The day Unisearch the department became Unisearch the company seemed rather uneventful and a usual back-from-the-Christmas-holidays sort of day to most of the associates. We were all dragging our listless carcasses coming back from the frenetic yuletide celebrations. On the first working day of 1990 the Unisearch employees went zombielike to their posts to do what they have been doing as before. They found themselves in the same hallway with rows on rows of tabulator counters, the same cramped cubicles, the same disorderly desks and with the same faces flitting about just like on the day they left at the last day of office preceding their vacation leaves. I guess it was just during lunch break, when people had a chance to talk with each other, that they realized that they were no longer employees of PRC. It was a grand Christmas for most of us since we were handed our retirement money together with sizeable ex-gratia reparation resulting from the redundancy of our positions. All of us came back from the holidays to our respective desks receiving the same salaries and benefits as before as if nothing happened.
|Abby Limqueco, Nicey del Rosario, Ed Roa, Dina Sambenito, Sarita Suria|
Maybelle Alamil, A Barredo, Nellie Ang, Maan Labit
I was able to ask for an extension of our stay in our office location within the PRC compound for a few months more until we could find a suitable place to relocate. Almost within the week I assembled the group to inform them of the immediate plans as well as the mid term ones. In the same assembly I organized a committee to edit the Management manual, the documentation of the remuneration policies of the new company and the rules of employment that I drafted. During the first few months we had frequent management meetings mainly to discuss the draft operating procedures of the company, production schedules and new business development.
|Rey Alejandro & KN Tang|
|Bruce Randall, Ed Roa, KN Tang, Fr. Anton Pascual|
|Bruce Randall, Peter Weldon,Rey Alejandro, Obet Pagdanganan, KN Tang, Ed Roa, Nonoy Niles|
After a little over two months we were able to find a place in Makati, a residential building that was part of Urdaneta Village, a posh subdivision that had its frontage on the main commercial avenue of Paseo de Roxas. It was a three-bedroom bungalow with a large living room and dining area, a big garage and a big front and back yard. I had the garage transformed into a group discussion room; the data processing group used the living room and dining room. We had the field staff by the entrance of the house close to the foyer that was used as the briefing area for the interviewers. The house interior was fitted with storage shelves and working desks. Two bedrooms were utilized as the account service/analysts working area. The other bedroom was occupied by the account service/analysts group even had a dressing room that we transformed into a small library. My office was the smallest bedroom situated between the two account service rooms. I found it amusing to have a bathtub in my comfort room. Newell Grenfell, the head of SRG at that time noted that this was an auspicious start. The first SRG office also started in a residential building in Malaysia. Newell was the managing director of the first SRG research company from which the network grew into Asia’s biggest.
|Ed & Nonoy w/Menchu Esteban at FG|
Dedette Gamboa at BG
|Ed, Rosie & Alice Pascual|
The SRG Regional Management was composed of Newell Grenfell, chairman; KN Tang, managed technical development; Peter Weldon, acted as some sort of Corporate Affairs person. Peter was an old Manila hand having stayed in the Philippines as an officer in JUSMAG for a few years. He married Ditas, a Filipina, who is the sister of Jay Jay Calero the President of J Walter Thompson. Peter often surprised my staff with his fluency in Tagalog. Peter was one person who invited comment because of his size; about six foot seven and widely girthed. One time Peter parked his bulky frame in front of a secretary’s desk. The secretary blurted out in the vernacular “dito pa ba sa harap ko pumarada itong malaking halimaw na ito?” which roughly translates… “Does this big ogre have to park his bulk in front of me?” To her embarrassment Peter retorted in very clear and unaccented Pilipino that he is a visitor and should be treated more kindly.
|Survey Research Group MDs, Directors & Senior Managers in HK Conference|
David Sinden was in charge of Finance while David Sparkes looked after the field operations for the region. Sparkes had positive contributions to our field operations through his frequent visits to train our field force. Others who acted as members of the regional management by virtue of their ownership of the country SRG units that they themselves managed were Yong Kim Seng of Malaysia, Betty Jamie Chung, of SRG Taiwan; Chris Andrews of SRG Thailand and Rosie Chew of Consumer Pulse in the Philippines.
|Indon Exp ?, Chris Andrews, Jan Standaert, Ed|
I began meeting the rest of the managing directors including those who would be heading SRG units in the near future when I attended the annual plans conference. I met the late David O’Neill, who was the head of SRG New Zealand, Roh Ick Sang owner of Hankook Research in Korea, David McCallum, MD of SRG Singapore who would later occupy a position in the Asia Pacific Executive Committee as head of Customized Research. His successor would be Hoe Chin Fee, a very able lady Managing Director. Then there was Farquhar Stirling who would succeed David Sparkes as head of SRG Indonesia, Alistair Gordon, who had a stint in Consumer Pulse as MD before Nonoy Niles was recruited from P&G to take over the Consumer Pulse head post. Alistair would become MD of Malaysia and then head of Research and Development for the region. There was Paul Hasegawa of SRG Japan and George Fields, an Australian educated Japanese who authored the book “From Bonsai to Levis”, considered a primer for western companies starting out a business in Japan. He was head of a small ad testing company, ASI, which was acquired by SRG. There was Titan Wang, the successor of Betty Jamie Chung for SRG Taiwan; Sunchai Anuman Rajadhon, who took over SRG Thailand after Chris Andrews (former research manager of Unilever Indonesia) retired. Sunchai was educated in the US, he studied at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology and had his doctorate degree in Stanford University and was a BMOC as one of the stalwarts of the school’s golf team. Jan Standaert, a Belgian was the head of the newly opened SRG Vietnam. He did not stay long and was succeeded by Linh Nguyen, an Australian educated Vietnamese who repatriated when the socialist government of Vietnam followed the footsteps of the People’s Republic of China in their laissez faire attitude towards capitalism. Louis Tong of Hongkong spearheaded the entry into the People’s Republic China as the first MD of SRG China. From Canada, there was Doug Calhoun, whose research company in Toronto was acquired by SRG. In the US we had a New York office run by Jerry Stafford.
After having made the transfer to our new offices in Makati the committee and I completed and documented the operating policies procedures for the new company. I called for a general meeting to communicate these to our people. SRG as a network was still at the stage where member companies were operating with much autonomy. There were no standard network-wide policies for operational aspects. I was very much on my own in the governance of the fledgling company. In a few years this would change with the acquisition of SRG by ACNielsen. The autonomy suited me fine. It gave me a chance to put into practice my own thoughts on organizations and the management of businesses…imprinting my signature on the new company as it were. I had time to work out on my own the guiding principles of the company and introduced revisions from the Unilever based ones that further enhanced the efficiency of the operations and made it more suitable to the requirements of an independent company. I needed this much leeway to softly usher the employees into a
|Ed, Jes Dinglasan & Alistair Gordon|
new working environment.
The directors who started with the independent Unisearch were Nena Barredo who came with the spun-off organization, Feddie Magpantay, a come-backing research director who left Consumer Pulse but was persuaded to join Unisearch. Dedette Gamboa, who was a senior management member of Unisearch in Unilever did not join the group but stayed on in Unilever to become its research manager. Included in the ex-Unilever group were two managers, Peachie Badilla and Reena Murga. Later on they were lured back by Unilever. Since this happened in a little less than a year of our start up it caused a bit of a problem because we were not quick enough to develop successors to keep the service running smoothly. In this situation you can only complain so much. The poaching party was our biggest client.
One of the shocks that I had to weather as head of an independent company was the myriad of details that I had to personally attend to. In my previous position in a big organization I relied on the various service units to do all these for me. Legal departments take care of your business permits and other municipal requirements. Commercial departments would take care of the salaries, equipment acquisition and sundry purchases. Screening and hiring of personnel were all done for you by the HR department. The most difficult change was meeting the financial challenges day to day and over the mid and long term. As department head in Unilever I never had to worry about the finances at a micro level. The Commercial Division handled all the financial requirements of the unit. The requirements of a small company are similar to those of a big one except that in a big company you have service departments to handle all these. I now had to do all these by myself with the occasional help from the staff. This is a cautionary tale to executives retiring from big companies and setting up their own businesses. You will no longer have the almost infinite financial resources and no large service departments’ facilities at your bidding. No little bell to summon minions for help.
|Unilever Xmas Costume Party|
It was a lot of work but at the same time it was very fulfilling. This was what I dreamt about during my early years. I now have my own company to run. It was a modest sized company that had a projected annual revenue of 12 to 15 million pesos and a work force numbering less than forty regulars and about five hundred contractual workers engaged in fieldwork and data processing. The first six months of operations had me wrestling with cash requirements. Almost every payday was a time for scrambling for cash. My client visits were mostly about pursuit of bill payments. Without any working capital infusion coming from the main office in Hongkong it took time before we could build up the cash position to a comfortable level. I could have asked for funds from the region and undoubtedly they would have extended the needed money. It was difficult getting through the uncertain times but it was an important learning experience and it was good for the soul as well. It left an indelible lesson that businesses should heed. Eyes on the cash flow always.
On the approach of our first Christmas as an independent company one big problem that loomed was how we can provide a fourteenth month bonus, a benefit that was carried over from Unilever. In November I asked for a moratorium on new business activities so that we could concentrate on finishing the final reports of Unilever projects. When we were still with Unilever not much priority was given to the writing of final reports. Because of the urgency of marketing requirements, we were forced to churn project after project and after meeting on the top line reports we proceeded to start with another until we had built up a humongous backlog of unfinished final reports. In Unilever, after a project has been completed and presented, the final report did not have to be completed immediately since no further action will be taken after this has been presented to marketing and action standards have already been agreed upon. After culling and storing data either as part of the norm bank or in general reference files, a final report was deemed as just a document for posterity.
The backlog amounted to more than six million pesos. This was about a quarter of a year’s worth of projects. Now that we were a separate company our service is only deemed completed by Unilever with the submission of the final report. In the research business the proof of service performance is the final report, thus, all billings had to be accompanied by this document.
The research executive group burned the midnight oil for more than a month so that we could convert the final reports to enough cash and make good on the promised fourteenth month bonus. We were able to give everyone a fourteenth month bonus and at the same time the inventory of unfinished final reports was pared down considerably. During our Christmas party that year we had a mass of thanksgiving for having hurdled the first year as an independent company and to acknowledge the heroic effort of the research executive group to raise funds for the fourteenth month bonus by tackling the backlog of final reports.
We were able to achieve eighteen million pesos revenue on our first year. Even though we did not have a target in our first year the revenue far exceeded our expectations. However, we showed a loss but only after paying off almost a million pesos amortized for the Unisearch name. Also, we had a lot of start up costs and I was still finding my way through the initial experience of running a company. At the start of our operations I hired Avelyn Palacios as accountant. Like most CPAs who had a stint with SGV (Sycip, Gorres and Velayo CPAs) she was efficient and quite able in her job. However, she did not share the optimism that most of us from the original crew had. She probably couldn’t stand the constant financial pressure and by the end of the year submitted her resignation. She said that as the company accountant she had an intimate knowledge of the financial status of the company. She could not see how we could last another year with the kind of financial problems that buffeted us throughout our first year. I would have loved to show her our financial statements of later years.
Unisearch SRG had good Research Service directors. Nena and Feddie were topnotch customized researchers who provided our clients with good interpretations of research results and well thought of suggestions for marketing actions. They were well appreciated by Unilever and other clients. However, what we lacked was a strong technical backup in statistics and computer expertise in data processing. I learned from Dedette Gamboa who was research manager of PRC at that time that Gerry Soleminio, erstwhile Operations Research manager of PRC was in between jobs. Gerry did not have any research experience but I remember him from PRC days as one person who used to hang around Unisearch because he was fascinated with market research. The Operations research people are experts at modeling and in their work applied high-level statistical tools. He was particularly interested in the work we were doing for brand engineering and simulated test markets, STM (predictive research on marketing mixes). The technology came from Research International and from another company called Novaction.
Roger Brookin introduced to us Novaction’s Perceptor, a market mix predictive system. He made extensive use of this in Nippon Lever in Japan. Most predictive researches relied on the normative data banks that were kept by the company who owned the system. Research International owned the normative data for Sensor and Locator while Novaction maintained the normbank for Assessor and Perceptor. The results from the research needed to be modified by global experience as well as market, ethnic and product specific ones. This dependence on norms made these researches expensive to its clients and held hostage to the system. At the same time the role of the research agency in projects would be relegated to just the field and data processing aspects of the research. I felt, that in the long term, we needed to have a deeper understanding of these systems so that we can do basic and developmental research, build up a norm bank of local experience which may prove to be more efficient than the global ones because it may be applied directly to local projects as well as being worked on by local analysts who would have a more intimate familiarity with the markets being worked on than their foreign counterparts. This should lessen our dependence on foreign sources. It was also important for us to be able to challenge the interpretation of the analysts in Paris or London who at times were not quite spot-on with their analyses because they would sometimes fail to appreciate subtle nuances of the market. This kind of research does not make pretensions to exactness and certainty. It has always required analyst intervention and other soft inputs to see which of the several simulation trials fit the market under scrutiny.
|Xmas Party at the Hotel Intercontinental|
Gerry Soleminio, with his modeling experience, would be one person who could help in this area. I had to be patient since he would still have to gain experience in actual market research work to have a better grasp of what we were about. Where he could be of immediate help was in data processing. That was one of his strong suits. While Gerry was absorbing as much and as fast as he could we still needed outside help on the sampling design and procedure for our largest research service, Mixtrack, a continuous and national market tracking survey conducted for the major product groups of Unilever. We were also generating participation from non-Unilever clients in this service. Consultants would help us keep improving the sampling design of Mixtrack and also get useful advice for our other quantitative researches. I took on the services of Pete Makanas, who used to be a director of the NCSO (National Census and Statistics Office) and whose daughter, Jane Beltran, used to be our statistician in the mid-seventies. He helped us in the sampling design of MixTrack our continuous national survey on brand performance for most PRC products. Later I took on the consultancy services of Terry Solivas of UP Los Banos when Pete’s availability became scarce.
We struggled with Mixtrack but I had the conviction that for us to continue to get the majority of Unilever research budget we must maintain and continually enhance our national market tracking service. Other international companies have introduced creditable tracking systems and soon Unilever will show interest in them thus posing a threat to divert a substantial portion of their budget away from Unisearch. Market tracking is about twenty percent of Unilever’s research budget. The business guarantee with Unilever was only for three years. We urgently needed to set aright Mixtrack to stave off this threat.
In another front, SRG was progressing their bid for a management buyout from its principal owner. Pergamon Press, a UK conglomerate who owned SRG among other businesses. SRG was in the middle of negotiations for a management buyout when the news of the sudden demise of Robert Maxwell, owner of Pergamon Press, broke. Robert Maxwell died under mysterious circumstances in his yacht somewhere in the Mediterranean. What ensued was the parceling off of the businesses empire by the heirs to raise funds to cover liabilities and to steady the financial state of Pergamon Press. SRG pursued their bid for a buyout and because of Pergamon’s need to expedite the cash build up the deal was hastily consummated and at probably half of what SRG was willing to pay during the earlier negotiations. This was a big boost to the share price of SRG so much so that at the time of ACNielsen’s acquisition of SRG the share price was more than ten times its original value.
ACNielsen’s outbidding International Research Services or IRS also helped the share price increase. This coup was done in dramatic fashion. SRG had already agreed to the price IRS tendered. With the signing of the agreement already scheduled the ACNielsen representatives swooped down to SRG’s regional offices and made a counter offer that was difficult to refuse. There was rejoicing in SRG when the deal was finalized. It made instant millionaires of the original incorporators while the other smaller shareholders in the company made minor fortunes from the windfall.
ACNielsen introduced themselves to SRG in typical slam bang fashion only Americans can muster. Eager to impress as quickly as possible, all the senior executives of SRG, director and up, were invited to a grand presentation of the major initiatives in new products and other technological advancements of the new order. I could still picture the scene in my mind. The big ballroom of the KL Intercon Hotel was filled with the convening of all the senior managers of SRG in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Cristos Cotsakos, the ACNielsen Chairman at that time entered the presentation stage in an almost deus ex machina fashion. Instinctively, I searched for wire strings because he seemed like he floated on air alighting in the middle aisle to greet an enthralled audience. All the right production values were there, the lighting effects, the sounds and the professional histrionics of Cristos Cotsakos, Cristos Superstar.
I was asked to present Price Wise, a price test that seemed hi-tech enough to show to the new masters because the system had a modeling component. One of the Nielsen executives, an African American seemed to have looked at it as an intrusion into their grand show and showed his displeasure.
Their piece de resistance was the Nielsen Solution System, NSS. This was an integrated system which made use of data inputs coming from various Nielsen data resources to manage trade and market scenarios. Focusing on trade-market, and/or solely market and trade situations, the confluence of data will provide well informed judgments as bases for decisions. We were all impressed and hopeful for what seemed to be the “holy grail” of market research has been brought down to us wretched natives on this side of the world. Deservedly, the NSS presentation received a good response and in the open forum it seemed that all questions were sufficiently answered and apprehensions allayed. It was too good to be true. It prompted me to put forth the “put your money where your mouth is” challenge and Cristos without hesitation promised two million US dollars forthcoming within a six-month period to make it available in Asia Pacific. This promise was never made good. NSS never came. In a few months Cristos Cotsakos left Nielsen and went off to venture in a new frontier, the e business in the internet. This would make him a very rich man in no time at all. It would be unfair to hold Nick Trivisonno, the new ACNielsen chairman, accountable for the reneged promise. To his credit what ensued after his appointment were initiatives in management, administrative and technical fields that were received positively by the Asia Pacific units. Personally, I thought that the Cristos Cotsakos et al presentations felt like a barter trade of trinkets and beads as the conquistadores of old foisted to the poor devils of a new found land.
Shortly before the ACNielsen takeover, Bienvenido Niles, Jr., better known as Nonoy joined the company. He took over the post of Alistair Gordon who was the CEO of ACNielsen Pulse. Alistair was assigned to ACNielsen Malaysia to succeed Yong Kim Seng who was slated for retirement that year. Nonoy was coming from a successful market research career in Procter and Gamble, USA where he held the position of Regional Research Manager for Asia. His impact on ACNielsen Pulse was almost immediate. Revenue growth and margins on his first year achieved a palpable positive change. The staff responded well to his charismatic leadership style and recognized the astuteness of his business decisions.
Nonoy lead ACNielsen Pulse through a string of years of successful operations. The ACNielsen regional management was quick to recognize the mettle of this man and promoted him to Managing Director of South East Asia of which the Philippines was a part of. He made my job as Managing Director of the combined Pulse and Unisearch, ACNielsen Philippines, a lot easier when he left me with a strong and dynamic ACNielsen Pulse organization and business that meshed well with my equally successful and robust ACNielsen Unisearch organization.
Mike Connors was brought in to manage ACNielsen Asia Pacific. He was assisted by KN Tang in this responsibility. The new managers who went with him in Asia Pacific were Jim Cravens, for Legal who then later handled HR. Ford Dalmeyer would assume the legal counsel position vacated by Jim; Frank Martell for Finance but would succeed Mike Connors as head of Asia Pacific in time. Finance was handed over to Mike Barna when Frank became president of Asia Pacific.
Even earlier than the ACNielsen acquisition, Dedette Gamboa joined Unisearch after her stint as Research Manager of PRC. Dedette had strong beliefs that she unwaveringly stood by. I think she had a difference of opinion with the Marketing Director Ole van der Straaten, who shortly became president of PRC. I knew Dedette from way back and that between Ole and her I trusted her to be on the morally correct side. For reasons of my own, my regard for the then president of PRC was less than ideal. All of a sudden I found myself with three research directors in client service. We could afford it but extra effort to increase revenue had to be made to ensure that no negative effect on our bottom line was incurred.
Before Dedette arrived there were two research directors occupying a room. We had to squeeze in a third desk to accommodate Dedette. Among the directors Feddie was the meekest and I was just speculating that she ended up in the middle of the three-desk alignment without a window because the two other directors were both strong willed and might have insisted on having window seats. The arrangement was alright for a while but later on Feddie mentioned that she was getting distracted by the constant debates that went on between Dedette and Nena, add to that the even noisier arguments that ensued when I joined the fray. I think Feddie might have mentioned her predicament to Rosie Chew. Rosie called me up to tell me that she has a need for Feddie in Pulse. Anyway, she said, that I probably had one more director than I needed. I didn’t want to let go of Feddie because with the triumvirate I had the strongest customized team in the whole industry and I was confident that we would be able to get more market shares in the customized market with the star team that I had. I acceded to Rosie because the request came from a sister company, and that Feddie would probably be glad to get out of a “Scylla and Charybdis” situation and also would be happier to be back with her former group.
I couldn’t hang on to Dedette for long. We had our differences before on research issues and often debated them ad nauseum or until we both run out of air. This time she complained of the long hours that the client service group had to put in to meet the targets. She mentioned that the hard driving atmosphere in Unisearch was unfair not only to her but to the other employees as well. She expressed this sentiment openly and it was not doing the morale of the company any good. I finally agreed to her leaving us for MBL-Trends. Mercy Abad, according to her, had a more humane management style and was easy on the sales quotas imposed on her people. I guess she found her ideal working place. She is still with MBL-Trends up to this day.
With the loss of Dedette, Nena did a yeoman’s job handling both the demanding Unilever account and the fast growing non-Unilever sector. We needed another director to help out. We were able to get Nini Balderama, formerly from Colgate to join us as Assistant Director. Not used to the pace in Unisearch, she did not stay long. We had to be contented with hiring research managers but there was a scarcity even at this level. We did not lack Research Executive trainees. We continuously looked for young men and women who would have the potential to become career researchers.
The experienced researchers in Unisearch did not have time to train. They were always out servicing clients and time in the office was spent doing analysis, writing up reports and preparing presentations. In one particular year I was lucky to get Professor Ned Roberto to agree to handle the training of our research executives. He was recently retired as head of the Marketing Department in the Asian Institute of Management, AIM so I asked him if he could do this for me. Dr. Roberto is a very well respected researcher in both the industry and the academe. As expected Dr. Roberto did a superb training job and it solved my training requirements for that year.
Later on with the entry of more senior personnel training became less of a problem. It took awhile before we were able to get Rosanna Caballero and Ambo Reyes to join Unisearch. Rosanna came from San Miguel. In her earlier years she was with market research under Tony Concepcion the head of the San Miguel research group at that time. She then went into marketing management then opted for early retirement. Ambo was also from San Miguel research. He joined Bases, a simulated test market system then included in Frank Small”s portfolio, as an analyst and expert in the system. Ambo was taken into ACNielsen when Bases became affiliated with ACNielsen. I took him in when he expressed his desire to have a permanent locally based post since he was just about burned out from too much traveling. After about two years Rosanna left to join her family in Australia. It was timely that Agnes Tayao, an ACNielsen research director assigned in the UK, was looking for a Philippine posting when her parents needed her to be close at hand for they were on in years and fragile in health. Agnes was heaven sent. She was an experienced client service person and was used to the kind pace we had at Unisearch. She had made the rounds of international assignments in ACNielsen with the posting in the UK as the last.
One of the recurrent problems was the replenishment of research executives who seemed to have had enough of the job after a year. Very few manage to graduate into management. We lose them to other agencies, other career alternatives, pursuit of masteral degrees and we also lose them to other SRG units. It was the practice in SRG and in ACNielsen to post vacancies in the company bulletin board or in the e-mail. Our executives were much in demand in the region. This led to the depletion in the research executive and research manager ranks.
Research International or RI, the former research agency of Unilever soon became active in Asia. They were the preferred international research agency buyer at the time Unilever put up Unisearch for sale. At that time their investment priority was in Europe and so they passed up their chance to acquire Unisearch. They now bought a substantial share of the Philippine Survey Research Company or PSRC which was owned by Menchu Esteban. PSRC was getting steady business from Colgate. This was to be expected since P&G used Consumer Pulse and Unilever had Unisearch. Menchu used to be with Rosie Chew in Consumer Pulse but eventually set up her own. PSRC was one of the bigger players in the local industry but were not improving their share of the business as fast as they would want to. Like other local companies they must have felt that affiliation with big international agencies was the way forward. Even before the Research International affiliation they had a tie up with Nielsen Media in an unsuccessful bid at wresting the Television Measurement service from Media Pulse who had enjoyed a monopoly of the television ratings business for quite some time.
The PSRC-RI affiliation was the first serious threat to our hold on Unilever. We were past the three-year business guarantee with Unilever and were now vulnerable to encroachments from other research agencies. At about the same time Menchu’s son RJ had joined her research organization. RJ Esteban was an ex Unilever manager who would include in his network Unilever managers in marketing who could or would have a direct influence in market research decisions in the company. Menchu could not have asked for a better person to hand over the family business. RJ was an energetic and able market researcher and has found acceptance in the industry despite his youth and relatively short experience in market research. The RI connection plus the positive influence of RJ in the local market made for a formidable competitor in PSRC. The area where they had successful incursions was in the Unilever regional projects where we almost had nil participation. However, they had little success in product development tests despite the serious effort they made in dislodging this from Unisearch. A major inroad that RI was able to make was not through PSRC but through another Research International company called Millward Brown who had two products that were developed for Unilever in Europe and were now being rolled out in Asia. They had the Advanced Tracking Program or ATP and the Advertising Pretest system named Preview which we had to learn because Unilever required us to have the ability to run these systems. Being the most senior client service person in the company Nena Barredo was trained to be the ATP and Preview champion for Unisearch.
The race for an efficient market tracking system had started way back. We have persevered with Mixtrack which, for the lack development support had to trudge and improve bit by painful bit. Mixtrack had very good features and were tailor made for take up into the information systems of PRC, however, we had an ungainly delivery system which could deliver great analysis but was not too marketing user friendly. Our competitors were Stochastic of MBL-Trends a company started by Mercy Abad and Market Minds of TNS run by the late Darrah Estrada who was once a Consumer Pulse Director. While we think that Mixtrack features were far superior from them we did not have the elegant delivery systems that both products of competition had. Marketing guys loved to play around with the tracking data by themselves. In the case of Mixtrack the analysis was always with Unisearch assistance. The other drawback was Mixtrack was not an imported system. In a highly technical field such as market research homegrown technology has an image handicap.
SRG regional management recognized the importance of pursuing the development of a “Rolls Royce” market tracking system. Every SRG country unit would have one form of homegrown tracking system and would ardently push for their models during the regional meetings that were held for market tracking development workshops. Flag waving was often the culprit why regionally assembled working committees hit the shoals. I probably was as guilty as the others when it came to the enthusiasm by which I would present Mixtrack and would not brook any criticism on it. The meetings usually deteriorated into a quail hunt where anything on the rise was shot down. Nothing ever came out of these conferences. After squandering SRG money and executive time the network elders looked elsewhere for solutions. They found this in Research International’s Advanced Tracking program.
These were to be trying times for Unisearch. Sixty percent of our revenues came from Unilever and twenty percent of their research spending was on market tracking. Mixtrack was to be defended at all cost. SRG was able to get an agreement with RI to include ATP in their portfolio as a joint effort that would be mutually beneficial. Since Unilever was a client in all the Asian countries where SRG operated it was really a very promising deal. Added to ATP, an ad pre-testing product, Preview was included in the SRG portfolio. Preview, was developed for Unilever by Research International through the encouragement of David Laker who at that time was the head of Market Research in Unilever. This was going to be rough sailing for us in Unisearch. We were up against Research International and the ties that they had with Unilever in the UK remained very strong. These research systems were designed by RI for Unilever and would therefore be the recommended practice in Unilever markets. Since it was a region-wide directive we had to participate in the training programs that were organized for our people to learn the operations of these two products. My best chance of resisting the directive was on the basis of costs. At this time, the Asian economic meltdown was upon us and all companies in the region, Unilever included, were grappling with budgetary problems. RI’s quote was in US dollars and was about 40% more expensive than Mixtrack. Also, US dollars were hard to acquire locally at that time. Mixtrack was acceptable to Unilever, Philippines and has been long in use with the marketing people. In the meantime we were pressing Tang Yeong Kim, the head of SRG’s technology application unit to hasten his development of Trackscope, the delivery system that we were adopting for Mixtrack.
I needed allies within SRG to ensure Mixtrack’s existence. The opportunity to present and hopefully persuade my MD colleagues about Mixtrack was during the gaps in regional meetings. I found cooperation from Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and later Indonesia. They agreed for us to send trainors of the system to their countries. I sent Gerry Soleminio to deliver the training to these countries. What we found in common with the countries interested in Mixtrack was the unwillingness of the Unilever companies to pay for the kind pricing RI had for the service. The economic down turn in Asia have made, even Unilever companies price conscious. The pricing was in US dollars. At the time severe forex upward swings were being experienced. Mixtrack found willing ears to what it had to offer because of friendly prices. Mixtrack had evolved into a tracking system that was customized to respond to the requirements of PRC’s information system. These would probably be no different from what Unilever would require in Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. With Mixtrack, we were able to hold on to a sufficiently large amount of business. In the meantime, ACNielsen persevered with the development of a tracking system and finally came up with Winning Brands that had reaped a modicum of success thus far or from what I knew of it at the time of my retirement. Winning Brands was able to somewhat spare us from ATP and from a potentially injurious alliance with a global competitor in a big revenue service area like market tracking.