those clients day by day; in fact the dedicated teams know more about the brand than the clients themselves and they can help our clients take the right decision. Anyone can provide data, but it is more difficult to accompany the client in the decision they make and then measure that decision.

ASB: Our job is to help clients in their business decisions. A good sign is that the proportion of local clients is improving. In the past 25 years, almost 80% of any research was done by the multinationals. In the past three to four years, things have started to change. Recently, a big local client invited us to discuss how we could help their business maintain leadership in their category. It was not specific research they wanted, rather a roadmap of how they could strengthen and protect their position in future.

"Local clients are going through a transformation and to be able to follow through with this, they will need more information and be even closer to their consumers."

MAB: How much emphasis goes on increasing your local client base?
EM: No research company can exist without a strong local portfolio.

MAB: Barring a few exceptions, local clients lack the experience to articulate what they want from a market research initiative. How do you tackle this?
EM: Any country that starts growing, faces the same problem. However, step-by-step mindsets change as they start using the research and gaining a better understanding of their consumers; then they cannot live without research.

ASB: Sometimes local clients are hesitant to discuss their challenges and requirements. To help them do this, we have developed a template. We ask them to fill in the blanks and in this way we can help them develop a brief. ‘Handholding’ is the name of the game for local clients. Many local companies which never considered market research before, are now interested in exploring it.

MAB: What are the skill sets you look for when recruiting?
EM: We believe in recruiting fresh graduates or people with one or two years’ experience in marketing, business, psychology or social sciences. We also need people with experience to run and develop teams, and here we look for people who are already in this field, either on the client’s side or working in other market research companies.

ASB: Other than academic background and experience, we look for people with common sense, curiosity, good analytical skills, and – this is very important – with the capacity to articulate.

MAB: In Pakistan, market research as a career is not as highly regarded as working for a brand or an advertising agency. How do you attract and then retain bright young people?
ASB: First, we need to find people who are looking for a career and not just a job. Second, whenever someone joins us, even at a junior level, he or she is exposed to the top or middle management of a client organisation; this privilege is not available elsewhere.

MAB: Would that not make them want to join the client?
ASB: We don’t mind if we are the feeders for the industry; if we have trained them and they join the client, they become our advocates.

MAB: What are your goals for Pakistan?
EM: We are putting into place a more aggressive plan for Pakistan. We are planning to introduce new research services, some of which will be aimed at the financial sector as well as other service sectors – and we will also upgrade our information gathering technology. Local clients are going through a transformation and to be able to follow through with this, they will need more information and be even closer to their consumers.

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