A statement from Jane Frost CBE, Chief Executive



It’s only natural that one draws a deep breath before looking back on a year like 2020.

As with all tumultuous periods in history, we can already see what wasn’t apparent then: the emergence of something new and - in some areas - better than what existed before. While it’s too soon to draw too many conclusions, I am certain that not only did the research sector respond admirably to the challenges, but we were active in finding solutions, adapting to the unknown, and ultimately redefining our value to business and society.

I am especially proud of the support provided by our staff at MRS; not just in response to the punches thrown by Covid-19, but also to the more obscure threats, for example that of the government procurement debarcle earlier this year. For more detail on why the world needs associations now more than ever, read our very own Research Hero Debrah Harding’s article on page 8 of the review.

But before we get on to the green shoots bit, we must acknowledge that some people and businesses were much more adversely affected than others, and I sincerely wish the circumstances that have allowed our sector to shine were different.

As this report straddles 2020 and 2021 (our financial year runs April to end of March) we can also here celebrate our position as the world’s oldest research association with our 75th anniversary.

Looking forward, MRS is expanding its focus beyond the UK and Ireland. Digital transformation within our company as with so many others has been accelerated, allowing us to embrace an international member and customer base.

MRS is now delivering online training and events, best practice guidance and industry news to a global audience, every hour of every day.

That’s why international brands and agencies – most recently Tik Tok, John Lewis and that most international of organisations NATO – feel well served by our International Affiliates scheme (see page 25).

Whether it’s cooperation around the climate change crisis, or creating a more representative and fair society, these issues cannot solely be tackled nationally, in isolation from other countries. Hence our new partnership with Australia’s Research Society and the Insights Association in the US. I am a firm believer that the research and insight sector is a critical lever to help drive these fundamental changes in how we live and how we value the planet, and one another.

Organisations like your own and MRS are increasingly taking a leadership role in addressing these inequalities.

That’s why we launched the MRS Inclusion Pledge, followed this year by the Net Zero Pledge. Responding to the need to support change in the diversity of the sector our new DI&E Council brought a wide footprint of people and networks together to push for greater achievements in promoting inclusion.

Our client members - represented by the MRS Senior Client Council - emphasised that change must come from the whole supply chain. We are delighted with the success of the Recruiter Accreditation Scheme launched with AQR (see page 14).

I promised you green shoots and from where we stand now, there are many to nurture. That’s not to downplay the devastating effect this has had on individuals and society, but business can rebound, and it needs the research and insight sector now more than ever, in order to do so.

Thank you - our members and Company Partners - for your role in helping our sector rally against adversity. I would also like to thank all those sponsors and advertisers that support us financially, and the many professionals that sit on our various committees and groups giving so much of their time and expertise.

My huge thanks also to MRS staff who, despite pay cuts, have worked unstintingly to deliver all of this and more, and to our active and supportive Board and volunteers from across the sector who have made our pledges and initiatives real.

Stay well and I look forward to working with you in the years to come.

Download the MRS Annual Review 2020-21

Standards and policy

The MRS Code of Conduct is the basis of the self-regulation framework for the research sector.

The MRS Code of Conduct works with the relevant legal framework via the UK’s Data Protection Act 2018, the UK GDPR and the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 to ensure research and data collection and analysis is carried out in a professional and ethical manner. The MRS Market Research Standards Board (MRSB) continued to pro-actively review the self-regulatory framework to ensure it remained fit for purpose and that data protection advice and guidance provided to members was robust.

Although disciplinary matters/ cases remained at modest levels, during this period some complex complaints were received which required an above average time to investigate.

Standards and Policy team worked hard to prepare and advise members, particularly in view of the constantly evolving Covid-19 pandemic. The Covid-19 guidance, extensive FAQS and advice about the UK government’s schemes were regularly updated throughout the year, in line with the latest government advice.

In addition, a full suite of Covid-19 guidance was published, and updated as government guidance evolved, in a dedicated area of the MRS website, which included:

  • Undertaking safe face-to-face data collection
  • Undertaking safe face-to-face mystery shopping
  • Facilities used for face-to-face data collection
  • Face-to-face data collection guidance interpreting Scotland’s protection level system

Supplementing the advice, the Standards and Policy team liaised, at times on a daily basis, with a wide range of UK government departments and officials in the Cabinet Office, BEIS, DTI, DCMS, ICO and CCS to ensure that the research sector’s concerns as a result of Covid-19 were understood and reflected in government guidance and the schemes introduced to support businesses and workers as a result of Covid-19.

Other information published by MRS throughout the period included a new suite of guidance on essential safeguards. Four new documents were issued during 2020/21:

  • Dealing with Discriminatory Comments
  • Bullying and Harassment
  • Whistleblowing
  • Mental Health

The team also used video conferencing to deliver up-todate, relevant and targeted content covering a wide range of topics including:

  • Design and delivery of introductory and intermediate/ advanced data privacy in research training courses
  • Four quarterly Standards and policy webinars
  • Webinars on how to undertake risk assessments, Data Protection Impact Assessments (DPIA) and data breach reporting
  • Delivery of 22 individually tailored standards briefings for Company Partners.

In readiness for the launch of the AQR/MRS Recruiter Accreditation Scheme (RAS) two standards documents, the MRS Regulations for the Buying of Qualitative Research Recruitment Services and MRS Qualitative Research Recruitment – Legal Requirements and Best Practice Regulations for Recruiters, were updated.

The demand for Codeline services increased this year in line with member concerns about the implications for the sector during the pandemic. Overall, the number of written queries increased from 575 in 2019–20 to 633 during 2020–2021. Members of the team also provided telephone advice where requested, although in line with the approach taken in previous years, the volume of telephone queries is not recorded in the statistics.

As well as advice on Covid-19, members also sought specific advice on data protection issues, the distinction between research and non-research exercises such as marketing, and how to deal with participants who reveal mental health issues during the data collection process. There continues to be greater complexity in the level of advice sought, with multiple queries in a single contact.

What is the role of an association?

Debrah Harding, Managing Director of MRS looks at how the pandemic helped define the true value of an association in today's world.

What is the point of an association in modern society? This is a question that I am sometimes asked, and was a question I reminded myself about at the beginning of the pandemic. The answer - that associations protect, promote and connect their memberships and customers with each other, with business, government and society - has never been more important than over the last year.

When the crisis really began to bite in March 2020 it was an uncertain time. None of us knew what it would mean for us as citizens, for businesses, or for our country. What we did know was that everyone was pulling in their resources, sitting tight and watching and waiting. Which if you are running a business is a very, very scary place to be. Early on, MRS made a very clear decision that whatever happened, it was going to do everything possible to keep the research and insight sector active and flourishing.

We decided to take the financial hit and not access the UK government’s furlough scheme. Instead we retained all our staff and dug in for the long haul. Never was this more true than with the Standards and Policy team.

Members and Company Partners were justifiably eager to know and understand what lockdown meant for the sector. In order to make sure that we delivered the best we could for our stakeholders, the Standards and Policy team focused on two key areas: the practice of research, particularly faceto- face activities; and the research business and how this could benefit from the various government Covid-19 schemes.

For the practice of research it was all about how face-to-face data collection could resume under Covid-19 safe working conditions. Working closely with the government, particularly the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), MRS was able to shape and draft guidance enabling some face-to-face data collection to resume from May 2020. As a result, since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, face-to-face data collection activities were only paused for two months in most of the UK.

While not all activities could resume, such as in-home data collection, the MRS guidance enabled data collection to resume in a modified way on the doorstep, in street, in store, in transit and in venues.

For the research businesses, the Standards and Policy team focused on the raft of government initiatives and schemes and what these meant for research, and how practitioners and businesses could access and leverage the funding available. We focused on five key areas: the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (the ‘furlough’ scheme), the Self-Employment Income Support (SEISS) Scheme, the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS), the Bounce Back Scheme and the rates relief available via local authorities. Initially, we focused on interpreting these schemes and providing advice via FAQs.

The next stage was to get the schemes changed to ensure they could apply to as many within the research sector as possible. We were particularly concerned about workers such as recruiters and interviewers, and SME businesses.

The biggest and most significant success was having the furlough scheme extended beyond employees to cover workers, enabling workers such as interviewers to benefit from the scheme.

We had mixed success with the rates relief, convincing some local authorities to give relief while others resolutely would not budge.

To amplify our messaging and activities we harnessed our networks both within the wider marketing and advertising sector, via MRS membership of the Advertising Association, plus our connections with business networks such as the CBI and the Federation of Small Business. We also joined forces to undertake joint representation with other professional associations which had similar challenges to us, for example with the scope of the SEISS scheme.

The important point was that every day we kept pushing our messaging, reminding government about the needs of our sector, the pressures it was facing, and why research was important and could not be ignored.

I am incredibly proud of the Standards and Policy team’s achievements over the last year. We made a difference – we did our job – we kept the sector protected, promoted and connected. Could we have achieved more? Of course, thats is always the case. But, I hope we reinforced the point about why associations exist and why they are important. The team however, could not have done this without incredible support from the staff within MRS, and also from the sector at large.

Time and time again we were asking ‘critical friends’ to review draft guidance, give practical insight, tell us what worked for them and provide market intelligence for policy papers. Without you, we could not have done our job to the same degree. So thank you. The job is not done, Covid-19 still exists, and now we have to get on with the challenges to come.

The sector in numbers
In seven themes

As the full implications of the pandemic and repeated lockdowns hit, it became clear that there were some long-term consequences that could severely affect the future of face-to-face research and data collection. In order to curtail these and protect the faceto- face sector MRS undertook exhaustive discussions with the UK Government, particularly BEIS and DCMS.

This resulted in the publication of the June 2020 MRS policy paper, Covid-19 Lockdown: The Long-term Potential Impact on the UK’s Face to Face Research Sector which highlighted the potential threats to face-toface research. These included the quality of representative research; the increase in social demographic inequalities by excluding segments of society that only take part in research via faceto- face methods; and the need to protect thousands of jobs within the face-to face supply-chain including interviewers, viewing facility and participant recruiters, plus qualitative researchers.

MRS also undertook a campaign to promote the rights of participants and workers (particularly interviewers) aged 70 years and older who were being disenfranchised by the government’s approach of classifying all individuals in this age group as clinically vulnerable, irrespective of health status. The MRS policy paper, The over 70s and the Covid-19 lockdown easing: Why a change of government policy is needed, resulted in a change of approach to enable the over 70s to undertake face-to-face data collection and for individuals in this age group to be face-to-face participants.

Safeguarding participants and practitioners

The importance of safeguarding has been brought into sharp focus during the Covid-19 pandemic. The widespread and negative economic consequences, along with uprooted everyday life and enforced social isolation, may be reasons why an increased number of participants have mentioned mental health issues during professional activities conducted by members and Company Partners.

Protecting wellbeing by taking all reasonable precautions to prevent harm or adverse effects is an integral part of the MRS Code and guidelines. However, true safeguarding goes deeper than this. Preventing harm is of course important but it is also key to have measures in place to guard against any potential harm occurring in the first place.

With that in mind, during 2020/21 MRS introduced a new series of bite-sized guidance called Essential Safeguards, to address issues that may cause harm or adverse effects to participants, practitioners and the broader community. Topics covered to date include dealing with discriminatory comments, bullying and harassment, whistleblowing and how to help participants who reveal mental health issues during data collection activities.

MRS is committed to highlighting safeguarding issues for adults and children involved in data collection activities and this will be reflected in future additions to the ‘Essential Safeguards’ series and in upcoming full guidance documents.


As buying patterns changed as a result of the pandemic, it was important that those involved in procurement understood what was and was not possible, particularly with face-to-face data collection methods.

Prior to Covid-19 the UK public sector was the second biggest buyer of research services. To protect this during the pandemic, MRS worked closely with the government’s procurement arm, the Crown Commercial Services (CCS), to ensure that it was supporting research suppliers who were supplying services to the public sector and to encourage research to continue to be procured. Activities included:

  • Rebalancing the payment terms and conditions for research suppliers, including being offered the option to be paid a bigger % ‘up front’ to assist with supplier cash flow.
  • Encouraging ethical procurement practices, ensuring that quality remains the key consideration and not over emphasising price.
  • Promoting and recommending the MRS’ Code and associated guidance, including the MRS face- to-face data collection guidance which complemented the government’s safe working approach.
  • Encouraging government department clients to commission more research, to re-start any projects put on hold as a result of Covid-19 and to publish details of their research and insight plans for the months ahead to enable suppliers to manage and plan their resources.

As a result of MRS lobbying, these activities were put into action by CCS, protecting the research suppliers as much as possible during one of the most difficult and challenging periods that the research sector has ever experienced.

Data protection and GDPR

The legislative framework of privacy and data protection is the topic that never sleeps, not even for a pandemic. The UK is beginning to shape its regulatory future by publishing strategies and action plans on the opportunities and challenges of this hyper-digital world, weighing the priorities and potential trade-offs of data in a deliberate and evidence-based way, and, above all, to drive growth in the UK economy and to power its recovery from the pandemic.

From the UK National Data Strategy to the government’s Plan for Digital Regulation, MRS is leading discussions with government and regulators on the implications for research, insight and data, and is seeking balanced solutions to ensuring that the sector can continue to flourish as data protection and GDPR evolves.

The MRS stance remains that it is essential that the UK’s data protection values and data protection regime is comparable with that of the EU. Ethics, pragmatism and business practicality must be balanced in order for data privacy legislation to be successful.

MRS is currently discussing with the ICO a UK Research and Insight GDPR Code of Conduct that identifies and addresses data protection issues specific to the research sector.

To support its members and Company Partners, MRS keeps close ties with other relevant membership associations and interest groups. Collective actions have been undertaken with, among others, the Advertising Association (AA), Direct Marketing Association (DMA), and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Data Analytics (a crossparty group established by Daniel Zeichner MP to connect Parliament with business, academia and civil society to promote better policy making on big data and data analytics).


MRS has been, and still is, keeping its firm position at the forefront of the Brexit discussion. The 2020/21 period was a crucial period for Brexit as the December 2020 deadline loomed and MRS was continuously engaging with key government departments and the ICO determining the implications of Brexit and the Withdrawal Agreement for the research and insight sector. In particular, on the issues relating to international transfers of data during the transition period, adequacy decision arrangements and implications of the UK and EU standard contractual clauses regimes.

MRS continues to closely follow and monitor regulatory, legislative and policy developments during the post-Brexit period, including government plans to strengthen the UK’s international standing with the potentially significant revision and re-discussion of current competition regulations, and with the establishment of new trade agreements with new partners.

To support MRS members and Company Partners, MRS created the MRS Brexit Hub which provided practical guidance on a wide number of issues including international data transfers, appointment of EU representatives, immigration and standard contractual clauses. MRS regularly updated on the latest Brexit developments via the quarterly Stay up to date and within the rules webinars and the joint MRS/BEIS webinar hosted in December 2020 presenting the impact of Brexit on the sector and providing advice on how it would translate in practice.

International standards

The global research business is underpinned by national standards of privacy and data protection regulation. As a member of both organisations, MRS works closely with the European Federation of Associations of Market Research Organisations (EFAMRO), and the Global Research Business Network (GRBN). MRS is also a key ally of EphMRA, the European Pharmaceutical Market Research Association.

EFAMRO’s role is to promote the interests and needs of the sector, and to make sure that voices are heard, and pleas accepted. Since 2009 MRS has undertaken all standards and policy activities on behalf of the Federation. In this context we have engaged with the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) and the European Commission during 2020/21 regarding the concepts of data processors and data controllers, the definition of scientific research and data subjects’ rights.

EFAMRO continues to work with ESOMAR on the drafting of a transnational GDPR Research Code. The objective is to adopt a pan-European binding sector specific text to help the research sector to maximise the opportunities of the GDPR more effectively.

MRS and EFAMRO continue to work with EphMRA as their point of reference for standards updates. We carried out extensive work updating EphMRA’s Code of Conduct during 2020/21 and provided Codeline support in its interpretation and compliance; analysing national legislation from around the world and its practical implication for the sector; and drafting additional guidance, ethics and support material.

Aside from policy and standards, MRS has successfully linked EFAMRO and GRBN in international discussions on the state of the sector during the pandemic. We organised two EFAMRO Open Days that gathered participants from around the world, debating the efforts undertaken by associations to help their members and boost their resilience, growing membership and increasing revenues in these difficult times.

MRS has worked with GRBN in identifying three main initiatives for 2021/22: inter-regional online discussion events for association leaders; diversity and inclusivity; and trust.

AQR/MRS Recruiter Accreditation Scheme

A long cherished project which came to fruition in 2020/21 was the launch of the AQR/MRS Recruiter Accreditation Scheme (RAS) in September 2020

MRS strived to get this scheme launched to support recruiters who were suffering as a result of the curtailing of many face-to-face research projects due to Covid-19.

The scheme was designed to provide recognition for professional and competent recruiters and address quality concerns about some recruitment practices.

By introducing RAS the following benefits were achieved:

  • Accredited recruiters demonstrated understanding of standards including all of the key aspects of qualitative recruitment including the legal and ethical requirements.
  • Buyers of recruitment services reduced their risks when buying recruitment services by enabling procurement from regulated recruitment suppliers who have demonstrated competence to key issues such as GDPR.
  • Users and buyers of recruitment services demonstrated their accountability and due diligence by procuring from accredited recruiters who have demonstrated competence via an independently assessed qualification.
  • Recruiters demonstrated their competence and improved long-term recruitment quality as the RAS standards become more widely understood and used – particularly in evolving areas such as using social media tools for recruitment.

The ethos of RAS is one of continuous improvement, with recruiters re-accredited every three years. As part of this process, the RAS materials will be updated in 2021/22 to address changes (such as with data protection post Brexit) and new topics will be introduced including recruiting seldom heard participants and how to undertake inclusive recruitment, and ensuring that recruiters are being trained and assessed to evolving RAS requirements.

Activities and highlights

Find key statistics for all of our products and services.

MRS Members
as of 31 March 2021
Total: 4,181

Professional Webinars and Speaker Evenings

Free to MRS members, Professional Webinars, are a key membership resource. Throughout the year our interactive events attracted over 4,557 participants from all around the world. Topics included digital ethnography, trust and how to respond when the world turns upside down.

No live events were held due to the pandemic, and all planned Speaker Evenings were recorded as webinars and shared with members within the member areas of the website topics included, The emotional power of advertising, and The future of work.

Due to the pandemic, the face-toface regional events programme was suspended. One benefit of the London speaker evenings programme going online was that these events became easily accessible to members across the country, with 2,979 attendees from outside the South East.


The network for LGBTQ+ researchers and their allies continued to pursue its agenda of amplifying LGBTQ+ voices across the sector and sharing relevant research stories. Whilst no live events were held due to the pandemic, a series of virtual PLATFORM webinars were produced, with 463 live viewers across the programme and 350 subsequent views of the event recordings via YouTube. These culminated in the world’s first Trans Insight Summit in February 2021, which raised £1,000 for charity partner Mermaids. Three episodes of the network’s OUTsights podcast were also produced and a fourth is in the works.


Despite the challenges faced by the sector, both the Operations Awards and the main MRS Awards were well supported and overall just 15 entries fewer were received than the previous year. In place of the usual three live awards presentations, two online broadcasts were produced to announce the winners.

In September, 214 people tuned into the Oppies+ broadcast, which incorporated the winners of the Operations Awards, as well as the categories usually presented at the Excellence Awards lunch. In December, 391 people watched the Virtual MRS Awards broadcast.


Although no live events could be held in 2020/21, &more continued to support young researchers through a series of webinars on topics such as wellbeing and creativity, and launched the Lunchtime Bites series - a chance for young researchers to take centre stage and present fascinating case studies and projects they have been working on over the past year.

The annual &more conference moved online, with over 100 attendees, and the first ever joint event between &more and the AQR’s Young Disruptors was held. The &more online resources section was greatly expanded, and three new members were appointed to the &more Leadership Team, joining our two existing members to work on &more events, content and social media.

MRS & AQR University Roadshow

The delivery of the University Roadshow moved online, with over 1,000 students attending 19 sessions, including the first ever international session at the University of Wollongong in Dubai. Thirty volunteers, both senior researchers and those new to the industry, spoke at a session. Additionally, the roadshow team worked with representatives of the MRS Diversity, Inclusion and Equality Council and CORe with the aim of reaching a wider audience of students and young people.

MRS Flex Forum

This collection of industry professionals who are passionate about flexible working provided guidance to the sector to help create a fairer, more productive workplace in today’s society. The group is chaired by Inger Christensen, an independent consultant, and was set up as a result of a thought provoking and engaging Operations Network event back in January 2020.

Since its creation the forum has produced six webinars, nine articles providing guidance and considerations, both from an employer’s and individual’s perspective, and a list of resources to help build a more flexible blended working environment for the future.

In the period of April 2020 to March 2021, MRS recorded 328 registrations onto Flex related webinars.

The group has most recently set up a Coffee Catch Up session, so that the group can meet online informally to discuss any challenges, ideas or insight into making the return to the office more flexible.

The forum currently consists of 31 participants.


1,287 individuals received some form of training from MRS, due to the pandemic we had to convert all or our face-to-face course to online.

139 training courses were delivered in MRS’s online training programme, covering research skills and complementary business and leadership skills across all levels of complexity, and catering to delegates with different levels of experience. These courses covered the principal methodologies along with new and emerging techniques to keep the programme up-to-date. New courses were introduced on subjects such as AI in Business and Research, Advanced Statistical Techniques, Machine Learning, Predictive Analysis and Big Data and Consumer Insight.

41 days of bespoke in-company training were delivered to blue chip clients, academia, central government, government agencies and research businesses.


MRS Advanced Certificate in Market & Social Research Practice
In this financial year a total of 185 candidates participated in assessment for the Advanced Certificate qualification.

124 candidates were awarded the qualification – a 67% pass rate.

Due to the pandemic the June 2020 assessment round was postponed to September; the January 2021 assessment round took place as scheduled. To comply with social distancing requirements, the examinations were hosted online with live invigilation instead of via the traditional exam hall format. The online assessment method was successful and will be the favourable approach for future Advanced Certificate Examinations.

MRS Certificate in Market & Social Research
169 candidates achieved the introductory level MRS Certificate via the online multiple-choice exam.

121 enrolled onto the ‘Foundation Course in Market Research’.

MRS Certificate in Digital Interviewing Skills for Market & Social Research
20 Girl Effect TEGAS from the Nigeria Network were awarded the ‘MRS Certificate in Digital Interviewing Skills for Market & Social Research’ using TEGA methodology. The qualification recognises the range of attitudes, knowledge and skills required to conduct effective interviews via hand-held technology with participants.

Bespoke accreditation
Home Office Digital Phase 5 of the bespoke MRS qualification Certificate in Qualitative Interviewing Skills commenced with a total of 27 Home Office employees having achieved the qualification.


The MRS CPD programme continues to attract registrations, providing members with a framework to demonstrate their achievements, gain recognition for their professionalism and take control planning their careers. The programme has enabled 80 membership upgrades to Certified Membership.


The Apprenticeship - Market Research Executive – Proposal, Standard and Assessment Plan was approved by the Institute of Apprenticeships and Technical Education in March 2021. The apprenticeship should be available to employers for apprentices by early autumn of 2021.

The Market Research Executive apprenticeship is suitable for both school leavers aged 18 years and older or as an upskilling pathway to develop employees/workers already within a research role eg, interviewers.

MRS has fully supported the apprenticeship initiative not only as a stepping stone into the research profession but also as a key part of the drive for social inclusion within the research and insight sector.

MRS/AQR Recruiter Accreditation Scheme (RAS)

The MRS/AQR Recruiter Accreditation Scheme (RAS) launched in July 2020. It was developed in response to the sectors increasing concerns about the quality of some recruitment, particularly with the emergence of newer techniques online and using social media. In conjunction with these concerns there was a need to recognise the excellent professional recruiters who deliver quality recruitment.

RAS raises the profile and status of individual recruiters, recognising their knowledge, skills and competence. 227 Recruiters achieved RAS Accreditation by the end of March 2021. See page 14 for more on this scheme.


The MRS Mentoring Scheme continues to support participants to think through strategic decisions as well as manage day-to-day work challenges more effectively. 242 individual members have now benefitted from the scheme as mentees and 145 Certified Members and Fellows have been trained as mentors.

Research Live

With a dedicated editorial team, the website continues to be the first port of call for research, insight and data news and opinion - 25,000 unique visitors every month. High points include the publication of the Research Live Industry Report 2021, live coverage of MRS annual conference, and a Covid-19 tracker which grew organically and listed all the research projects underway relating to the pandemic. In April 2020 Katie McQuater took over from Jane Bainbridge as Editor of Impact magazine and Research Live, with a new Deputy Editor, Liam Kay joining the team.

The Research Buyers Guide

In 2021, MRS decided to stop printing the guide in line with its environmental policy to introduce digital first publications. The online directory was redesigned and has experienced a doubling in visits in the first six months of 2021, now tracking at 4,000 unique visitors every month. Buyers of research can refine their search by specialisms, geography and respondent location, and new filters were added to highlight listed companies that have won MRS Awards, and those that have signed the MRS Inclusion and Sustainability pledges.


Members have free access to SAGE Publications’ Research Methods suite as part of their enhanced membership benefits. Sage Publications also publishes on behalf of MRS the bi-monthly peer-reviewed journal, the IJMR (International Journal of Market Research), which is part of the membership package for MRS Fellows and Certified members. The IJMR website offers an archive of papers dating back more than 20 years as well as the latest issue and digital first papers. The IJMR website receives on average 11,000 article downloads everv month, and saw a 40% increase in the first six months of 2021 compared to 2020.


When the pandemic forced many people to work from home in spring 2020, mrs.org.uk became a critical source of Covid-19 guidance to help MRS members understand how they could and should respond, from furloughing arrangements to support for fieldworkers and viewing facilities. With all products and services available online, this website supports both members and customers, from increasingly international locations, with traffic averaging 29,000 unique visits every month.

MRS Delphi Group

The group is the think tank for the research sector and includes experts from brands and agencies. The chair is Colin Strong from Ipsos MORI. Report topics this year included:

  • Fast Forwarding Research: how the Covid-19 pandemic has pushed organisations to be more innovative in how they conduct research
  • Managing the Multiverse: how the research industry can use its expertise to help businesses and society understand information and data, to make decisions that are transformative, fair and more representative.

All reports, as well as a new series of Delphi podcasts, are available here.

Intelligence Capital™

MRS spearheaded the Intelligence Capital™ initiative that aims to demonstrate the direct effect that insight can have on the growth of any business. Planning is underway with sponsor Savanta to supplement the two existing reports with practical tools and case studies.

Research Jobfinder

After a turbulent year in the recruitment market the jobs website has rebounded with increased traffic as the workforce and the sector responds to early signs of economic recovery.

The MRS Company Partner team has grown in step with an increase in Company Partners. This means we are now better able to support our Partners with all aspects of their partnership including renewals, memberships and voucher usage. We are also able to signpost the many areas of work that MRS is engaged with that will be of benefit to these Partners, such as training, webinars or Codeline.

MRS welcomed 44 new Company Partners in 2020-21 including client-side insight teams from John Lewis and transnational organisation NATO. Many agencies increased the size of their partnership commitments, thereby supporting the research sector while at the same time increasing the capacity and capability of their teams.

The growth of the MRS Company Partnership Accreditation programme both in terms of number of partners and their continued commitment shows that, in spite of the chaos and uncertainty of the Covid-19 crisis, the sector remains a vital component in the UK and global economy. This is reflected by the need for Partners to become accredited, to show commitment to the MRS Code, as well as purchase vouchers for briefings, training and conferences.

During the year all MRS conference and training moved from in-person to virtual. This has proved a very positive move for our Company Partners, with a far wider range of people from different geographies able to take advantage of MRS’ world leading training courses and conferences. It has also allowed MRS this year to launch a new International Affiliate program.

The MRS International Affiliate programme allows an organisation to increase commercial opportunities and support the training and development of its insight and analytics teams, wherever they are based in the world. International Affiliates also benefit from the MRS' global network, its knowledge bank, and training opportunities.

By March 2021, the first 10 MRS international affiliates included the global teams of major businesses – GSK, Mintel and Unilever – and international research agencies such as US and UK-based Behaviorally. NATO, which represents 30 European and North American countries, and a number of multi-national companies has also signed the quality commitment.

In April 2020 the Fair Data Principles were updated from 10 to 12. Revisions were made to the existing principles to reflect the pace of reform and changes in data protection frameworks. MRS welcomes Cobalt Sky and MEL Research to join the growing list of Fair Data companies.

Company Partners by turnover

Company Partners by Type

MRS conferences are more popular than ever since they went fully online April 2020, attracting around two thousand delegates across the portfolio.

The MRS Annual Conference, whose theme was ‘Transformation and Recovery’, was a three day, multistreamed online event taking place on 16-18 March 2021.

Due to the pandemic, the event was hosted on a virtual event platform and delegates were able to benefit from a number of digital and video networking opportunities.

Keynote speakers included Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, Sir David Spiegelhalter, Statistician and Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk in the Statistical Laboratory, Dr Camilla Pang, Author of Explaining Humans, Kathryn Jacobs, OBE and Sue Unerman co-authors of Belonging: The key to transforming and maintaining diversity, inclusion and equality at work, and playwright James Graham, OBE.

The conference welcomed over 650 participants from a diverse spread of practitioners across the spectrum of clients, suppliers, specialists, consultants, academics and the wider media. Given the digital format, the speaker and delegation profile saw a significant uplift in international participation.

Over 1,600 chat messages were published on the virtual stages, 250 face-to-face meetings were instigated and over 260 delegates visited the sponsor exhibition booths

One day conferences
MRS ran 12 virtual events in 2021, attracting over 1,000 delegates over the course of the year.

The inaugural Behavioural Science Summit, postponed from March 2020 and revised to a digital event, attracted over 250 delegates. Other new sector conferences, appropriate for a digital delegation included, UX/ CX/MR, Digital Ethnography and Storytelling. The annual sector conferences, Financial Services, Kids & Youth, Digital Analytics took place in 2020/21 and a new Sustainability Summit was held in November 2020 to highlight the work of the MRS Sustainability Council.

Supporting MRS’s government lobbying efforts during the pandemic: calling for greater support for small to mediumsized businesses, showcasing the impact of the pandemic on the research sector and applying pressure on local authorities through targeted media to reverse decisions on business rates relief.

Proactive media relations in support of MRS’s key priorities: including showcasing the importance of insight and evidence in times of uncertainty, and making the case for research to maintain its position at the heart of corporate strategy as companies pursue postpandemic growth.

Communicating the role that MRS plays supporting Government procurement: including its advice on best practice, and managing media relations associated with the Good Law Project.

Supporting MRS’s communications to its members about Covid-19 guidelines: including face-to-face data collection; highlighting the advice with relevant media outlets and managing the overall Covid-19 communications strategy in the context of changing government restrictions.

Securing interviews for Jane Frost CBE with Marketing Week about the research sector: adopting C-Suite language and DataJournalism on opinion polling in the US election.

Driving MRS’s international activity by promoting the International Affiliate programme: a mark of research excellence for global research businesses, and announcing new partnerships and shared initiatives with The Research Society (Australia) and Insights Association (US).

Supporting MRS’s diversity and inclusion programme: announcing new initiatives such as its Memorandum of Understanding with the Colour of Research group, the establishment of an MRS Diversity, Inclusion and Equality Council, and updates to the MRS Inclusion Pledge.

Building excitement for Impact 2021: creating a series of short preview clips of the sessions and interviews for social media platforms. Encouraging journalists from a wide range of trade, marketing, and national press to attend Impact 2021; securing media attendance throughout the conference programme, including journalists from The Telegraph, The Times, WARC and Marketing Week.

Driving engagement with the MRS Awards 2020: advising on the new virtual format and developing a script for the host. Securing media coverage about the awards and profiling the winners through virtual vox pops interviews. Creating video content for MRS’s digital channels by identifying soundbites from the vox pops interviews.

Advising on activity around MRS’s 75th anniversary celebrations: Making recommendations for Honorary Fellowships and showcasing the first recipients.

Contributing to Research Live’s Review of 2020 and Preview of 2021 series, including about the pandemic’s impact on research, reasons to be cheerful and the biggest potential challenges in 2021.

Throughout the period 65 pieces of media coverage were achieved in titles including Marketing Week, Government Business, DataJournalism, Forbes, WARC, Mr Web and Research Live.

A Year in Figures

Before Covid-19, uncertainty was increasing. The unknown outcome of Brexit, trade disputes and fears about the environment were already slowing down economic growth which was affecting business confidence. With the economic shock of the pandemic, 2020/21 was always going to be a very challenging financial year for MRS.

MRS has a strong asset base, owning four floors of the Old Trading House property in Clerkenwell, London. This provides long-term financial sustainability for the Society but does not necessarily provide the liquidity needed when trading shocks occur, as they did in the 2020/21 financial period.

Overall, MRS’ income decreased by just over 20% compared to the previous year. However, income performance varied considerably across MRS’ products and services.

Membership and the Company Partner Accreditation service became vital for many in a year when practitioners and businesses were looking to MRS to protect their interests - by lobbying government, representing the sector’s needs, and securing as much protection and support as possible.

MRS supported members and Company Partners suffering financial difficulties by offering three month extensions to existing subscriptions and subscription payment plans. This support was utilized by 151 members and overall individual membership income was only 2% less than the previous year. Encouragingly, Company Partner Accreditation income grew by 8%, exceeding over £500k for the first time since it was launched.

Training, awards and commercial events also performed well. All of MRS’ training provision was modified to be delivered virtually, and this change has been welcomed by many new customers. For commercial events, including Impact 2021, the digital format offered the opportunity to explore new ways of delivering content and enabled a wider range of delegates, speakers and contributors, particularly from overseas.

Discretionary services such as advertising and sponsorship were hardest hit. To address the income challenges, MRS undertook a cost reduction exercise. A huge thanks is due to the MRS staff who supported MRS’ decision to temporarily reduce all staff salaries to protect jobs and ensure that MRS could continue to deliver all services, without needing to access the furlough scheme.

Looking forward, the MRS team has moved to a hybrid working model optimising the safe working benefits that the warehouse offices in London provide, whilst enabling staff the flexibility to work more at home. We are resuming some face-to-face activities to maximise opportunities for our stakeholders to connect and network. We will however continue to invest in MRS digital infrastructure to ensure that we leverage the opportunities that online delivery has provided to ensure that we continue to deliver the best for our members, Company Partners and customers.

The following summary of key financial information is extracted from the statutory accounts for the year 2020-21

A copy of the Statutory Report and Accounts, which will be submitted to Companies House, is available to MRS members on request.

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