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Tom Quirk explains the origins of Quirk’s Marketing Research Review

Quirk’s founder and publisher emeritus Tom Quirk tells the story of how his early careers in publishing and marketing research led to the creation of the magazine that bears his name.

Author: QMRR Publisher Tom Quirk

What’s in a name?

While longtime readers of Quirk’s may recognize Tom Quirk as the man whose last name gives Quirk’s Marketing Research Review its distinctive title, there are many others who don’t know the story of how the magazine came to be.

In a nutshell, in the course of his years in the publishing and marketing research fields, Tom repeatedly saw the need for a publication that could educate marketers on the use and value of research. And, since people often come to marketing research positions from a variety of backgrounds and hence may not be versed in all of the techniques and their accompanying jargon, the magazine’s content would have to communicate to a wide audience, from the seasoned pro to the marketer-in-training.

Here, then, is Tom’s take on how it all happened.

After my army service was completed in 1956 I returned to the University of Minnesota and took a number of advanced math and economics classes with the thought of obtaining a graduate degree in one of those two fields. It had always been my intention to work within the business community and thus the degree itself was not of much importance. Thus, when an older brother who was doing market research at G.H. Tennant Co. decided to return to college to obtain a Ph.D. and suggested I replace him, it took me only a few minutes to make the move away from academia. (It was a good decision for my brother as he went on to become a noted econometrician as a professor at Cal Tech.)

The main emphasis of the position was on studying the markets that the company’s products served using government census of manufacturers statistics and information from within the organization. Using this information we attempted to forecast unit sales by setting sales quotas and assist the production department in inventory. Similar work was done at my next place of employment, the D.W. Onan Co. At no time were either of the market research departments asked to evaluate or assist in the marketing of the products themselves.

In 1963 I was hired as the director of research for Minneapolis-based Miller Publishing Company. It was a 90-year-old business magazine publisher with a strong position in the field of agribusiness. Each publication group had a marketing director who had considerable autonomy in the way in which his/her publication was presented to customers and prospects. My arrival on the job came shortly after the company had created a division for two retail merchandising magazines. It was a competitive market and the marketing director, Paul Anderson, asked for my assistance in creating a plan that would make the Miller Publishing magazines industry leaders.

Wanted ideas and information

Most publications at that time presented market data that were acquired from third-party sources and available to everyone. We found that that their customers and prospects wanted ideas and information on ways they could be more successful in selling their products and services. We found that establishing a panel of retailers who represented the universe gave us an opportunity to meet this need. The response from the core audience was very positive and both publications achieved above-average growth.

The response from the Miller Publishing management encouraged more innovation and the department staff was enlarged. Included was a young researcher, Dale Longfellow, who provided a number of ideas to help the company’s publications maintain their positions as leaders in each of their respective fields.

Prior to 1968 all of the data we presented was done for the publications and made generally available. But we were beginning to have requests from major marketers to use our lists along with our knowledge of the various markets to do proprietary studies. Our first reaction was mixed. We were flattered by the faith in us by these companies but there was also concern how we would be able to insure that we could provide the confidentiality that is so critical to proprietary work.

We finally were able to solve the problem by separating our commercial research and the in-house research functions. All commercial research was done at a satellite location with employees specifically assigned to those functions.

Had little experience

It was shortly after embarking on the commercial research project that the idea of a publication for those involved in marketing research crossed my mind. When presenting data from our magazine research we usually met with marketing directors or advertising managers. Now we were calling on members of the market research departments. While the department managers were aware of the various techniques, many of their analysts had little experience in marketing research. Many firms used this position as part of long-term training in their marketing system. Many analysts did not view the position as a permanent job. All of this tended to make projects take longer than necessary and to subject clients to additional costs.

Another problem was the lack of confidence in research departments within certain companies. The departments did not have evidence that other firms were successfully using marketing research to increase sales and profits. We, of course, could not disclose how a number of our projects had done just that.

We needed a way to show how research had been beneficial. Confidential information was not needed to do this. Rather, clear, understandable examples of how filling an information gap helped an organization meet its marketing or advertising goals would do the trick. It would be something that a research manager could use as an example to show to higher management. The magazine would also provide news of the industry and the personnel involved. Information on providers of related products and services was also needed.

I set these ideas aside as I concentrated on my work but in the ensuing time I encountered several other instances where examples of successful applications of marketing research would have been helpful.

In 1978 the Miller Publishing Company was sold to American Broadcasting Company and I was required to sign a 66-month employment agreement. In 1984, with two associates, I started a new company, St. Paul, Minn.-based Rockwood Research Corp., which was immediately acquired by Farm Journal magazine. That employment agreement only lasted until 1986 when I, at last, had the opportunity to fulfill my dream.

A number of friends helped

Although I had been with publishing companies I had never been responsible for putting out an issue. Fortunately a number of friends helped through the first few issues including Emmet Hoffman, Dave Hahn, Keith Hunt and Robert Truhlar. They provided the necessary expertise to help us produce a credible product.

The response from the market was beyond expectations. In those early years, as today, we were guided by the ideas that a publication – especially in the business-to-business realm – will only be successful if it: reaches an audience that can be identified and quantified; provides unique and needed editorial information; and has a potential advertising base to provide financial support.

Just as essential, we’ve found over the past 25 years, are hard work, adaptability, strong customer service and a true respect for and enjoyment of the industry the magazine serves.

As we celebrate this milestone, I, along with the entire Quirk’s staff, would like to thank the marketing research industry for supporting our efforts with their time, their marketing and advertising dollars and their attention and enthusiasm. We truly could not have succeeded without you.

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