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Collins Holsters Effective Interviewing Technique

Jul 9, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Everyone in research knows that if you carry a gun, you’re more likely to get your questions answered.
Well, maybe only those who spent their early years policing the dangerous streets of Belfast.
And that may mean only Jackson Collins, who joined PHD as associate director for account planning about six months ago.
A key to account planning and research in general is being able to get useful answers from consumers.
“When I first started interviewing people, I did it carrying a sidearm, which is one way of encouraging people to tell you the truth,” Mr. Collins observed.
But now, even rough talk is out.
He used to explain to focus groups that one effective police interviewing technique was to punch people above the hairline because the bruises don’t show. A client caught that act once and he had to stop.
The client said, “Those were some of our best customers you were talking to, and I’d rather you didn’t talk to them that way,” Mr. Collins recalled.
Mr. Collins said market research in some ways is like police work.
“As a researcher and a planner here, your raison d’etre is to investigate, find out what makes things tick and put together a coherent and compelling story, be it for media buyers, media planners,” he said. “And in a lot of ways, there’s no better grounding than having to talk to people who are somewhat reluctant at times to tell you the truth, be they suspects or be they witnesses. And then putting all that together, evaluating the evidence that’s in front of you and then presenting a case … with a recommendation as to whether to prosecute or not to prosecute.”
But the marketing business is a whole lot safer than life as a policeman, particularly in Belfast during the “troubles,” when he was shot at once, bombed twice and wound up in the middle of a riot.
The riot started when Mr. Collins was manning a checkpoint in the city, and the Loyalists were hijacking cars nearby. He thought it would be a good idea to ask them to stop.
“It was just me and eight solders,” he said. “I was the only one with a baton, and the rest of them had rifles. So if they came at us, things could have gotten a little awkward, but they didn’t,” because the equivalent of the riot police arrived to settle things down.
“When you’re young enough, you don’t necessarily appreciate the gravity of the situation, which is in some ways a good thing,” he said.
Mr. Collins, who was brought up in Belfast, said that as a youth he watched too much TV and paid way too much attention to the commercials.
“If you would say, ‘By using this deodorant, you would become super-sexy,’ I’d be the first person going to the drugstore the following day to buy that deodorant,” he said. “And to an extent that sense has never left me, much to the chagrin of my New York-born and -raised wife. I think between the pair of us, we’ll raise good kids.”
He attended Oxford University in England, where he studied politics, economics and philosophy. He considered coming to the U.S. to pursue a Ph.D. in political science, but the funding wasn’t there.
Instead, he took a job at an aerospace company cranking out sheets of metal for wings and engine casings.
“That scares the bejesus out of my wife when I mention it to her every time we get on a plane,” he said.
Then he decided to do his bit for Northern Ireland, getting some civilian policing experience in England and then returning to Belfast. As much as the danger, it was the paperwork that made him give up policing, he said.
He went back to the career office at Oxford and was told his interest in finding out what makes people tick would make him an excellent candidate for the market research business, which he thought was “people haranguing you and harassing you with clipboards.”
Mr. Collins got a job working for a small startup focused on the habits of students and recent graduates. He had moved up through a series of ever-larger research firms and then switched to a branding consultancy when a headhunter called.
He’d heard from the same headhunter two years earlier, but turned down a job offer in Dubai by saying, “I really don’t want to go there, if you don’t mind, but if you have an opportunity for a job in the States, I’ll bite your hand off, I’ll take it.”
The new offer was to work for a company that is now part of research company Synovate in the U.S. that was looking for British executives to do international market research. He worked for clients including State Street Bank in Boston.
After about 10 months, someone from State Street’s ad agency, Allen & Gerritsen in Watertown, Mass., called. He asked if the agency was going to offer him another project. Instead, it was asking him to set up its account planning unit. He’d been recommended by the client as the guy to do it.
“Clearly they didn’t know me that well,” he said. “And of course Allen & Gerritsen, being a good advertising agency, said yes, absolutely.”
While in the Boston area, Mr. Collins met his future wife. It turned out he had met her brother in 1988.
When Mr. Collins asked why it had taken him 16 years to introduce them, the brother said, “‘I did it for your sake, not for hers,’” Mr. Collins said. His future brother-in-law approved the engagement after a long, buggy hike, saying, “I’m very happy for you, but I want you to know I want none of the credit, I want none of the blame.”
After three years, Mr. Collins had nothing but business holding him in Boston and his wife had family in New York, so a move was in order. Mr. Collins also wanted to get his hands on some larger accounts.
He was recruited by Grey Advertising and spent about three years there. He enjoyed working there, but started getting interesting calls from a number of other ad agencies, large and small. Then out of the blue came a call from PHD, a media agency.
“The more I thought about it and the more conversations I had with people, the more sense it made to have account planners or something like account planners at a media agency,” he said. “We’re spending all this time and effort to understand what makes the consumer tick with regards to creating the content of the message. But it’s just as important to make sure that you’re delivering the message in the right manner at the right time.”
Since joining PHD, Mr. Collins has worked on a number of projects, including new business pitches. Among those projects was promoting Discovery Channel’s “Planet Earth” series.
The idea behind the program was “Earthlings, meet Earth,” and the agency found media executions designed to drive home the point that viewers would experience the planet in ways they’d never experienced it before, including high-definition displays, cinema advertising and Bluetooth applications that allowed consumers to download material about the show.
“At PHD, we’re smart thinkers, but we’re also smart deliverers,” he said.
Mr. Collins and his wife, Catherine, have two sons, 3½ and 2½. The elder is named Jackson after him, the younger is named Dylan. He enjoys spending time with them, but when they misbehave, he becomes “American Dad.”
“Boy, they do not like my American accent. Nor does my wife,” he said.
Mr. Collins is a runner, but he recently decided it would be good for his sons to someday learn another outdoor sport, so he took up sailing. Figuring it would be helpful to have a slight advantage on the kids, he decided to start lessons this summer. So far, the results have been mixed.
“I capsized the boat once in four outings,” he said. Then he needed help righting his boat, because he hadn’t paid attention during that part of the class.
Mr. Collins said his wife thought he was particularly stupid for having a cell phone in his pocket at the time.
“I had it in a Ziploc bag, but I find Ziploc bags aren’t necessarily waterproof,” he said.
Who Knew: Mr. Collins’ first job in marketing research was promoting cans of Guinness and banana-flavored condoms to university students. “I was very popular,” he said, pointing out that the U.K. drinking age was 18 at the time.

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