The Ipsos MORI chief executive reflects on the 'lost decade' we face, considers the impact of new technology on his industry, and discusses people's reaction to their data being used by marketersMonday
The start of the week sees me meeting for a flat white – always a vital part of the day – at a new coffee shop in Soho that I found with an iPhone app. I am here to discuss people issues with my global head of talent. Like any business of our size – about 16,000 people in 85 countries – having the right people in the right places is a constant challenge. Then off to the divorce courts. After 4 years apart, my ex-wife wants clarity over the money. So: six hours in a grim office block paying £600 an hour for the privilege of bitter arguments and nobody happy. After that, things get better. I travel by Eurostar to dinner in Paris with my colleagues from Ipsos in France, Italy, and the United States to discuss our international social research work at a rather glam brasserie in Montparnasse.
On Valentine's Day my French, Italian and American colleagues and I reflect on the 'lost decade' we all face, to an audience of clients, journalists and politicians at the Petit Palais by the Champs Elysee, before a meeting with my French boss to discuss budgets. We recently bought Synovate, one of the top five global research companies, and have been integrating them into Ipsos over the last few months. There are endless logistical, people, legal and information technology issues as we do this, but it has been really exciting seeing their people start working almost immediately pretty seamlessly with our teams, as we bring the various offices across London together.
Today is our first 2012 directors meeting – we have hundreds of people across six sites in the United Kingdom – looking at some of the new technologies we can now offer. The one that offers live coding of objects is very exciting. We no longer need to ask people what products they use: they can simply photograph them on their smartphones and we can accurately code what they have bought or are looking at automatically. It saves having to ask people to remember things. Our industry is now at a tipping point. We spent much of the 1970s arguing about whether it is possible to accurately undertake surveys via telephone – obviously a great deal of work, including our political research, is now done this way as a matter of course. In the last century and this century our industry has been divided over whether one can make internet surveys fully representative. Now we are questioning the role of surveys themselves, when, with an explosion of mobile digital channels, we can understand a lot of what people are doing and talking about by various forms of passive measurement. We can already predict the winner of shows like the X Factor simply by an analysis of what people are saying about the competitors online.
There are huge implications for all this new technology. Today I speak at the Social Media Governance Forum in London on how consumers feel about their privacy and data and the way it is being used by marketers. The answer seems to be that the public hold very mixed views. Most accept some loss of privacy for convenience but want to feel in control over who has access to what. My issue with this is whether 'informed consent' is when someone clicks on a box without reading pages of legalese, which may or may not vest the software provider with all sorts of rights they never imagined.
Today is mostly meetings with colleagues over budgets – it is that time of year – as well as a regular radio interview on the latest trends in public opinion. Then lunch, courtesy of the ABPI, the body for the UK pharmaceutical industry, at Locanda Locatelli. I am a huge fan of Italian restaurants. In my job, I spend a lot of time in meetings with clients and senior colleagues, and it is always easier to meet people over food. I agree to speak at their annual conference in April on how the National Health Service is changing. We have a dedicated unit at Ipsos MORI that specialises in patient experience and public attitudes to the NHS, and so far, despite huge furore over government reform plans, the public remains much happier with the service than a decade or more ago – and so they might, given that spending on it has doubled.
The day starts with cooking eggs with chilli from a recipe I picked up in Istanbul, with my girlfriend, before lunch with my son at Lucky Seven in Notting hill. It is an ersatz but good burger bar. We discuss his course work and fashion, and I try to get him to talk about his girlfriend, without any luck. The evening involves more cooking with my girlfriend and then slumping in front of the television drinking a great Italian red. Terrible I know, but after the week I have hadů
After more cooking – I can see a theme developing here – we go off to look at Kensal Green Cemetery. It is an excuse to get out and get some exercise, and ticks all the boxes for me of vague sentimentality, architecture and art. The mid-Victorians spent the equivalent of millions on funeral monuments and we enjoy capturing angels in various desperate poses before I have to go and see my mum, who is 76 and recently had a stroke. We mostly communicate during the week by email – she is an avid iPad 2 user, but her illness is a good reminder that one's family really matters and you never know what will happen. All too soon it is Sunday night and I am doing slides for my next speech, chasing reports and talking to colleagues. Ben Page is chief executive of Ipsos MORI