CEO & President Member Newsletters
2021, A Year of Resilience
Reflections from the ARF CEO, Scott McDonald, Ph.D.
Happy New Year! I hope this finds you well, rested and ready to tackle the challenges of the year ahead.
As I look back on the year that just passed, I marvel at the adaptability and resilience of so many ARF members. Since we at the ARF field a lot of member questions, we sometimes get visibility into the kinds of problems that are surfacing in business, well before they get noticed by the press or become the subject of policy debate. Queries from you gave us a heads-up on what were the emerging issues of 2021. Research and analytics departments that previously had focused mostly on brand messaging, media planning, digital marketing or product development were increasingly tapped to help their companies manage all kinds of new disruptions. We started fielding questions on approaches to studying the starts and stops of retail markets across the globe. How can scenario planning improve agility in adjusting to change? How are companies restoring the predictive validity of their market-mix and forecasting models after radical disruption and a year of “outlier observations”? Way back in Q1, well before inflation became a part of the national conversation, we started getting questions about inflation’s impact on production costs and its eventual impact on pricing strategy.
None of this is terribly surprising since research and analytics departments typically work on whatever are the emerging problems at companies, and many of the questions addressed to us in 2021 strayed far from the presumably narrow subjects of “advertising research”. Fortunately, the ARF had been covering those beats for quite a while as the worlds of “marketing” and “advertising” had increasingly merged over the preceding decades – driven in part by the digitization of everything and the increasing availability of data to enable a fuller view of customer experience and touchpoints. And, of course, the ARF’s merger with the Marketing Science Institute (MSI) at the beginning of 2021 vastly amplified our ability to help members tackle questions well beyond the confines of advertising.
One of the premises of the ARF’s combination with MSI was the development of a more comprehensive assessment of member needs. To that end, we will field to members later this month a detailed survey asking for your input on our research priorities. This will update and extend a similar survey fielded in 2018, and this new edition will guide and shape our future plans. Please keep an eye out for this survey and give it your considered response.
I am proud of what we have accomplished at the ARF in the past few years. We have refocused on the ARF’s original mission of bringing the discipline and objectivity of science to the practice of marketing and advertising. We have increased the volume of ARF original research and built an in-house data science team to make greater use of data contributed by member companies to address industry-facing subjects. And since the ARF is not the only source of useful empirically-sound information, we have increased our partnering with some member companies and with some other associations to spotlight work that we think deserves member attention. We don’t engage in pay-to-play: we endeavor to bring our members whatever we think will improve the practice of our profession.
We have diversified out of New York City. Even before the pandemic, we endeavored to bring ARF content and experiences to gatherings of members in cities around the U.S., thereby reducing our historic concentration on NYC. Since March 2020, we have done most things virtually which, for all of the format’s limitations, has accelerated this geographic diversification, allowing us to engage members everywhere. Participation in our programs, Councils and workstreams now includes folks chiming in from distant time zones in Europe, Asia and Australia.
Our member retention has remained strong even as we have grown. In addition to the windfall of new members who joined early last year via MSI, we also welcomed many new companies to the ARF later in 2021 – including such marquee names as Target, TikTok, Salesforce, Best Buy, Bed Bath and Beyond, and Leo Burnett.
Speaking of growth, our CIMM subsidiary has more than doubled its membership since joining the ARF in 2018. CIMM, focused on the critical but highly specialized innovations for measurement of “converged TV”, will see a changing of the guard this year as Jane Clarke retires and Jon Watts joins the team as the new Managing Director.
And I am especially proud of the new initiatives that took off in 2021:
- ARF WIDE (Workforce Initiative for Diversity & Excellence) got started in January. By year’s end we had funded 30 ARF WIDE Scholars at four partner public universities, placed summer interns at numerous member companies and brought forth a great network of mentors to give this next generation of insights and analytics professionals a window into our fascinating field of work.
- In the fall we announced the launch of the ARF Certificate in Marketing Optimization and Insights, in partnership with the NYU School of Professional Studies. This in-service training curriculum fills a need identified by members for better ways of rewarding and retaining promising employees through education and upskilling. It marries the best of “canonical” research techniques with the newest approaches enabled by behavioral measurement and “Big Data”. The curriculum was developed by workstream teams recruited from the ARF Board of Trustees and it aims to be rigorous, relevant and relentlessly applied. The inaugural “Foundations” course (all virtual, with both asynchronous and live elements) launches on January 31 with over 40 students enrolled – all from ARF member companies, but hailing from such diverse locations as Switzerland and India.
I could go on, but I won’t. Let’s just say that, like its members, the ARF has not been sitting still during the pandemic. Challenging times call us to stretch ourselves, learn new things, try harder. If we want to be hopeful, we need to DO hopeful things. I hope that YOU will take advantage of your ARF affiliation and get involved in at least one of our many initiatives in this new year.
With all best wishes for a happy, healthy and productive 2022,