Interview with Helen Rose - This month's MRS Analytics Spotlight
Authored by Sam Barton, Head of Audience & Effectiveness at Bountiful Cow, and a member of the MRS Data Analytics Council.


Helen Rose leads the Insight, Analytics, and Data & Tech teams at the7stars, the UK’s largest independent media planning & buying agency. Starting in market research, Helen’s career has coincided with the increasing convergence of analytics & research.

In fact, Helen is a pioneer in this space, having designed and implemented the merging of several research and data-focused teams at the7stars to land in her current role.

Here, Helen tells us why she’s such a proponent of the disciplines working closer together, the benefits, and challenges. 

What attracted you to work in market research?

A natural curiosity for people and places. I did a human Geography degree which is actually perfect groundwork for a career in applying insight and data.

How did you start in the market research industry?

My very first job in market research was as a mystery shopper.  I visited pubs across London to take the temperature of pints of Guinness – the original hypothesis & outcomes led to the launch of Guinness Extra Cold.   I got paid for each pub I visited so my aim was to get around as many as possible from the moment the first ones opened… I’d get sent a list of pubs and I’d use a London AtoZ map book (this was pre-Google maps!) to navigate my way across the city to visit as many pubs as I could.  I got quite a few funny looks turning up at 11am at a pub to order a pint of Guinness… and even got chucked out of one of them when I got my thermometer out!  Looking back, it was a pretty cool entry to the industry, I met some interesting characters and had a lot of fun doing it.

What's the role of data analytics or data science for research purposes within your company?

Of course I would say this, but it’s fundamental.  We took the decision back in 2018 to unite what were then seen as separate ‘research’ and ‘data’ teams – we created a combined team of insight and analytics experts which comprised a breadth of expertise from qual and quant researchers through to econometricians and data scientists.  It was truly differentiating to approach a client challenge or brief with a combined lens of how insight and data could provide a solution.  And it remains true today.   We continue to innovate with new ways for analytics and insight to complement – whether it’s in product development, activating audiences in media, or evaluating the return on a client’s marketing investment.   

Have you seen a shift in the nature of market research during your career?

Yes, happy to say that I think it’s become a more highly valued output, and as a result is more business critical in the decision making it can influence.   In the earlier days of my career, it wasn’t uncommon for research to be an afterthought or used to validate and post-rationalise existing thinking, which was really frustrating.   At a time of ever-increasing volumes of research and data, applying analytics and finding the true insight has never been more important.  

I’m also proud to say that at the7stars the insight and data teams are seen as a central hub of the agency, collaborating with every team from strategy to planning and activation.   We all share the philosophy that the application of brilliant insight or data can be truly game changing in the way we might work with a client, use research data to leverage competitive advantage, and of course demonstrate business impact. 

How do you see advanced data analytics (and perhaps even machine learning / AI) impacting your business in the future?

We’re already embracing it!   We’ve been testing out new methodologies and trialing ways that we can apply advanced analytics or AI for smarter business outcomes.  For me, it’s what makes our industry such a great one to work in – innovation and change are constant.

An obvious benefit we’re already seeing is liberating time spent on the more manual or laborious parts of a role to enable greater time spent finding and strategically applying insights.  But there’s also more nuanced outcomes, such as identifying the role for AI in qual research where sensitive topics can be tackled in a different way to navigate claimed behaviours in research.

Why is it important research uses data analytics/ science in your opinion?

Research is truly powerful when it’s directional and actionable – applying analytical techniques and skillsets to effectively find those recommendations from data is an obvious and complementary way to work.  

Have the research questions that your clients bring to you changed over time? How have the solutions changed?

The focus remains on finding a truth or insight - whether that’s consumers, categories or in culture.  I don’t think that’s changed. 

The move away from using demographics and life stage as a method for defining audiences is a positive one, with attitudes and behaviours providing much more intuitive and insightful solutions to better understand consumer actions. Although, despite this, the industry’s fascination with understanding youth is the same as ever before – the focus just moves on to the newest generation!   But we do have better solutions to help unpick the diversity of a generation, and truly understand them – whether it’s agile research techniques that provide speed of response or implicit research methodologies that complement more traditional qual and quant.

How is your business using 1st party data for research/insight purposes?

We’re increasingly working with clients to unlock the value of their 1st party data, especially where customer data has traditionally been stored in a siloed environment.  We take a holistic approach to connect 1st party data so that we can enrich it with additional data sources and activate against audience segments.  For our clients, it’s already proven to not only highlight the opportunities to mine a rich data source, but it is also commercially powerful in driving incrementality.

What are some successes and challenges you've encountered working across both an insight function and a data function?

Insight and data are highly complementary, not just in the value they add to each other in terms of methodologies and skillsets, but also the people that collaborate in the team.  The breadth and depth of experience creates an environment where individuals can learn from each other, broaden their own expertise, and truly thrive at their chosen specialism.  In an industry where the talent and enthusiasm of our people can be what sets us apart, that’s super important. 

Author - Sam Barton, Head of Audience & Effectiveness at Bountiful Cow, and a member of the MRS Data Analytics Council.

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