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Reflections from an “unusual” first year at HRW

15.02.2021

Just over one year into her new role as Global Director at HRW, Sue Rees shares her thoughts and reflections on her first year with the business…

I joined the HRW team in December 2019, just over a year ago – and what a year it has been! Not least, of course, because for most of my time at HRW we have been under the shadow of COVID-19. It is enough of a challenge starting a new role in a business and getting to know all of your colleagues across three offices, but when two months into the process you are hit by a global pandemic and everyone is required to work from home, the experience becomes somewhat harder…

My first reflection on this is that it has shown me just how dynamic and agile HRW is as a company; and also what a connected ‘family’ we really are. Seamlessly moving into Teams calls with video (something we were already doing quite comfortably); quickly adapting our research approaches to suit the changing times; and conducting regular check-ins to “temperature check” the mental health and wellbeing of everyone in the company – whatever their level or role. I very quickly got a sense that this is a company that cares about its people.

Beyond navigating the pandemic, there’s other things about HRW that have surprised me… when you have been in the industry for over 30 years (that makes me feel old!) and worked in a number of high-quality agencies, you expect to see small differences and improvements rather than significant advances. However, what I have witnessed with our in-house behavioural science team, HRW Shift, is something really exciting. It is truly special and unique: whilst BSci has been around a long time and applied to help describe observations from research, our team of experts do offer something a cut above, delivering huge value to our clients by providing them with tangible strategies to change behaviour – not just theory and descriptions of biases, but actions. I have been fortunate enough to have been involved in several Shift projects already and been there to see the genuine excitement and delight from our clients first-hand.

My role at HRW is an interesting one. As part of the senior leadership group, my focus as Global Director is to look at all areas of ‘business opportunity’ within HRW – what are we doing that delights clients and how can we do more of that, more consistently? What are the new directions for the business to grow and how can we apply our innovations to add true value? Delivering on these objectives has been a particularly rewarding part of my work here- challenging ourselves to think differently and innovatively to ensure that we give our clients ‘the best of the best’.

Speaking of innovation, this is another area that has really impressed me at HRW. One of the reasons I joined the company was because I was very aware of all of the awards and accolades I had seen linked with HRW. I loved their attitude that in order to move forwards, you need to be willing to invest in things that may not have an obvious and immediate return on that investment. There is a real culture across the Company of sharing ideas, brainstorming the best solutions and finding what works.  The Innovation Team (and indeed the whole company) are constantly looking for opportunities for self-funded research to try out these new ideas and see if they can add value to what we deliver. We shared some of these at our Innovation Day for clients back in May 2020, with short papers elaborating on elements such as; comparing predictions markets vs traditional approaches for concept testing; looking at the benefits and drawbacks of a range of Neurometric methods; understanding how technology can be more realistic about adherence; and many more. I was impressed by the evident willingness to try a different approach, or something ‘innovative’, and be honest enough to admit if it actually wasn’t adding value to traditional approaches – we don’t believe in innovation for innovations sake!

Interestingly, before I joined HRW I was more aware of their reputation for strong qualitative capabilities and heritage than quantitative expertise. I am happy to say I have been proven wrong on this, and really impressed by our robust suite of quant approaches and expertise. Further, little did I know that our parent group, MMR, is grounded in segmentation: with their own proprietary attitudinal segmentation tool and methodology.  As consumer researchers, they are used to much larger data sets, and have piloted and developed many rigorous statistical tools: so HRW are in the wonderful position of having these tools and data science expertise at our disposal, as well as our own dedicated in-house team. Not to mention our shared video production company, Ideal Insight, who produce creative and engaging visual outputs for our clients. I have learned that there is definitely more scope for further sharing and collaboration across the wider group with expertise in the form of a digital marketing company, brand strategy consulting and more- plus our global presence with offices in Asia, Africa and LATAM in addition to our UK and US hubs. The scope of opportunity is endless, and I am very excited to be part of this journey moving forwards!

By Sue Rees

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