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NFO-MBL to conduct IRS

By , agencyfaqs! | In | August 07, 2001
NFO-MBL, an Interpublic group company and the third largest market research agency in the world, has been signed on for IRS 2002


The IRS (Indian Readership Survey) has a new face - NFO-MBL. Almost a month after agencyfaqs! broke the news that Media Research User's Council (MRUC) and ORG-Marg have parted ways on the IRS, the MRUC has confirmed NFO-MBL India as the new field agency for IRS 2002. "The deal is done. MRUC has signed up with NFO-MBL Research," confirmed Shekar Swamy, spokesperson for the MRUC.

The fieldwork with NFO-MBL starts within the next 60-90 days, added Swamy. There is another new arrangement: Roda Mehta, who has been associated with the IRS since its inception, will act as the project coordinator for IRS 2002. The IRS, ever since its inception, has been conducted by ORG-Marg (ORG before the merger); Mehta's role would be to provide continuity with IRS 2001. The new agency will also be working closely with MRUC's technical committee which is preparing to come out with more product innovations.

NFO-MBL was chosen after an evaluation of four market research agencies by the MRUC, reveals Swamy. "MRUC contacted three other agencies. We were also in continuous discussions with Marg at that time," he recalls. The MRUC evaluated the four agencies on all relevant parameters, including people and commitment. "We reached a conclusion on which everybody was comfortable."

So does NFO-MBL have all the infrastructure required for a survey of the size of the IRS? For a perspective, the IRS is one of India's largest continuous media studies providing a single-source database for demographics, media habits and product/brand usage across the country. The IRS 2001, released in June, for instance, covered an annual sample size of 2.21 lakh, balanced equally over two rounds between January and December 2000. A total of 741 towns and 2,475 villages were surveyed. "The field infrastructure is not so important," replies Swamy. "You must understand that even if you do not have it in the beginning, you can always gear up as you go along. But the more important question to ask is, does it have the commitment and the management support to make it happen?" he adds.

The Bangalore-based NFO-MBL India was started in 1987 as Research and Consultancy Group. Today, it is part of NFO WorldGroup, the $450-million market research company owned by the Interpublic Group. This makes it the third largest custom market research group in the world. NFO WorldGroup operates with 15,000 employees in 65 offices in 40 countries. Its workforce in India comprises a permanent staff of over 180, over 50 research executives across five centers, over 50 field executives working with over 1,000 interviewers across eight centers and over 25 programmers, according to information displayed on its web site.

Under the contract signed with NFO-MBL last week, the two parties will work on the IRS on a revenue-sharing arrangement. NFO-MBL will be paid 85 per cent of receipts of the IRS. "It is effectively the same that we paid to ORG-Marg," says Swamy. agencyfaqs! die-hards would remember, Ashok Das, president, ORG-Marg had raised the issue of IRS economics to justify his agency's decision to move out of the survey (in his interview to agencyfaq! on July 9). "We have never made money on the IRS in any single year," Das had claimed. "We did quite well on sales this year (2001), for instance, but we still made losses." Das blamed both the nature of the IRS contract and the inability of the market to support two large surveys (including NRS) for this.

Swamy does not counter ORG-Marg's claim directly. "They worked on this arrangement for five years. They have obviously examined it and decided not to pursue it for 2002, which has required MRUC to make other arrangements," he says matter-of-factly. But Swamy puts forth his facts. "In 2000, the IRS earned gross revenues of Rs 3.65 crore, of which Rs 3.2 crore were given to ORG-Marg," he says. "This is the highest we have ever reached in all these years." While NFO-MBL can look forward to similar revenues, Swamy is bullish on raising the figure. "With new products planned, we hope to better this figure."

While ORG-Marg's exit is surely unfortunate, it is unlikely to drastically affect the quality of the survey. The IRS has always been managed by the MRUC, which was formed in 1994 as a non-profit body of advertising, media and marketing professionals to address the numerous complaints received from NRS users. It is perceived as a front-runner in features like continuous reporting across the year, the increase in rural representation in readership studies, and the like. Mehta's personal involvement this year, and MRUC's commitment to innovate, should add more weight to NFO-MBL's endeavours.

Swamy claims that the IRS has become the most widely used research product in India. "Nearly 100 companies subscribe to more than 500 products from the IRS," he says. "Of this, there are 35-40 ad agencies, 35-40 media houses and the balance is made up of large advertisers like Levers, P&G, Colgate, Dabur." The NRS, on the other hand, managed by the National Readership Studies Council, was bought by 24 agencies last year, according to the ABC.

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