This letter from Jane Frost, CEO of MRS, was sent on 19 March 2020.

Find out how else MRS is supporting members and the research sector in the coming weeks.

Dear Sir,

The Social & Market Research Industry and Covid 19

As the CEO of this industry’s professional body, I am writing to advise you of the immediate and potentially catastrophic impact that the current crisis is having on one of the few truly world leading sectors possessed by the UK.

  • The industry has a GVA of greater than £5bn currently
  • Over 1/3 of the value of the sector is export business
  • The sector employs c.73,000 ftes; it is an agile business with a significant number of zero hours staff and self-employed professionals who have to be highly qualified to deliver important research such as the British Crime Survey
  • The industry is overwhelmingly composed of SMEs
  • Much of the work of the sector is short term project based and the sector was already suffering from commissioning uncertainty as a result of Brexit.

This week we advised all accredited companies and individuals to stop face to face work. This advice is based on an assessment of the health and safety of the research work force and the public acceptability of continuing face to face research programmes.

The industry mirrors the entertainment/hospitality sector in its reliance on face to face working and the speed with which commissions can be turned off and work dries up almost overnight for some businesses.

Many research companies will find themselves having committed to start projects, paid the start-up costs and are then reliant on extremely slow re-payment from commissioning clients. They do not have the cash flow resilience to cope with the impact on this.

The majority of companies we have consulted reports that clients have already stopped commissioning or have cancelled programmes already commissioned.  The worst effect is on the predominantly SME companies in the qualitative research sector (covering such disciplines as focus groups, ethnographic and neuro -insight projects) and all field interviewers conducting surveys which require face to face contact (such as the British Crime Survey).

We welcome the initiatives already announced by you, but the sector needs:

1) Extension of measures announced to support hospitality and leisure industries to cover our face to face businesses

2) A consideration of continuing support for SMEs in our sector post the crisis. Unlike the entertainment and leisure industries, where demand can return rapidly, in our sector we are entirely dependent on the slower return of business confidence and projects can take up to 3 months to re- commission

3) Further support for training, particularly for field force workers. If there is a hiatus in the recommissioning of surveys, then many of these highly skilled workers will take alternative employment available. If we lose qualified staff, the sector’s ability to deliver large scale social research so frequently needed by government will be compromised. 

Sir, our industry is the most successful market and social research sector in the world. We generate more per capita revenue than all other countries including the USA. The sector is the world leader in training and qualifications as well as publications.

The research industry listens to British citizens and relays their attitudes, opinions and behaviours to those in power – government. Now, more than ever, we need to understand all segments of British society in order to ensure that as a society we emerge well from this crisis.  In order to do this, we need your help to protect the research industry to continue to be the ear and voice of the nation.

It needs all the help it can get from you to survive in the current environment, let alone retain its world leading status.

Yours faithfully


Jane Frost, CBE

Chief Executive Officer
Market Research Society



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