Monday, April 02, 2007

48. Unisearch

Annual Planning 1979

Annual Planning 1978

The Unisearch that I found upon my assumption as its General Manager was a full-service marketing research organization. a quasi division that had all the semblance of being a separate entity from Philippine Refining Company. It had an office outside the premises of PRC and with its own trade name and logo. At first glance you wouldn’t know that it had ties with Philippine Refining Company. Housed in a residential building in Leon Guinto, a street parallel to Taft Avenue, the office was quite a distance from the PRC compound, which was in the United Nations Avenue in the Paco district.

Mrs Sexton, Ed, Pen Buenaventura
at the back Efren Samonte, Ding Malvar, Joy Mangahas

James, Aida Azuelo, Viging Galian, Sunio, Lacson, Pat Domingo, Flora Barredo, etc...

My earlier encounter with Unisearch was as a brand manager availing of their services for my brands’ research requirements. I have had several occasions to discuss my research briefs, analyses of the results, interpretations and recommendations for marketing actions with the research managers. This kind of exposure to the research trade and discipline helped in my forming a healthy and high regard for the researchers and their craft.
Research Seminar for 3rd party clients - Dusit Hotel

Unisearch was looked at in PRC as a proud and venerable institution with a history that runs alongside the PRC’s milestones in its business growth. I was destined to share this heritage with a few hundred others. After more than half a century Unisearch ceased to exist at the start of the new millennium when ACNielsen merged the ACN Consumer Pulse and ACN Unisearch into one company.

I would be remiss to my Unisearch colleagues if I allow the name to just disappear unceremoniously into oblivion without making a note of its glorious past.

The research unit came into being when John Ingliss-Arkell of Unilever N.V. paid a visit to Philippine Refining Company in 1947 to assess the postwar situation of the business in this far-flung station of the Unilever concern in the Far East. Finding that business data was virtually nonexistent, one of his recommendations was the establishment of a market research section to start the market information buildup for the company. The original section created was composed of four people, one male as head of the group and three female researchers. Unisearch grew out of this handful of field researchers who immediately after the second-world war set off to gather data on the demographic profiles of the population of Manila and the evolving postwar trade structure.

In the next ten years the research section would struggle to keep pace with the information requirements of a fast growing business. By 1957 the section had expanded its personnel to provide a much more extensive geographical coverage of the research activity. In 1959 an all female tabulation unit was formed and about seven field researchers were working under a certain Jose Rodriguez as section supervisor. A curious historical sidelight was the practice of discriminating against married women in the hiring policy. Apart from not hiring married women, a lady employee would have to resign from the company once she got married. This arcane policy that smacked of male chauvinism has been dropped some years back.

With the reorganization of the Marketing Department of the company in 1959, market research was made to report to the Advertising Manager. It was only in the early sixties that the research unit came into its own. The visit of Hans Khuner of Marketing Division in 1960 was a significant event in the life of the Market Research section. His visit focused a lot of attention on the reorganization and development of the unit. He not only gave guidelines on research methods and protocols but also made some helpful suggestions on standard operating procedures of the department. Each project had to have a formal proposal written up that had go through a vetting process involving the approval of the Advertising Manager and the Marketing Director.

Hans Khuner underscored the importance of having a person trained in Social Science Research in the Market Research Department. He also enhanced the department’s status with the upgrading of the unit’s supervisor to management level in 1961. PRC management took the advice of Hans Khuner and brought into the department an assistant manager who had experience as a social science researcher. This recruit was Bert Timbol, a social science researcher, a graduate Philippine Normal College and with a masters degree from the University of Colorado. Prior to his recruitment in PRC he was engaged in social research work in the University of the Philippines. Soon after his joining PRC as an assistant manager in the Market Research Department, Jose Rodriguez was retired in early 1962. With Bert Timbol’s assumption of the head position of the department he changed the definition of the department from Market Research to that of Marketing Research. This was done to recognize the expanding activities of the department. From consumer surveys and product development tests the services now included advertising research, trade research (distribution and shelf offtake), media research and got involved into experimental motivational research.

Upon the arrival of Chris Barber-Lomax as Marketing Director in 1963 he took the department’s administration and functional responsibility from the Advertising Manager. This was in line with the policy to give it independence from the users of research. This was a directive that came from the center in the UK that was applied to all research units in the Unilever world.

Slim Quiambao, RBL guest, Joy Mangahas,Ding Malvar, Ed Roa

Ed Roa with John S Downham

Peter Baker with Ed Roa

Bert Timbol spurred the growth of this once tiny data gathering section. The increasing importance of the department’s services was attested to by the number of researches requested by the Marketing Department that had phenomenal growth during the early sixties. This development necessitated the training of personnel (line and staff) to meet the emerging requirements brought about by new and improved methods and techniques and the increased volume of projects. The advent of computerization pushed analysis and interpretation to new and higher levels. Also, by this time Bert christened the unit Institute of Domestic Research to allow it to develop a distinct personality in the industry as a full service research agency whose services may be commissioned by non-Unilever companies.

Two Eds are better... Ed Cruz & Ed Roa

Learning computers with tutor

Recruitment profile for researchers was upgraded to get talented graduates coming from the better universities and colleges. Slim Quiambao, one of the early managers in market research in PRC was a witness to the radical transformation of the service that Bert Timbol ushered in. During this time Pete Bernardo, who would become the Coca Cola Research Manager joined as a trainee, Tess Valenzuela, Florence Capunong and Ernie del Castillo would join in the mid sixties. In the late sixties Angie de Villa Lacson together with Ed Cruz, Meng Lim, Dedette Gamboa and Jun Alcantara would join up. These people would later distinguish themselves in their respective post-Unisearch careers outside Unilever.

With the advent of the seventies, Bert Timbol would be promoted to take on additional responsibilities in Marketing as Marketing Services Manager followed shortly with his promotion as General Marketing Manager. Although market research would still be his responsibility, in his new capacity he had to give up the direct management of the Institute of Domestic Research. He tapped Ato Maningat, from the brand group to become the department’s manager. Ato, a Wharton graduate did not stay for long as he was taken into the Puyat businesses’ executive pool. Later he would become Commissioner of Public Estates, a government agency, after his stint with the Puyat Group. Ding Malvar succeeded Ato as department manager. This was short lived as he expressed his reluctance to handle the administrative, commercial and marketing functions of the department. Ding was an excellent statistician and had expressed that he would rather stay within the confines of his area of competence. By the early seventies Nonoy Reyes, a brand manager from the Toilet Preparations group took over the management of the unit. He rechristened the unit with a more upbeat trade name, Unisearch, to help in the effort to generate third party clients. This and the physical separation from the main office were intended to give it an image of being independent in order to attract research business from third party concerns.

At the time that I joined Unisearch they were already doing regular research for multinational companies like Shell, Warner Lamberts, Richardson Vicks, and big Filipino companies like Purefoods and a few medium sized ones.
The research organization that was handed over to me had competent people running the various operational aspects of market research. The only complaint that I had was the depletion of the research analyst group. Nonoy Reyes, the former head of Unisearch was appointed Marketing Manager of the Personal Products group and he took with him Nena Barredo and Joy Isla, the topnotch senior analysts in Unisearch to become brand managers in his group. All I can do was register my complaint. It was still left to the analysts to decide whether they agree with their new appointments or not. It was not surprising that they were all eager to transfer to the brand group. A post in Marketing, after all, was their ticket to the fast track,

When I first started with Unisearch in 1977 the staff I had consisted of Dedette Gamboa as head of the client service group, Ding Malvar, statistician. Ding was the erstwhile head of Unisearch but chose to give it up and confined himself to the technical responsibilities of research. I also had Slim Quiambao as Head of Operations who also assisted in client service, Ruby Torres as overall assistant in operations, Efren Samonte from the management trainee ranks as the department accountant. He eventually became the Commercial Director of PRC. The research executives at that time were Joy Mangahas, Marlu Emmanuel, Evelyn Gancayco, Clarissa Manzano, Marivi Jugo and Nelia Fabie who assisted Ding Malvar in statistics. Later on I recruited Meng Estrada, Jane Beltran and a few others like Cecille Bautista, Gladys Albano, Carina Pilapil etc. Then there were the newly recruited male executives Jun Osin, Rolly Bondoc, Manny de Guzman and Butch Lontok who came in as part of an attempt to change the gender profile of market research analysts. Other males who went into the service were Bong Oppus, Albertine Monteron, Ed Cruz, Jun Alcantara, George Sison and Benjie Encarnacion. There were several male trainees from brand management who were just passing through as part of their training program.

Under Slim Quiambao, the people in Operations were Pen Buenaventura for field and Lily Baranda for data processing. Patsy Aguinaldo assisted Ma’am Pen while Viging Galian and Marmi Alonso backstopped Lily. The mother of Marivic Azuelo, former research executive, Aida Azuelo, was with the data processing group. The Azuelos were truly a PRC family. Paquito, the husband of Aida, was with warehouse management.

People in market research tend to stay on to become career researchers and most of the staff that I had inherited had been there for quite a few years. One of the homespun wisdom we had then was that one couldn’t grow old in marketing. A thirty five-year-old brand manager is an anachronism. Like Advertising, Marketing gave a premium to youth for the currency of their ideas, enthusiasm and resolute aggressiveness. On the other hand, in market research, experience in techniques’ application and amassed knowledge of markets are the prized personal assets and like wine increased in value over time.

One could not ask for a better timing. I was middle aged and although having the status of a senior manager in Unilever the odds of a having another step up in the senior management of the marketing organization was really zilch. I was elated to start in a job that seemed to fit my background reasonably. More importantly I was going to run an organization that was structured like a company, complete with all the essential functions. This was a dream come true.

Although there were set financial targets the achievement of these were not of paramount importance because the main role of the unit was to provide the best market research resource to the company brands. There was, however, a connection between the paper profit and the quality of the service that the research unit can provide. While the profits were not real it was able to show management that whatever additional personnel resource or facility the unit proposed to acquire were justified and were well within the financial capacity of the unit.

Sales proceeds coming from third party business were real money, the researches we did for PRC have real money value. Even if all these pecuniary items were treated as notional they were in fact real incomes. The exercise of doing the financial statements of the unit, though seemingly a charade, became a gauge of the efficiency of company research money deployment. The “profits” of the research unit were ploughed back into the brands’ market research resource and they were translated into the quality and quantity of personnel; their training and the acquisition of software and hardware.

With the wealth of resources and up to date facilities Unisearch provided high quality research services to PRC Marketing at the same time it also gave opportunities to marketing cadets, who would have extended stints in Unisearch, an appreciation of market research as a tool in their management of brands and markets once past training.

The head of market research in the Unilever central office in the UK was John Downham, a gentleman who typified the best of the British. He was an authority on market research and had collaborated on a book market research with Robert Worcester, a well-published writer on market research in Europe. The book has been kept updated through the years and has served as authoritative reference to most practitioners of the trade in Europe. John's contributions to market research has been recognized by ESOMAR (the European Research Society) through their creation of the John Downham Award. The award encourages practitioners towards excellence by aiming for higher standards in market research. The annual seminars that he conducted for the Asian Unilever research units kept us up to date with the latest developments in market research technology. These seminars also served as a clearing-house for the collective experiences in market research in the Asian region. Often John would give us projects that encompassed basic research, results validation of certain techniques and introduction of new techniques in the different markets. These were reported on during annual conferences. The regularity of these gatherings fostered closeness among the researchers of the Asian countries.

The venue changed from one country to another each year. India was the exception because the regulation of foreign currency remittances at that time prevented them from remitting earnings to the UK. The foreign currency accruals were put to use in establishing a regional training center in Gulita, India, and the funding of seminars within the country not only for marketing research but also for the other aspects of the business. So there were more seminars held in India than in other countries. However, when it came to immersion training, the Philippines was the favorite. Newly promoted research managers of our units in the region would have on the job training in Uniseach prior to assuming their roles in their companies. We would have Japanese, Malaysian, Pakistani, and Indonesian trainees in research management who stay with us for the duration of three to six months almost every year. Most of these trainees ended up as heads of their respective country research units.

To digress a bit here’s slice of delightful trivia: I was barely a year as head of Unisearch when the Philippines became host to a regional seminar. After the seminar I hosted a dinner party at our newly built house in Loyola Heights. What made the party an enjoyable one was the wine tasting session I had organized. It was not, in a sense, a real wine tasting event. Included among the variety of wines from local fruits were potent brews fermented from coconut, nipa and rice.

You wouldn’t believe that this was a party of market researchers. What started as a sedate and formal social became a boisterous and an uninhibited bacchanalian bash. Even John Downham became a little less of the British gentleman that he was and was the one who cajoled his researchers to imbibe more of the joy juices. The head of the Japanese research unit Roger Brookin, a rather unabashed Brit, did a spontaneous strip tease number. My wife had to supply him a blanket to keep his modesty intact. After the wine session it was easy to convince everyone to sample “balut”, steamed duck embryo in the shell. The foreign lady guests were squeamish at first but soon had their first taste of it. Verdicts ranged from near puking to not as bad as expected. Most of them couldn’t believe that they have had so much fun until they saw the party pictures that attested to what was a raucous and fun filled evening. Some of the early leaders in Asian Unilever research who were at the party were Rajni Chadha, head of research of Hindustan Lever; Dhira Singhalaka, Lever Bros. Thailand; Janis Hanafiah, Unilever Indonesia; Tan Siew Bee, Lever Bros. Malaysia; Agha Akhtar Ali of Pakistan, and Roger Brookin, of Lever Bros. Japan. We had two other guests who were from Research Bureau, Ltd., the UK company of Research International who helped John in some of the conference sessions.

We kept ourselves very busy from the late seventies to the early eighties. Our Consumer Panel was launched in 1982 in Manila and on its second year we added a panel in Cebu. The Consumer Panel was very useful but expensive to maintain and that the limited coverage did not give us a national reading. By the end of eighties we shifted our market tracking to Mixtrack, a market tracking system evolving from the Consumer Market Index (CMI). Also, at this time we have been doing predictive market research. Sensor, a Research International proprietary predictive system was used in our toothpaste and shampoo launches. Later on we were introduced to Perceptor, the predictive system of the French company Novaction that enjoyed extensive use for most of the product groups of Unilever. In the early eighties I invited Oscar Schneerson of Novaction to give the industry a briefing on STMs (Simulated Test Markets) as these were increasingly being used in the South East Asia.

We experimented on a new research technique, Core, which took a snap shot of six weeks of the launch period of the launch brand to give reasonable movement projections and diagnostic directions to marketing during the brand’s initial year. We also came up with Optimate, a homegrown technique, involving optimization of product feature mixes through multivariate analysis. Price tests were of particular interest at that time because of the economic downturn experienced during the pre-Ninoy and post-Ninoy tensions. We introduced Price Wise, a modeling approach to pricing, to address a market that was increasingly becoming price sensitive.

We did a lot experimental and fine tuning work on research developed by advertising agencies. Two of the more imaginative techniques that we have made use of were PDA, or Problem Detection Analysis and Item By Use. PDA was very useful in ferreting out consumer concerns about products that lead to proposition and/or product enhancements. The approach is based on the notion that people tend to talk more openly and profusely about problems in products and services. They were asked to rate the gravity of the problems and the way they cope with each problem.

Item By Use creates product linkages by asking questions on how products are used and what other products may also be used in their stead until a map is formed according to the proximity of different product groups to each other in usage. This has been useful in Foods research e.g., creating a map of condiment alternatives in food preparation or the items that may make up a breakfast, lunch, dinner etc.

We borrowed a literary term when we named an interview process “Stream of Consciousness”. This was an extension of an observation research that had a researcher recording all the stages of a product in use by a sample of respondents until various pathways are observed. In this procedure we introduced researcher intervention by asking what was going on in the mind of the respondent as she went into each process. The research allowed the analyst to understand the nuances of each process in the product usage.

In qualitative research, aside from the usual elicitation techniques we experimented on transactional analysis wherein responses between authority and subject (e.g. child to adult, adult to child, adult to adult etc.) and vice versa were analyzed to help the advertiser fashion ad appeals.

Research on the use of the psychology of colors for marketing and comunications was also attempted although the results were not conclusive as there seemed to be marked differences among subgroups which made the directions, at best, tendential because of the smallness of the sample and the unvalidated psychological principles as givens. The local champions of these innovative techniques were Nena Barredo and Dedette Gamboa.

Pattern analysis was in vogue in the mid seventies and we applied a patented Unilever approach named BOMPAT (named after its author Brian O” Malloy) to most of the local Unilever brands. Regional champion for this was Roger Brookin, the head of Nippon Lever’s market research unit.

I look back with pride to the little in-house research agency that was doing more than what the more established research companies were capable of doing at that time. What company in the early sixties can claim having a national shop audit for more than five product categories, a monthly TV audience measurement service; in the mid eighties, a Consumer Panel service in two key cities, and employed STMs or simulated test market predictive systems? We also had unique mobile research facilities, which, were started by Bert Timbol in the early sixties doing quick ad research and group discussion on wheels through the use of a consumer research van. We had another research van that was used as a mobile test kitchen for R&D and consumer testing for the products of our Foods Group.

Despite our busy schedule we invested money and time to do basic research that helped improve the validity of our systems, enhanced the effectiveness of our scaling techniques and built normative data banks to improve the analysis of our product test protocols and reference norms for the quick ad researches.
More than the products and the facilities we had the ideal kind of people whose skills, imagination and dedication to market research made it possible to employ effectively all the facilities that they themselves have helped put together. I know that they too share the pride I feel of having been a part of Unisearch.

My years with Unisearch taught me a lot about running a company. It was providential that I had a topnotch accountant in the person of Efren Samonte to handle the financial aspects. This helped me to gain important experience without the anxiety of committing financial blunders. It also taught me the essentials of finance that one needed for the day-to-day running of a company. Unisearch taught me a lot about executive management and subordinate relationships down to the lowest level. The organization was female dominated and this required special handling. The staff, especially in the operations level tended to treat me as father, big brother and father confessor who not only looked after the day to day conflicts in the work but also in their personal relationships in the office and sometimes their domestic lives. Issues from these are sometimes touchy and one had to learn how best to administer Solomonic justice between contending parties.

While it was imperative that I kept abreast of research technology I had to caution myself to pull back on arguments on technical points. The researcher has a lot of pride in his or her work and I had to be sure that this is not threatened by my standing foursquare on issues. I argued a lot with my people on results interpretation related issues but at the end of the day these were resolved and the marketing issues got the best out of the exchange of views.

We had a thriving third party business. Non-Unilever revenues accounted for 34% of total Unisearch revenues. The revenue that we have gained from these ensured the financing of better facilities and justified the hiring of more research executives. Some of the long-standing clients were Mario Reyes of Pilipinas Shell and Bobby Kraut of Purefoods who provided a steady stream of revenues from projects they have commissioned. One of the biggest third party accounts that we had at that time was Wander, Philippines, the makers of the Ovaltine Brand. My client contact at Wander at that time was Titus Santiago, a former colleague in Unilever in the early seventies. He succeeded Bonggoy Verano, my former boss in Bernard Advertising as marketing director of Wander. Titus’ assistant in Wander was Bobby Sumulong, the first marketing director of the phenomenal marketing success story, Jollibee. Luvi Lim, our former “kygmy” in the Foods Group became marketing director of Wander during Dieter Lehman’s term as General Manager. Boy Martirez and Alan Lee of Philips Electrical Lamps, a Dutch concern regularly commissioned us to do their research projects and so, too, did Toto Floresca of Dutch Boy Paints. We did research work for Cititrust a bank that was headed by Gerry Ablaza, a former product group manager in the Foods division of PRC. Whenever I see Gerry I get reminded of Clark Kent for his mild manners and as an adult Harry Potter with his wire rimmed spectacles and wizardry in business. Gerry would become the President of Globe Telecommunications a giant in the burgeoning comer industry of mobile telecommunications.

The first continuous television audience measurement service in the country was the Monthly coincidental television that Unisearch ran since the mid sixties up until the early seventies. This provided a steady stream of revenues coming from the television networks as well as from other big advertisers. The establishment of the Consumer Pulse Peoplemeters by Rosie Chew caused the cessation of our television rating service. It was much too late when I became aware that Consumer Pulse was setting up the TV meter service. I tried to catch up by contacting Richard Hallwood of AGB in Hongkong to come up with a joint effort to preempt Peoplemeters. The effort was futile since Pulse had already set up the television household panels and were ready to be in service at the time the industry was having cocktails during the introduction of the AGB system.

The client acquisition that made a difference was the San Miguel Account. I was able to get through their Marketing Services Manager, Joe Pascual, some of their ad hoc requirements and some provincial areas of their beer shop audit. Joe is the husband of Marilyn, my creative director in Lintas. At the height of our success in revenue generation our notional gross profit was as high as 35%, an enviable commercial achievement by any standard. The best I could do when we became an independent company was 27%, but excellent when looked at against an Asian nine-country average of a little over 10%. This was one feature of Unisearch that could not be ignored when it was finally placed on the sales block.

Birthday Lunch

Birthday Lunch

Naic excursion

Naic excursion


Ruby said...

Hi! Sir Ed,
Read Unisearch, brought a lot of nostalgia. Those were my best years at PRC and will always remember them with fondness.
Incidentally, Efren Samonte's wife is Grace Apaoan. She was with the Finance dept. under the wing of Dempsey then Efren S.
Nice if you could post some photos.
Best regards,
Ruby - your former budget supv. aka d taray queen! ha!ha! Still residing in Latteland (Seattle).

wayfarer said...

Hi Ruby! Bago ang lahat thanks for the correction. Medyo age is catching up and memory lapses like this occur every now and then.
It's nice to hear from you. I hope that everything is fine with you and your loved ones. Drop in on my blog every now and then. This is one way of keeping in touch. I hope othe Unisearch alumni will drop in so that we can have fresh news about them.

I am now retired and spend my time writing, reading, occasional golf, gardening, playing with apos and watching regular tv and dvds.

Ruby said...

Sir Ed,
Bob and I are okay. He keeps busy with his never ending genealogy on both his parents. Binibiro ko na baka aabot siya kay Adam & Eve in tracing his roots.

Frustrated gardener si ako pero sige pa rin ng sige. Our house is shady, lots of douglas fir around it. So, my roses are anemic .. kulang sa araw! ha!ha! Right now the gladiolas (bulbs that wintered in the garage) are screaming to be planted. I got more than a dozen of fuchsias (hanging baskets) since they are the easiest to grow in shady areas.

Emailed Nena B. about your blog over the weekend.

Emailed Maricelle and Jane too but I'm not sure if the email addresses are current.

Keep on blogging!

wayfarer said...

Thanks for informing the others re my blog. I am sure they would be interested to read about the glory days of Unisearch. Now that it is already gone and a part of history I truly miss it.