Amy Siadak

President, House of Marketing Research

Let’s face it, when your client reaches out to you at 3:00 a.m. on a Saturday with an urgent request, most rules of civility and etiquette go out the window. Research professionals are constantly dealt the seemingly impossible hand. Whether it’s a short timeline or the needle in a haystack recruit, we understand that you’re under the gun. Luckily, we have a few facility rental and project management tips and tricks to help you plan accordingly, get ahead of the curve and maintain your sanity and manners throughout 2019.

Make contact. In the age of e-mail, it’s not uncommon to plan an entire research study without picking up a phone. However, we highly recommend connecting verbally with any consultants or facilities you may be using for the first time. Having a short introductory call with a potential partner is a great way to gain insight into how the communication with them will transpire throughout the project lifecycle. Also, it may tip the scales when it comes to decision time and determining which partner you might work the best with.

Avoid radio silence. Don’t be afraid to inform a supplier if your goals, timeline or budgetary needs do not match their proposal. Radio silence and avoiding turning down a proposal wastes valuable time for everyone involved and may create confusion or follow-up when it is no longer warranted. Similarly, you can also request a follow-up at a predetermined time (two weeks, next month, etc.)

The early bird gets the facility rental. From the moment you hear a whisper of a study timeline in the wind, reach out to facilities in the desired region. It’s always best to check availability and place holds on facility dates early even if you aren’t ready to secure a rental. It’s free and better to be first in line rather than finding out all the facilities in your selected area are booked during your ideal time. This is especially helpful when trying to complete studies just before a holiday, towards the end of the year or if you are looking to conduct research in a more rural or suburban area with fewer facilities. 

Location, location, location. Does the facility you’re scoping out meet the needs of the observer or the participants? Ideally, you can find a spot that ticks both of those boxes. However, when recruiting for a study it is always important to ask the question, “Will this location be easy for participants to travel to?” If you’re unsure of whether the location is a good fit, speak with someone at the facility and gather feedback based on your needs and the population you are researching. 

Facility guest count. Let your facility know how many clients will attend with enough notice to ensure the proper number of support staff is scheduled to assist and help with a smooth execution of your study. Overestimating is always better than underestimating. In general, providing facilities with as many details as possible is helpful. Knowing the number of observers, estimated time of arrival, estimated time that meals should be served, food restrictions, special diets or any other needs that might arise will help avoid last-minute scrambling. 

Facility code word, “Pineapple!” Trying to keep a study blind? Prior to arriving at your facility, assign a code word to use with hosting staff while checking in, advise your clients to not state the company or organization name when they arrive and avoid wearing branded apparel and accessories sporting your logo. This keeps studies blind and provides a more secure experience.

Don’t let hunger slow you down. When you’re working on a major research study, eating is often the last thing on your mind. However, a full belly goes a long way. Making sure all observers and research staff have an appetizer upon arrival at a facility, or snacks shortly thereafter, enables them to do what they do best – gather insights! Let your facility know that your team would like to order upon arrival or if you prefer to have food ready-to-eat. 

Hungry participants provide poor feedback. The same logic applies to participant meal planning. More often than not, participants are traveling from work, just leaving school, picking up their kids from daycare or pretty much anything besides just eating breakfast, lunch or dinner. Ask the facility to provide snacks, or ideally a full deli tray, for participants while they are waiting for the group to begin. You’ll get more out of the respondents if they are fed and not hangry. 

Time to check in. Advise your participants to arrive at least 20 minutes early. While 20 minutes may seem excessive to some, providing a decent buffer allows time for that pesky accident that held a few people up in traffic, allows respondents to complete a re-screener, non-disclosure agreement and other paperwork and gives a few minutes for that almighty bathroom break before the two-hour discussion begins. Starting a study on time and ending a study on time is a win-win and respects the time of participants and researchers alike. 

Incentivize early arrival with a drawing. Providing cash drawings for those who arrive at least 20 minutes early incentivizes participants to allow sufficient time for travel to the facility and enough time to check in. The typical early arrival drawing consists of one to two drawings, $50.00 drawing per group (depending on group size).

Be mindful of the participant. The delicate tango of recruitment doesn’t stop at writing your screener. Select convenient dates, times and study methodologies that match the profile of your audience. Speaking with new moms? Perhaps an in-person interview is too soon – try an online interview instead. Speaking with first-generation Chinese immigrants who moved to the U.S. within the past two years? Make sure the interviews are conducted in-language and pre-determine if you’ll be conducting interviews in Mandarin, Cantonese or a mix of both.  

On topic. Indicating the topic or client to the facility you are using may be helpful even if they aren’t recruiting or assisting with other aspects of the study outside of the rental experience. Some clients may have been to the facility already so the team may already have an idea of what to anticipate. Knowledge is power! 

One-way viewing, not listening. Most one-way mirrors in facilities are not soundproof. Make sure everyone who is viewing is aware that their voices may carry into the room for participants and the moderator to hear. Rather than take the chance, keep your chit-chat to a minimum and save your feedback for the break or debrief.

Enlist the help of a qualitative assistant (QA). QAs are a great resource while conducting focus groups. Whether you need someone to run notes to the moderator or deliver props or samples during the focus groups or interviews, a QA can be a valuable addition to your team. Advise your facility ahead of time and check their rates and availability. You may be glad to have an extra sidekick for the big day. 

Stay incognito. Even if it’s not after Labor Day yet, you may consider leaving that white jacket in the closet. Lighter, brighter colors have a greater chance of being viewed through the one-way mirror by participants. Similarly, make sure to keep the observation room dark and dim those bright mobile devices.

Build a positive rapport. Don’t be afraid to say thank you and say it often. Showing appreciation to all involved with your project (participants, consultants, project managers, facility staff, etc.) is a small but impactful step in building bonds that strengthen not only your current research study but also set the foundation for positive future collaboration. 

Moderators are not robots – yet. Moderators have a demanding role in the research process so advocate for them when you can. Ordering dinner? Don’t forget the moderator. Debriefing after 10 hours of interviews? Agree on a reasonable duration and be cognizant of fatigue. 

The devil is in the details. Treat questions as an opportunity rather than a nuisance. Dependable research facilities and research partners will ask many questions to understand the project objectives in order to offer suggestions as to what they can realistically accomplish within a given timeline. Conversely, be wary of suppliers who do not ask enough questions before providing costs and feasibility. 

Whether you are conducting online focus groups or in-person focus groups, acknowledging and being mindful of the human element in the research process goes a long way. Applying just a few of the simple steps above will ease in the planning and implementation of your next study. In the process, you’ll find that you’ve not only fostered greater communication with your partners and clients but also minimized unknown factors and established research processes that can be replicated and perfected for the future.