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Research is for the open-minded

Are audiences open-minded when presented with key findings from a piece of research?

Meeting a friend recently for a post-work get together, he mentioned that a presentation he had undertaken earlier in the day had not gone well, due to a constant stream of interruptions - his experience reminded me of a presentation I undertook with a colleague early in my research career.

My director at the time was a season-ticket holder of a well-known football club, and as such, aware of some of the grumblings of fans.

With that in mind, he approached the club’s comms and marketing team with a proposal for undertaking some fan research. Unfortunately, the club at the time did not have two pennies to rub together for this, and so either in a moment of madness or kindness (or both), we offered to undertake the research for free, recognising there was good PR-value to be gained in the process for the company we were at.

Remember readers, these were the days before tablets and hand-held devices were the means by which data could be collected – more pen and clipboard (the manner in which some people still seem to think is how research is mainly conducted!).

Aims and objectives determined, questionnaire agreed, interviews undertaken, data analysed and interpreted, presentation finalised, my colleague and I found ourselves in the club’s huge wood-panelled but rather austere boardroom surrounded by pictures of some very famous players that had graced the shirt of the club, alongside paintings of club chairmen of the past, looking solemnly down on us.

Joining us were a very grateful comms and marketing team, along with those working in catering, hospitality, merchandising and other departments within the club, extremely keen to hear what the fans had to say about all aspects of the club.

Using the analogy of a football match, we had an outstanding first 5 minutes setting the tone of the afternoon – a solid defence, a creative midfield and an attack that would give the stakeholders lots to think about.

Suddenly, an unexpected interruption – the door to the meeting room crashes open. In walks a person that looks familiar.

“Is this where the research thing is?” asked a slurred voice.

The marketing director rises to his feet and introduces the person to us with his name and current role within the club. The late entrant swaying unsteadily in front of us with glazed eyes, is someone that I’ve seen on the TV for many years.

The famous person noisily finds himself a chair, whilst the rest of the audience exchange nervous glances. Before we even have a chance to restart the presentation, the person begins to make disingenuous comments about research in general, and how it’s certain individuals (obviously referring to himself) that know the most about football, and what fans want.

The marketing director laughed nervously and attempts to placate the famous person by explaining that this is an opportunity for everyone at the club to learn something new.

The presentation degenerated further as the famous person continued ranting – quite clearly, this was all the result of a ‘liquid lunch’. When we had the opportunity to intervene, we attempted to explain the robust structure and basis of the research, which had zero effect on the famous person – he simply had no real interest, but also rather annoyingly had no intention of leaving the room either.

Possibly because the famous person was someone well-known within the sport never mind the club, no-one in the room took it upon themselves to encourage him to leave either, so we reluctantly halted the presentation.

We were bitterly disappointed and left the room. What we had spent so much time and effort on, felt as if it had been crushed to pieces.

The marketing director contacted us the following day to apologise, acknowledging our hard work and requested the final version of the presentation, plus a briefing over the phone, so that he could go through what we had attempted to, with each of the stakeholders.

We felt partly redeemed by this, but ultimately still felt disappointed that we were unable to present the findings in the manner and way we had envisaged.

What I learnt from this instance is that an audience may have preconceived ideas about the research, but still have to be open-minded about what their customers (or employees) are telling them.

We had utmost faith in what we were presenting, and certainly felt vindicated when asked to undertake a re-run of the survey some months later (paid this time!) and were able to demonstrate that our recommendations had improved the overall fan experience – evidently key decision-makers within the club recognised and appreciated the value of what we were saying, interruption-free!

"The measure of intelligence, is the ability to change"
Albert Einstein

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