This time last year, I would be fighting the crowds on the underground, forcing my feet into heels, before walking up on stage to welcome you to a feast of ideas, case studies and skills all packaged up in the annual festival that is Impact, the annual celebration of all things insight and customer.

How many of you still have a season ticket? How many of you remember that thing called a suit or can find their heels, what even is a stage? 

Well, I hope to disrupt all that as I welcome you to an even bigger, even more diverse, even more worldwide jamboree of luminaries, celebrities , provocations and skills demonstrations... as I welcome you to Impact 2021 - a story or stories of transformation and survival.

In this wonderful menu of content that we are offering, we celebrate the excellence of our sector - the contribution it has made to the fight against Covid-19, through its work on the covid tracking surveys, its contribution to public policy and its advice to the C -suite.

It is this quality, this creativity, this dedication of all who work in it which make it a world leading sector in the UK, one worth £7bn.

Seven billion pounds a year - that’s bigger as sector than many other lauded British success stories. And to those of you joining us from the UK, who may still be smarting over a gratuitous piece of criticism from a certain ex-advisor to the Government, Impact 2021 is a complete rebuttal. I only have one personal comment on that incident - two words - Barnard Castle.

Tim Harford famously listed market research as one of the industries that shaped the 20th century. We formally came into existence as a recognized profession in this Soho restaurant 75 years ago.

Yes , its true we are celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Market Research Society!

75 years ago a small group of researchers decided, over their tarte tatin perhaps, that this nascent industry called market research should be properly organized with a professional body. They thought that there might be 25 men who were good enough to be asked to join. It is said that actually they could only agree on 23 in the end.

And so the world’s oldest research society - MRS - was formed.

Today, we have burst out from Soho to welcome companies and individuals around the world in their thousands. We have a board that is 50/50 male and female; a female President in the wonderful Jan Gooding; and a male chair who will talk to you tomorrow about his personal support for our diversity and inclusion campaign. This is our most diverse conference, and it will be all the better for it.

A society that has been graced by a Prime Minister (ex-president of MRS Harold Wilson), cabinet ministers, spies and war heroes, escapees from McCarthism and visionaries of all sorts should celebrate some of the values skills and principles which we as a sector value.

So we decided to look for 25 honorary fellows to mirror the 25 people identified as probably our very first members.

I am delighted to be able to announce the first tranche of anniversary Honorary Fellows , many of whom will be taking to this virtual stage during Impact. So joining our wonderful 70th anniversary honorary fellows, who include Bill Bryson the author, and Margaret Hodge the politician, I am delighted to be welcoming :

  • Professor David Spiegelhalter, a statistician called upon to explain Covid stats so often on TV
  • Dr Camilla Pang, winner of the Royal Society Book Prize ( to which she beat Bill Bryson last year)
  • From the research world we recognize Deborah Mattinson of Britain Thinks, so often the face of Research when current affairs are discussed in the media
  • The business innovator and significant supporter of MRS, John Gambles of Quadrangle .
  • From our colleague associations in America and Australia , Melanie Courtright and Elissa Molloy
  • To celebrate our long association with the Royal Statistical society, director Stian Westlake
  • And from the world of social media David Wilding from Twitter
  • And from advertising Belinda Beeftink of the IPA.

Our history , then is one that reflects the social development of the UK, our work a very real treasure trove for social historians and commentators.

Which is why our archive charity the AMSR is so important . I would be urging you to visit their stand in normal years now I urge you to visit their website, I also urge you in these truly difficult times to remember the MRBA. The past year has been difficult for all of us , but for some in our sector it has been truly horrendous . The MRBA supports them and also provides bursaries for those who may have lost their employment and need to beef up their professional skills.

And so I turn to the team at MRS . I make no apologies for being as proud of them for what they have delivered for you as I am of the sector for what you have delivered for the public good, and for the survival of your clients.

The team at MRS have lobbied, chivvied and exhorted government, written reams upon reams of guidance, answered hundreds of telephone calls provided online advice, turned every one of their training courses online and delivered some amazing virtual events of which Impact 2021 is the culminating glory.

They have done this with good humour, excessive work and insufficient resources. The MRS Main Board has provided support and driven forward our agenda on inclusion and the development of a net zero programme and much more. We have a new recruiter accreditation programme, a growing number of client companies accredited with a serious agenda for the future and this year we will launch amongst other things an apprenticeship scheme.

I know you will join me in thanking every one for their hard work and support.

All keynotes and sessions from Impact 2021 will be available after the conference on demand. You can still buy tickets for the live event here.

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