IPA event showcases AMSR

A prestigious event held at the IPA in Belgrave Square on 29 January highlighted the success story of the Archive and its achievements since its inception. In addition to the speeches, attendees were able to see live online demonstrations of the Archive website and search the ever-growing material now available.

Adam Phillips, Chairman of the Executive Committee, pointed out, “We have collected over 750 books and 2600 other documents which together take up 30 metres of shelf space at the History of Advertising Trust archive store in Raveningham.  Peter Cooper’s papers and the CRAM archives, amounting to 3000 reports, are being scanned and we have just reached an agreement with Kantar Media to take over the TGI volumes dating from 1981-2004”.

“We believe social history is the principal long-term opportunity for AMSR. The industry does not retain material for more than 5-10 years because it has virtually no commercial value, but after 20 years some of it starts to become historically useful. We need to try to find and preserve as much useful historical material from the 1950s onward, particularly qualitative research”.

Professor Patrick Barwise, a Trustee of AMSR, pointed out, “Because there are historians around the world, especially the English-speaking world, interested in post-war British social and cultural history, and because the long-term aim is to make the Archive a hub for other sources, we may eventually be able to generate subscription revenue from overseas, although the short-term focus will be on British universities”.

Liz Nelson, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, welcomed the audience and thanked all those who had contributed to its tremendous progress since our last event, particularly the enthusiastic volunteer team of scanners and cataloguers, headed by Pam Walker. AMSR is also extremely grateful to the immense amount of support it has received from Ipsos MORI in providing space for scanning, cataloguing and meetings and unstinting help from staff in the office. She urged people to go through their attics and garages for books and reports they no longer used and to donate these to the Archive.

Liz appealed for more volunteers, for scanning and cataloguing and for help in marketing. She commented that researchers love working with other researchers – they are tenacious and curious and enjoy interactions of people and ideas.

Archive update

Adam Phillips, Chairman of the Executive Committee, pointed out that since our last Event at the IPA 14 months ago in November 2017, a lot has happened at AMSR.

We acquired charitable status in April 2016. We have almost doubled in size and now have 40 volunteers working together on a regular basis, plus one part time paid person, Gill Wareing, who handles our administration.

As we announced at our last meeting, we decided to try to make as much of our collection as possible available online. To this end we set up a volunteer scanning operation at the offices with the kind help of Network Research. They gave us a great deal of support in the early stages of our development. We soon found that we needed more space and in June 2017 we moved to larger offices very generously provided by Ipsos MORI in Harrow. That enabled us to step up our scanning operation by adding a second flatbed scanner which was donated by Geoffrey Roughton. So far, the scanning volunteers have scanned 44,000 pages most of which are available in the online archive.

Our standard policy is to scan all documents that meet our collection policy, unless they are books. In the case of most books, we only scan the title and contents pages. All this material is then transferred to HAT for long-term storage.

Our structure is relatively straightforward. We have a Board of 12 Trustees who set the strategic direction of the Archive. The work of running the Archive is organised through four Committees: Contents; Marketing and Fundraising; Finance and Governance. These are guided by an Executive Committee, meeting monthly, made up of the Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen of the four Committees.  Contents and Marketing are the two largest committees and each has several subsidiary teams. In the case of Contents: Social Research, Qualitative Research, Geodemographics and Scanning and cataloguing, and in the case of Marketing: PR and social media; Fundraising and Research.

Vision

Our vision for AMSR is:

“To build awareness of the contribution of the social and market research industry to society, business and human understanding – in the past, present and future – thereby enhancing the reputation and status of the industry”.

Our intention is that AMSR will be a living archive, providing rich and searchable trend data and commentary, regularly updated and accumulated over many decades.  It should be an inspiring source of insight for those seeking to explore the dynamics of change in the past, the patterns of change in the present and the direction of change for the future.

In the medium term, the Archive aims to become the ‘go-to place’ for people wanting to find out about what the Market and Social Research industry has learned. Where AMSR does not have the information, we plan to act as a hub to guide enquirers to other places where they may be able to find what they want.

In the short term we do not have the resources to provide much in the way of personal guidance, but a lot can be done by automation.

Since we last met, we have carried out more research on our sector and decided that there are three obvious areas of opportunity for AMSR. In order of priority, these are: Social history; The history of market and social research and Training material for anyone interested in learning the techniques of market and social research.

If the Archive is to have any value it needs to be used. That requires a website that is easy to navigate and which is visited by large numbers of users. Since last summer we have had a website that is attractive and easy to use. Building traffic to it is the main project for this year. We are still learning how to make searching the online archive intuitive and easy. This is also a high priority for the coming year.

Attracting traffic to our website is the job of the PR team. They only started work in November, and it will take some time for them to build followers and get the message out that the AMSR site is worthwhile. If you are on social media, please re-tweet our tweets and promote our LinkedIn site to your friends and followers.

It is too early to assess the impact of our publicity activities. However, it is interesting to note that of the 300 or so new visitors we get each month about a third come from outside the UK and about a quarter are in the age range 25-34. The most popular topic over the last three months has been the changing face of our eating habits

AMSR costs around £30,000 a year to run. Slightly more than half of these costs are for storage of paper records and for maintenance of the online archive and website. These are costs for which we have to make long-term contractual commitments. About a third is spent on collecting material and fundraising and a little over 10% goes on admin. AMSR was established as a charity 3 years ago. Since then we have raised over £80,000 thanks to the generosity of our supporters and we have reserves of over £40,000.

We need to continue to expand the archive by collecting as much material as possible before it is lost. We also need to grow the number of people using the Archive. Until now our income has exceeded our costs. However, in the coming year we expect our income to be lower as some of the initial setting-up pledges of support expire. We hope that those who have made three-year pledges will commit to continuing their support, but we cannot rely on that and we expect to have to draw on our reserves. If we cannot bring our income and expenditure into balance by the end of this year, we will need to significantly cut back or postpone some of our plans for the future.

We are planning to apply for grants from bodies like the Heritage Lottery Fund and educational trusts to cover the cost of specific projects, such as digitising Peter Cooper’s papers or preserving the early volumes of the TGI, but most grant-giving bodies do not provide funds for ongoing running costs. In the medium term we expect the academic sector to contribute to the running costs via library subscriptions and direct grants. But, in the short term we will have to continue to rely on the generosity of companies and individuals who support our aims and objectives.

Adam closed with the hope of persuading the audience that this is a worthwhile project and that they will help AMSR to raise the money needed to carry it forward into the future.

Discussion from the floor

Adam responded to several questions from the floor:

Q. What happens to social trends material?

A. We see our operation as complementary to the collection at the UK Data Archive at the University of Essex. They hold a vast amount of raw data on social research; most of our material is in the form of books and reports.

A lot of thinking about research was done at RBL and Unilever and we still hope to get hold of this material.

Q. Is the Archive storing paper as well as being online?

A. At the moment we are committed to keeping paper records, which are held in archival conditions at HAT. Archivists appear to want ‘real’ paper. Long-term we expect to have all our material on-line.

A social historian from the floor stressed that historical researchers now want all material online.

Adam commented that we are still in the process of ‘catch-up’. We had thought we could collect all relevant material in five years. Part of the problem is that so many valuable documents have been thrown away in mergers and office moves. We also have a problem with ‘gatekeepers’ of material who for some reason are reluctant to let the Archive have it. This is a problem Adam is sure we can overcome.

Keynote speaker, Rory Sutherland highlights the need for ‘chronological context’

The keynote speech was given by Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman of the Ogilvy Group UK. He has recently presented a series of talks on Radio 4 that challenge established thinking on a number of issues. He is a regular contributor to The Spectator, with his popular ‘Wiki Man’ column.

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Rory stressed how, in today’s incredibly short time horizons, looking back is so important. He had thought he was speaking at the Event as a favour to friends. He found, however, that every piece in the Archive collection is a potential Spectator article. He also came partly out of his curiosity in social history – in 1959 his family was the fourth in Wales to own a dishwasher.

Rory is a classicist by background. Broadly speaking classicists study a bunch of people far removed from themselves and come to realise that some things change and some things don’t change at all.  It seems disastrous that only five years worth of research should be kept. What happens in five years is merely noise not a signal about behaviour. If you really want to know what’s happening, you go back 100 years or so and see what patterns have been repeated and what patterns change.

He stressed the importance of the Archive, particularly for an industry with a short-term memory.  Most of the people working in advertising are very young and cannot see things in a chronological context. The advertising industry is at present hiring people who do not remember 9/11. They have no sense of the past and many believe the opinions of older people are invalidated by their age. The rules have been changed by a couple of extra media.  Everybody understands things in a particular context. Rory argued that those over 50 acquire a superpower and tend to move in the right direction. They have their entire lives to draw on and can see things in context.  The same behaviour to a 25-year old would be ‘I can’t believe it’s happening’– they find it horrendous that it even exists.  If you are young, you see what is; as you get older you see the similarities, echoing the past. The same behaviour encounters different reactions according to the chronological context.

Rory pointed out that people, seeing a picture of Cleopatra in front of a pyramid, don’t realise that she is closer to us in time than the pyramids were to the Egyptians of her period,

Rory reflected that the telescoping of time is fascinating. Thinking about the launch of a new product, he realised that that there was a period when if you bought a house, you also had to buy domestic electricity. He also recounted his father’s purchase of a vacuum cleaner in the mid-50s. On arriving home, he found a man from Hoover already there, anxious to know how he was getting on with his new appliance. This was a period when appliances were expensive, but labour was cheap.

People’s psychology – how they think and their revealed preferences – are found in studies of consumer behaviour. All technological evangelists imagine far wider uses for their technologies than are adopted by consumers in reality.  Rory commented on the benefits of the electric kettle which manufacturers like Morphy Richards and Russell Hobbs – the Silicon Valley of England in their time – envisaged.

And he is completely baffled by the utter failure of the industry to adopt video conferencing.

We have to differentiate the signals from the noise. Looking at the patterns of technological adoption the most likely signals are to be found 40 or 50 years in the past and the Archive will be the place to find these patterns and understand the signals.

Future direction

Rounding up the proceedings Professor Patrick Barwise echoed Adam and Liz’s thanks to the volunteers, to Network Research for giving us the space and facilities to get started and then Ipsos MORI for enabling to expand the operation, and of course,  all those who have given financial support to get us to this point.

What’s been achieved in such a short time is quite astonishing. So far, it’s all been based on faith, hope and charity – but we’re now getting closer to the point where the Archive becomes self-sustaining.

In the long term, it should be a valuable commercial resource, mainly by helping marketers, planners and researchers put marketing decisions into a longer, broader, richer and more strategic market context. That’s exactly what data analytics can’t do. So this is, among other things, a strategic project for the market research industry, although this commercial benefit will take time to emerge.

Meanwhile, our research suggests that the archive has significant and immediate potential value to historians interested in the social and cultural history of Britain since the 1950s.

If we can start getting them to use it for research and teaching this year, that will open up both funding and publicity opportunities.

The long-term aim is to reach – or get as close as possible to – a point where university libraries subscribe to the Archive and the subscription revenue is enough to cover the cost of maintaining and developing it.

To get to the point where the Archive is fully funded by subscriptions from libraries and – eventually – commercial sources, we need continuing financial support from our friends – that’s you.

We aim to supplement your support, as soon as we can, with grants from public funding bodies like the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Social Science Research Council and the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The first step for all this is to start talking one-to-one to some relevant historians, showing them how to access and navigate the Archive and using it in anger for a current research paper or for teaching. That will also help us understand which parts of the Archive they find most useful and how to improve the user interface for this market.

They should also be able to help us find other historians likely to be interested in using the Archive. Once they start presenting their research at conferences and seminars, news will spread within that community and, before too long, we should also be able to generate some publicity more widely.

The sooner we can make this happen, the better, so this is an immediate task.

Paddy commented, “We’re looking for one or two volunteers to help us locate and then talk to the right historians. If that’s of interest to anyone here, or anyone you know, please come and talk to me or one of the other trustees”.

Meanwhile, we do still need your financial support.  We’ve managed our resources extremely carefully and, as Adam has said, we have reserves we can draw on to see us through the next year or so if we prioritise carefully. But it will be much more efficient if we have a clear sight of continuing pledged income.

None of us knows how long it will take to get to the point where the usage by historians and others – agency planners, journalists, etc – is enough to generate the grant and subscription revenue we need to cover our costs.

But the existing pledges and reserves won’t be enough to get us there.

“So”, Paddy concluded, “if you’ve already supported us – please support us again!

And if you haven’t yet done so, now is the time!

I think the Archive is going to be an important resource for many people, probably in unexpected as well as expected ways. We are in the process of discovery and we don’t know where we shall be when”.