Research in the Palm Pilot of your hand

Mar 4, 2002  •  Post A Comment

A new company just formed by two “decision science” veterans proposes to free advertisers and TV stations that want to measure the preferences of their consumers and audiences from the traditional reliance on hard-wired theaters and focus rooms.
The company, Currie Jennings, is the latest example of how high-tech is changing everything from how new advertising creatives are measured to how new TV pilots are constructed.
CJ’s research hardware includes Palm Pilots with consumer-questionnaire software embedded and a portable dials system that allows researchers to measure real-time responses from people outside the customary venues in the traditional media centers. CJ intends to hand out its Palm Pilots to younger PDA-literate consumers in such gathering places as malls or concerts so they can more readily answer survey questions and express their opinions on new programs and commercials.
However, Currie Jennings’ first research offerings to prospective clients include individual TV market reports on the effectiveness of station sales forces from the perspective of the advertisers who buy time in each market. Other reports include in-depth individual top-50 market studies of local news. So far, the local news studies have been conducted in Minneapolis and New York City.
In-depth study
The sales-force-effectiveness study has so far been conducted only in Raleigh-Durham, N.C. That survey, on CJ’s Palm Pilots, interviewed local time buyers-not only about their own requirements but about their opinions of local stations’ sales reps as well. Respondents were asked to rate their primary sales contacts at each of the market’s six largest stations in specific categories designed to determine if the sales reps priced their avails realistically and were well informed about their own product and the competition. It also asked if reps were “good negotiators,” “numbers-oriented,” “professional” or “sophisticated” and so forth.
CJ’s real-time portable remote instantaneous-reaction dial system is much like the dial systems that have been in place for decades at facilities such as the famed ASI Preview House that once dominated audience research in Hollywood, where Jon Currie, one of CJ’s founding partners, was a director of research. Unlike theater-based systems, CJ’s system is completely portable and can be set up almost anywhere. So far, CJ has used it on the road to test a TV pilot that was subsequently “tweaked” on the basis of the research data gathered, said Michelle Jennings, the company’s other founding partner and the former chief operating officer of Jones-MediaAmerica Interactive.
The problem with traditional L.A.-based audience and consumer measurements, Mr. Currie said, is that “everybody in L.A. is in the freaking business!” Conducting a focus group there is apt to garner responses like, “Gee, I could have done much better on the graphics package,” or “You ought to speak to my agent and we can fix up the music,” Mr. Currie said.
“The big question I would have for Jon is, is his insurance paid up?” said John Bowman, executive VP, group planning director at D’Arcy, joking about what would happen to CJ’s personal digital assistants after they were handed out to young people.
It makes good sense
But both the PDAs and the portable dials do “make good sense,” he said. “These are new technology ways of doing what we’ve always done. … If you want to know how the average person living somewhere in the middle of the country feels, you’ve got to go to them. Unleashing the method from the cord that sticks you in a theater makes sense.”
CJ’s 286-table, $25,000 report on New York news stations and personalities was conducted the first week of February. Some information found in CJ’s report: WABC-TV was the New York station that most respondents (24 percent) said they turn to in a crisis or emergency, followed by WNBC-TV (19 percent), WCBS-TV (10 percent) and WNYW-TV, New York’s Fox station (6 percent).