Are you interested in a market research career, or perhaps looking to further your current one? Then it may be time to join a professional association.
Just as travel agents can tell you all the best places (and the places to avoid) in an unfamiliar city, there are times when it’s extremely helpful to have the guidance of someone who’s already been where you’re going. That’s where associations enter the picture, and they offer some truly key benefits:
1. Networking — Once you’re a member of an association you’ll have plenty of opportunities to interact and network with your peers. And networking isn’t just code for “job hunting”; the people you meet will be able to offer peer support, share best practices and even jus answer questions you may have. An association makes you a part of a community of like-minded professionals, often across broad geographic areas.
2. Learning — Associations are also a great resource for training, since professional associations provide a host of online and in-person learning opportunities. Sure, some of them may be sponsored by specific companies with something to sell, but they can still be very useful.
3. Keeping up to date — Joining a professional association can also help you to stay current with what’s going on in the industry. Their publications, newsletters and events let you meet current players, locate suppliers and keep up with hot topics.
There are numerous market research professional associations, but here we’ll focus on the four I’m most familiar with: The Marketing Research Association, ESOMAR, the Counsel of American Survey Research Organizations and the American Marketing Association. Incidentally, most of these organizations offer memberships geared towards students or young professionals, so check the membership pages if cost is a concern.
• Marketing Research Association (MRA) — This is primarily a US-based organization whose ranks include a mix of client and supplier side members. The MRA hosts a number of events each year, including its highly regarded annual conference, and it also publishes Alert! Magazine. The MRA also features local chapters, so you have both national and local events and networking opportunities (I’m a member of the New England chapter). Finally, the MRA plays an advocacy role in legislative issues, assuring that government officials understand legitimate market research applications.
• ESOMAR — This is primarily a European organization, but it has members in over 130 countries, boasts nearly 5,000 members, and is very highly regarded. ESOMAR produces publications and events, and hosts some events outside of Europe. In fact, this fall they have a conference in Atlanta at which I’ll be presenting. ESOMAR is also known for its awards programs, including the highly respected “Young Researcher of the Year” award.
• Counsel of American Survey Research Organizations (CASRO) — Primarily a US-based organization, CASRO has over 300 company members and is very well-known for promoting ethics and professional standards in the market research community. CASRO also conducts several workshops and conferences throughout the United States each year, and has liaison relationships with other international associations. Like the MRA, CASRO is deeply involved in legislative work, adding to the market research industry’s voice in the legislative and regulatory process. It also does a great job of protecting the market research industry’s reputation by raising awareness of scams such as selling under the guise of research.
• The American Marketing Association (AMA) — Within the AMA is a vibrant market research community which includes a great mix of client-side and supplier-side researchers. It also conducts several excellent events each year, including an annual market research conference, as well as the Advanced Research Techniques forum (innovative technology as it applies to market research) which next occurs in Seattle, Washington June 24-27, 2012. In 2011 the AMA started referring to their annual research conference as the research and strategy summit, and the 2012 event will be in Las Vegas in October, 2012.
Specialized or General?
Picking which organizations to affiliate with can be challenging. To help you choose, first decide how focused, or how broad, you’d like the organizations you join to be. While the MRA and AMA cast a fairly wide net in the industry, others — like the Advertising Research Foundation (yes, it is referred to as “ARF”!) and the Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA) — specialize in advertising and qualitative research, respectively. In specific industries you’ll even discover specific groups, like the insurance industry’s Life Insurance Marketing Research Association (LIMRA). Many countries have their own market research professional association as well.
Market research can be a rewarding, fascinating career. But it is an industry undergoing a lot of change, both in terms of players and technology; career success requires keeping up! To help guide you in your travels, a professional association can make all the difference in how much you get out of your career development efforts. There’s definitely no shortage of associations, so it’s just a matter of picking one that fits. Don’t stress about it too much, either. Most of these memberships are annual, so if you join an association and it’s not a good fit, you can always change in year two. Join up, and enjoy the trip!