21st August, 2012
As market researchers, we can get a bit twitchy when other non-research professions step into our space using methodologies closely associated with market research.
Telemarketing is one; a necessary and honourable activity carried out by scrupulous professionals in the main, but too often tagged as “cold callers” (whether they are actually cold calling or not) and therefore generalised under a group not to be trusted. Telephone researchers, for genuine market research, in theory do not have to screen their call lists against ‘telephone preference’ but will often find themselves challenged for being cold callers. Certainly it’s easier (and feels more honourable) to respect the wishes of potential respondents, to acknowledge their TPS declaration that they do not wish to receive unsolicited calls.
Then there’s in-street interviewing. The archetypical image of a market researcher – someone dressed for all weathers, stood in a busy shopping mall, ID badge attached, clipboard clasped in hand, juggling papers, desperate for someone to stop and speak with them.
Or, with boundless enthusiasm, it’s more likely to be a charity fundraiser. A successful and necessary (many may say) activity to support the good work of charitable organisations.
Whoever it is, they want to intercept our journey from one part of the street to the next, take some of our time and expend our goodwill. And sometimes, reputation precedes them because we believe our raised flat hand response is not going to be enough to deliver a ‘no thank you.’
Market research has been working under a system of self-regulation for many years. Certainly the industry itself understands it and we clutch to it with pride.
This week the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association has issued new rules and a new penalties regime for street fundraisers – aka ‘chuggers’ – operating throughout Great Britain. The rules say that fundraisers must not:
> follow a person for more than three steps
> stand within 3m of a shop doorway, cashpoint, pedestrian crossing or station entrance
> sign up to a Direct Debit anyone unable to give informed consent through illness, disability, or drink or drugs
> approach any members of the public who are working, such as tour guides or newspaper vendors
Further to this, fundraisers must always terminate an engagement when they are clearly and unambiguously asked, by speech or body language, to do so. (You can read the press release here.)
As a market research practitioner with staff who depend on being able to stop and speak with people in our town centres, we welcome any code of conduct for any profession that helps to put the general public more at ease. Whilst these rules (which have been on trial for a year) enhance the existing code of practice produced by the Institute of Fundraising, it’s reasonable to think that Joe Public will come to know these very specific elements. And any in-street operative with a clipboard must understand what constitutes harassment, in the eyes of the public.
Researchers need not be too worried. I think our training, our general professional conduct, our attention to sampling and methods to deliver a well-defined product are good and sound. I do not identify our work with the sort of problems the PFRA’s rules are seeking to avoid. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t learn from what they see as best practice and be conscious of a more conversant public.