MRBA Chairman Ian Brace writes:

“Initially social distancing and then the lockdown have had a huge impact on market research.  And for none more so than face to face interviewers.  Research companies started to close down face to face interviewing from about the middle of March.  This led to concern amongst these interviewers as to how they were going to get any income.  As we know, following lockdown the government introduced the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme under which employees unable to work could be furloughed.  For a while, though, there was still uncertainty as to the status of interviewers and whether they would be eligible for this and, given their fluctuating income, exactly how much they would be eligible for.

During this period, the MRBA, not unexpectedly, saw a huge surge in enquiries. These ran overall at 50 times our normal rate and peaked at nearly 100 times.  We had to completely redesign our processes to be able to cope with this demand. Our wonderful team of Regional Managers and administrator Danielle turned themselves into a telephone support unit, giving support and advice to many worried people. They were able to advise them to what they could be eligible for and who they should speak to in their circumstances.  The MRBA advice document was incorporated into the MRS industry advice and is still available on both the MRBA and MRS websites.

And the management committee, by then meeting twice a week by video conference, had to consider our own financial future by modelling different rates at which we could provide help without ourselves running out of reserves.

However, the government schemes were very timely and the positive and caring response of the research companies provided most people with sufficient certainty. Consequently, the number of applications for our help has, for the moment, slowed up considerably, and we remain solvent.

Our thoughts have shifted to what happens next.  When the government schemes come to an end, will social distancing remain in place? This would mean that face to face interviewing will not be able to resume.  There could be a long gap between the cessation of government support and the ability of interviewers to get back to work.  We expect that that is when we could see a huge surge in new applications, and we are now planning how we might manage that.

Recently we have heard that the furlough scheme is to be extended for a further four months, with employers picking up a larger share as employees return to work.  If social distancing stays in place beyond then, that could still mean a gap between the end of the scheme and pay cheques coming in for this group, so we must remain vigilant.

Meanwhile, non-Coronavirus-related cases continue to present themselves, so it is business as (nearly) usual with them. We are still here to help all colleagues in UK market research including researchers, telephone interviews, support and technical staff, field supervisors, consultants, and everyone else.

Please email if you or someone you know may need our help.

Under the MRBA Skills banner, we have been able to help several people who were in danger of dropping out of their MRS Certificate course because of lack of funds to carry on.  Although not meeting our usual criteria, we were able to be flexible so that they can continue with their studies. And we are introducing the Special Skills Lockdown Bursaries for people who want to start studying during lockdown for the December assessment. There is more about this elsewhere in this newsletter.

We are living in unusual times, but the MRBA will be here to provide whatever help we can, for as long as we can.”


For all MRBA Matters May 2020 articles click here