Because of her father’s job, she relocated to new countries every two years. Friendship brought her to Amsterdam, where she got a temporary job in the ESOMAR events team. There, she realised that she could live in one place and have a job which would enable her to see the world. Now, 19 years later, Rhiannon Bryant is the Senior Manager of the global event team of ESOMAR.
Photograph © Thomas Fasting
Can you explain what ESOMAR is and what ESOMAR does?
ESOMAR is the world association for market, social and opinion researchers. Our core aim is to promote the value of market and opinion research in effective decision-making.
Founded in 1948, the organisation began as a regional association within Europe but now, with 4.900 individual and 360 corporate members in over 130 countries, our membership is truly global and represents research professionals from around the world and from a diversity of industries and sectors in business and society.
One of the most important things about ESOMAR is that membership in the organisation is entirely voluntary. Membership sets you apart as a researcher who actively wishes to raise the standards, the application and the value of research, globally. All members agree to abide by the ICC/ESOMAR International Code on Market and Social Research, and they receive a membership mark which is a visible signal of their professional integrity and credibility. Maintaining consumer trust is integral to effective market, social and opinion research and ESOMAR – through its codes, guidelines and initiatives – promotes the highest ethical and professional standards for researchers around the world.
‘The speakers at almost every event are required to produce a supporting paper’
How does ESOMAR engage with its members?
One of the ways in which ESOMAR engages with its members is through a series of industry and thematic events. All are designed to encourage networking and create a platform for discussions on best practice, shared learning and spearheading the future of the industry. Furthermore, the speakers at almost every event are required to produce a supporting paper to their presentation, which is placed in our library and which provides a unique resource to our profession – as we now have more than 2500 digital papers, covering subjects of topical research interest, stretching back more than 15 years. Each year, ESOMAR offers more than ten large regional and international events, as well as forty local events. The annual ESOMAR Congress is our flagship event and the 68th edition will take place in Dublin this year from 27-30 September.
The headquarters of ESOMAR are in Amsterdam. Why did ESOMAR choose the Netherlands as its home base?
ESOMAR was founded in Holland, after World War II. The founding members wanted to ensure that the European countries would recover economically and, therefore, agreed to set a common set of standards and quality levels within the research industry. The first ever annual congress was held in Amsterdam in 1948. On this occasion, ESOMAR was inaugurated as an organisation and has been located in Amsterdam ever since.
How is the ESOMAR organisation structured?
As an association, we have an elected council of volunteer industry professionals advising our management team, with Finn Raben as our Director General. We work in a series of teams. At the heart of the organisation is the membership team who ensure that the benefits of joining the association remain unique and relevant. Another core area of activity is led by the professional standards and government affairs team who provide ethical guidance and actively promote self-regulation in the industry; they are often to be found at the European Commission in Brussels, representing and amplifying the industry’s voice when new laws are being discussed. Throughout the organisation and across the teams, there is a sharp focus on content and innovation, from our publication and education series to our webinars and videos on demand. In turn, we also have dedicated team members responsible for communicating these innovations and developments to our members and customers, as well as to external relations with national associations and ESOMAR’s country representatives, of which there are 85. To manage all these activities, we have, of course, a fantastic support system in place with our web, multimedia, communications and finance teams.
How is the congress part embedded?
Last but not least we have the global event team.: myself, as the Senior Manager working with two event specialists focusing on content and project management of specific events; an executive managing all registrations and customer enquiries and two logistic specialists who source all venues and negotiations and manage our external event partners from the AV to the Venue. What is unique about ESOMAR events is that all content is peer reviewed by (again, volunteer) industry professionals and we keep decisions on the content separate from the commercial side, which is coordinated by a sales team responsible for sponsorship and exhibition. To give you an idea of the scale of their workload, the exhibition of the annual congress alone welcomes more than a hundred exhibitors. As the Senior Manager for Events, it’s my responsibility to guide the strategic direction of our Global Events, as well as to ensure that everything is delivered on time and within budget. Having said that, our annual Congress attracts over 1,000 professionals from 80 countries and you’ll find every person in the office contributing to its success.
How did you get involved in the association?
I began to work at ESOMAR in 1998… well, let me tell you the whole story. I’m British (born in Wales) and because of my father’s job I relocated to new countries and schools approximately every 2 years. When I was 16, my father retired early and the family plan was to make the UK our home, but I was so used to travelling, that I packed my bags, said goodbye and started to travel solo across Greece.
I ended up in a small fishing village in Crete where I lived for almost 5 years. During that time I met lots of lovely Dutch holidaymakers and, in the winter of 1997, I went over to visit one family and fell in love with their son. That was almost 19 years ago and I’m still here.
In a short time I managed to get a temporary role in the ESOMAR events team. It was a revelation as I realised that I could live in one place and have a job which would enable me to see the world, rather than uprooting every time. Shortly after that, I was offered a permanent role at ESOMAR – and everything fell in to place.
Do you have other experiences in the meeting industry, besides ESOMAR?
I worked at ESOMAR for ten years, till April 2008. Then, I decided I needed a new challenge and accepted the Conference Director position at a commercial events company. My main focus was developing concepts and inviting speakers for a variety of topics across many different industry sectors. I loved that job as I learnt so much about different aspects and sectors in business – from Executive Compensation & Benefits to Automotive Retail & Distribution. Then the financial crisis hit and the Dutch part of the company had to close down. I was lucky to be able to continue working as a freelance conference producer for the sister company in Spain.
Meanwhile, I was asked to manage the PR and Marketing for several international techno DJs based in Amsterdam. I found myself entering a new world – the world of dance music: networking at international DJ events, travelling to Miami for the WMC – Winter Music Festival in Miami – then back home for ADE, Amsterdam’s Dance Event. All of these different freelancing projects gave me new event experiences and then ESOMAR called and asked me to help organise our 2011 annual congress in Amsterdam. At the end of the project, they asked if I would consider returning to the Events team as the manager and I accepted.
Can you explain what your job entails?
It seems to be constantly evolving, just like the events industry. Top of my mind – actually top of all our minds is designing events that encourage networking and showcase the value of research through innovative formats and thought provoking content.
I’ll give the headlines by saying my role is twofold. Firstly, I am overall responsible for the design, development and implementation of ESOMAR’s calendar of global and regional events, which are aligned to the organisation’s vision, mission and strategic objectives. We have a provisional strategic plan of events and venues for the next 4 years. It includes our annual classics and makes provisions for new research event topics that will emerge in the future. Planning of the venues is based on several factors, from the analysis of our key membership markets to a need to increase visibility of ESOMAR in a particular country or an annual regional event that is on rotation across those countries.
After consultation with our council, management and key industry professionals, plus a detailed analysis of competitive event dates and public holidays around the world, the dates and cities are agreed and the logistics specialists source the venues. When set, I create the planning for the year, bearing in mind that the Congress and conferences all require that the speakers write an original paper. Therefore, we need to secure the Congress venue at least 12 months in advance. For the conferences, the programme manager needs to start work at least 9 months before the event start date.
What kinds of events does ESOMAR organise? Can you mention a few?
As I mentioned, our key event is the annual congress; with this year celebrating its 68th edition under the theme, ‘Revelations.’ The congress is held in the Convention Centre Dublin (CCD). I’ve just been there and it’s a fantastic venue. This year, we have three regional networking events: Our 16th Asia Pacific event in Singapore, our 20th Latin American Event in Sao Paulo and our 4th MENAP (Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan) Forum in Dubai.
We are also introducing a brand new event to the calendar in 2015: RA:DAR – Research Analytics: Digital Advanced Research. It’s a high-level symposium to uncover the business value of digital analytics. Think, for example, about data from wearable devices, user-generated content and the ‘Internet of Things’. Data analytics is a hot topic and this event is generating a lot of interest with, for example, Facebook and AOL already involved.
What’s also special about this event is that, rather than heading to a hotel for the venue, one of our corporate members is providing us with their innovative meeting space. We did this before in 2013 when we teamed up with Volkswagen for an Automotive Forum and, as our venue partners, they offered us space in the Autostadt which is an ultra-modern theme park opened by Volkswagen. For RA:DAR we will head to the innovative meeting space at the AOL office on Broadway in New York.
Of course we are not always travelling. Every year, we collaborate with the Development team to offer a Summer Academy in Amsterdam. It’s a week of learning and delegates can ‘pick and mix’ which days to attend in June. That event kicks off with a one-day seminar, followed by parallel workshops the rest of the week. What’s funny about the Academy is that it’s organised annually in June and, whether it’s the end, middle or beginning of June, it is guaranteed to rain that week in Amsterdam. We’re hoping to change that this year!
Which event is your personal favourite?
The 19th Global Qualitative in Paris. It’s my favourite in terms of the content (such as measuring emotions and aspirations) and the creative international audience it attracts. The same week, same venue, we’re also offering a one day Forum on Sensory Research. Paris can be a struggle to find venues but our logistics team hit gold again when they secured Les Salons de l’Hôtel des Arts & Métiers which is a prestigious, private mansion with meeting space overlooking the Eiffel Tower.
What do you consider the most special ESOMAR event ever?
That has to be the annual congress in Berlin in 2007. We celebrated the 65th anniversary. In terms of speakers, venue, gala dinner, it was just perfect: a big celebration. After all these years, people are still talking about it. This event was organised under the direction of Anna Alù and we are hoping to build on the momentum of that celebration in 2017 when we celebrate 70 years.
Which event do you consider not such a success as you had hoped?
ESOMAR has always been great at identifying emerging trends – such as responsible marketing, sustainability, wellness, expats and the mobile work force – but when the delegate numbers do not pick up we realise that it is too early to launch a new research event on that topic. The trend – while interesting – is not business critical. What we do now is to offer new events in low risk, with low cost formats, which is an effective way to gauge the interest. For example, we’ll launch our new Sensory Research Forum this year back-to back with our 19th Global Qualitative event
Do you often introduce innovations in your congresses?
Always! I think you have to nowadays when there are so many different events being offered to the same target audience. From our own app, to live streaming to designing programmes with different rhythms and formats, such as fire-starters, talk shows, energisers, flash mob presentations, Hyde Park style speaker corners…. I mean who can sit for 2 days and just listen to PowerPoint presentations? As well as innovations enabled by new technologies, we dedicate a lot of creative energy to developing informal, fun and original ways to connect people which do not rely on WiFi or the latest technology. I recall we trialled our first networking challenge in 2011 with Lego and, just recently, we managed to get 300 delegates racing around trying to find different colour paints for a networking art challenge. In the end, that’s the reason why people come to the event. Nothing beats face-to-face networking!
Which developments in the congress industry do you find most striking?
The increased competition. Each year I see more and more events being offered, yet many of those considered a target audience are unable to attend due to company budget cuts and travel restrictions. This has led to more and more event organisers offering more registrations specials with ‘special discounts’ and ‘preferential fees’ to attract delegates. At the same time, you see event partners such as AV and venues increasing their prices.
Tied to the theme of businesses slashing budgets and imposing travel restrictions, there’s certainly an increased demand for online content, accessible via digital platforms – often for free. Live Streaming and Video on demand are becoming increasingly important, which is why ESOMAR has invested in this area.
And for anyone who has watched the news in the past couple of years, you’ll understand that there is unease and there are concerns about travelling to certain destinations – or certain parts of a city – and therefore the safety of delegates becomes increasingly important.
What things in the congress business can be improved?
There’s one thing that really bugs us all in the events team and that’s the appalling WIFI at venues. Enabling people to stay connected with the office when travelling should not be a luxury. Great WIFI should be part of a basic venue package. This shouldn’t cost a premium and should be reliable. If they fixed that, it would save us all a lot of headaches.
And, by way of food for thought – I was reading an article the other day about the QWERTY keyboard. That it was deliberately designed in 1868 to slow the typist down to avoid annoying keyboard jams. We, of course, still have QWERTY keyboards even though it’s not necessary anymore. That’s crazy!
It made me think of how many processes and rules we have in our working lives that have reached their expiry date. It has inspired me to start questioning the rules and the processes and seeing with the team how we can do things differently.