Q&A With The ARF's Gayle Fuguitt

Gayle Fuguitt, the new CEO of the Advertising Research Foundation, is a prize win for the organization and for the industry at large. This research titan comes from a distinguished 30+ year career at General Mills, where she ascended to officer of research and transformed the market research department to the global consumer insights department, which helped center the focus on actionable insights and analytics to drive growth.

In my interview with Fuguitt, she talks about how the ARF was a natural segue for her, based on her interests and talents. She talks about research trends, consumer behavior and privacy, metrics, Big Data and where television is headed.

Below is an excerpt from the interview, whose videos can viewed here.

CW: How has the role of research changed from when you first started in General Mills to today?

GF: I think that the skills needed to be a successful researcher have changed significantly. In the beginning, project management skills were key. There was a very specific set of projects and we did things in a certain way. We conducted focus groups, product testing and advertising testing in a certain linear order. Today, the best researchers start by listening to both the consumer and to management, matching consumer needs to business decisions that are going to be made. They need to be able to synthesize existing data as they conduct new research. They also need to put it all together and bring it forward against the business decision when the decision is going to be made.



In addition, research used to take six months, or however long it took for a study to be designed, fielded and analyzed. You had to wait to make the decision until the research was ready -- or you made the decision without the research. The best researchers today are able to synthesize the consumer needs and behaviors from “big data” all the way to ethnography, and hit the timing to have an impact on senior management decisions and represent the voice of the consumer at the table.

CW: What is your vision for the ARF?

GF: I am so excited to be here. This is a 76-year-old organization that was created by the ANA and the 4As. We are steeped in tradition, and the tradition of the ARF is to bring original, objective research to the industry that anticipates business needs and responds to questions even before they are asked.

Having worked for an advertiser for so many years, I know that there are certain kinds of research that we didn’t have the time or the money to do, and so the ARF is a service and a support to these efforts.  The ARF goes out and does research on neuro-marketing or on data quality -- for example, that is endorsed by the membership and that can make the research even more valuable. At my first board meeting here, we convened a “mobile meet-up” with our board of directors, and had leaders from Google and Facebook, P&G and Unilever, Viacom and ESPN to identify the biggest challenges and opportunities of consumer needs and behavior around mobile devices: questions like how to measure mobile media consumption, how to conduct research with consumers on mobile, and what makes a good advertisement.  

So we will continue to be about creating and curating original content, but, even more exciting, is our effort to build leadership -- developing opportunities to collaborate by bringing leaders, even competitors, to the table to talk about successes as well as failures that they have had. In this way we can advance growth in the industry.

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