Now that the dust has settled after my return from New Orleans I thought to give a short summary of what I learnt, felt and found from the proceedings. There are four words that sum up my experience, so I’ve tried to group my thoughts under these.
My first word is noisy, or even loud. Of course there were tons of bands, music (such as the inspirational clarinettist Michael White) and dancing, which was all very New Orleans and very wonderful. But my feeling at conference was that the levels of engagement among delegates was high; from the seminar rooms (lots of questions, lots of laughter) to the exhibition hall (many interactive stands making for much more fun, such as E-Tabs’ photo booth, PREDictive wIKI’s game, and even Research Now’s butt drawings) and also within the various lounges (lots and lots of mini-meetings and get-togethers). No matter which corner you turned, the level of talk, argument and debate was high. It felt a bit less hushed, respectful and ‘corporate’ than in previous years. Basically, if you wanted to be visible at this conference you needed to make some noise, get your message out in multiple ways and ultimately, create some buzz.
My second word is experimental. Dare I say that the research and insight community has become a bit more risky? People were at last sharing mistakes, trying things out, admitting when it went wrong and not just when it all went blandly right. In addition there was a lot of encouragement passed from the stage to the participants to go out and try things, try new technologies, try implicit games, basically try new methodologies and approaches and work out what works for you. This is a great message because in the past innovation has often been sluggish in our business, and we are often slow to invest and take risks. Congress really made me feel this is starting to change (which will hopefully provide me with many more exciting stories to share with the media in the future).
So it may just be that I am getting old, but with the launch of ESOMAR’s young researcher initiative #YES, there did seem to be several more young people at Congress. A lot of highly visible stage time went to younger presenters, such as the Young ESOMAR Society Competition and the Corporate Youth Programme Award, won by Alex Wheatley from Lightspeed GMI. With an ageing population of researchers and members, and the need to reach out to those all-important millennials, (see the paper ‘The Game Changing Generation’ by SKIM and ‘Reaching young global audiences’ by the BBC) I think ESOMAR has made great strides in targeting a younger audience. Long may it continue.
My final word is hot. Let’s face it NOLA is boiling. The extreme aircon in the hotel kept us all suitably chilly and awake for the presentations, but when we stepped out for the two fabulous parties (Lucid’s cocktail party with Jazz and floats and the ESOMAR dinner held at the surreal Mardi Gras World) the real heat of New Orleans really embraced us. But there was a lot that was hot about the content as well – including a lot of good content on engagement (such as Research Now presenting their study done jointly with ESOMAR on the public perception of market research and the implications for the future, and Nikki Lavoie on new ways of engaging) proving we need to work hard to reach out to the people we research. Other memorable sessions included the implicit debate and the inspiring ‘World of warriors’; a selection of engrossing stories that feature researchers making a difference in the world from Somalia and Rwanda to Cambodia.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. There was a plethora of rich and insightful sessions which provided plenty of inspiration to take back to London.