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Episode 35: Planning for Project Success: The Importance of Project Management and Hospitality in MRX

Sharday Torgerson (00:12):

So, welcome to the stories of Market Research, the Insight podcast. I’m Chari Torgerson, the creative and digital strategist at Insights in Saskatoon, Canada, and your host. I’m excited to welcome today’s guest to the podcast, Natalie Rena, president of Fieldwork Minneapolis. Welcome, Natalie.

Natalie Renna (00:29):

Thank you so much for having me.

Sharday Torgerson (00:31):

Yeah, thanks for joining us. Before we dive in, I wanted to let you know that I absolutely loved your fieldwork employee screener as a website bi. I have to admit, as a marketer, I find that stuff super clever. I’ll actually link it down below cause I think any other market researcher, if you will, would love to see stuff like that. And I think it’s a fantastic tool to share a little bit more of a personal touch on things that you do feel work, but maybe instead of worrying about that, how about you share a little bit about yourself?

Natalie Renna (00:58):

Yeah, absolutely. I know those screeners are so fun because we’re always doing those with our, our participants, so it’s fun to turn the tables. But yeah, so thank you again for having me. As you said, my name’s Natalie Rena and I am the current president of Fieldwork Minneapolis. We’re a qualitative market research company, and we offer facility recruitment and project management SPO support for both online and in-person research. I started with the company in 2015 as a, as a project manager, and then in 2020 I had the opportunity to take on my current role.

Sharday Torgerson (01:41):

Oh, I love it. You, we, we’ve talked before and, and I love when folks kind of share their story and they always mention, oh, I never kind of expected to end up in market research. I, I’m curious, how did you find that your background, maybe in project management help you maybe succeed in the field of market research?

Natalie Renna (02:00):

Yeah, so market research sort of fell into my lap. I have a degree in organizational leadership and a minor in project management. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. So I knew I wanted to go into project management in some way but wasn’t completely sure on what area. I was open to it and I wanted to get the experience. So at the time, fieldwork Minneapolis was looking for someone to join their PM team, and kinda one thing led to the other and, and I found myself in market research. But what’s funny is that while I didn’t intend to work in market research <laugh>, I feel like it’s really the best fit for me. I love problem solving. I have a long history of client and customer service experience. I love deep diving and looking for answers and kind of figuring out how people tick. And that kind of sums up what we do every day talking to a lot of people problem solving and seeing what we could find out for our clients.

Sharday Torgerson (03:08):

I love that. I find that folks will come from other industries or other backgrounds and they’ll, they’ll find a gap within market research, and they love to fill that gap with whatever skillset or whatever technology that they really think could be, you know, of benefit to market research. And I would argue the project management is one of the, the unsung heroes in terms of roles at any market research firm. Even myself, we work at a full qualitative and quantitative market research firm, and we have more than five project managers in-house. We have them both on the research services side as well as the online community side. And like I said, there really are the unsung heroes. So Deli to deliver the best results, Natalie, a market research project, you know, must be planned. It must be scoped, it has to be executed carefully, and ultimately it is up to the research manager to ensure that everyone, including the researchers stay on track. So I’m wondering, what is your super superpower to keep people on track?

Natalie Renna (04:09):

<Laugh>? Yeah. Well, you know, thinking about it, I don’t know if it’s a superpower, but I think what makes a good project manager is really someone who has a strong attention to detail and is always looking a few steps ahead. We always joke with our projects, we’re living three to four weeks ahead because we’re looking at that end date, right? And so you know, a good project manager, they’re looking ahead to see if there’s any obstacles coming up that they may push things off track. They’re really recalling those past experiences, those past details from similar recruits to, oh, is this a red flag? Should I, should I communicate these concerns to the client? And if so, you gotta do it right away. So the quicker they’re addressed, you know, those issues, the better the outcome. So somebody who’s really on top of the details, I like to think that I am one of them <laugh>. But I know that from my experience and with the, the PMs that I work with, that’s what makes the, those who have successful really succeed.

Sharday Torgerson (05:15):

So what are some challenges of being a, a project manager and specifically maybe in the market research field?

Natalie Renna (05:22):

Yeah. Well, we’re definitely finding that projects are becoming more and more complex. Hmm. algorithms, multiple research methodologies, challenging low incidence targets. It’s not often we’re looking for those gen pop respondents anymore, but we’re really looking for very specific demographics medical conditions, purchasing habits, and so on. So that really, it keeps us on our toes. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> it hel it forces us to continue to refresh our database and our connections on social and really getting fresh folks into our database to, to join us. And really another, the challenge of, of whenever you’re working with people there’s always those, those challenges that come in. Timelines are changing. Respondents cancel test product isn’t available on time for research. Our project managers are really change managers because those things are just bound to happen. That’s part of just the nature of what we do.

Sharday Torgerson (06:30):

That’s a very, very great way to put it. I’ve, I’ve heard this all before, working in an agency. You know, it’s, it’s really a complex environment right now, as you mentioned, there’s a lot of moving parts within a lot of these one-off studies that we are working on. So research has become so, so vastly custom and accommodating between clients can often prove difficult just given their needs. So what would you then say to a market a project manager who is looking to maybe make a more significant impact on, say supporting sample sources or screening for criteria where elements of preventing recruitment mishaps something that we struggle with in-house ourselves?

Natalie Renna (07:14):

Yeah. So with recruitment mishaps, I think one of the most, I, that’s something we, every chance we get, we want to avoid right? Going, that never is something that you want. So one of the most important things we do to prevent recruitment mishaps is to ensure that the screener is clear and easy to understand right from day one. Because when recruiting, we strictly follow those screening questions to make sure that we follow, find folks that are the perfect fit for what our client is looking for. And so our project managers and recruiting supervisors really are experienced and take their time to thoroughly review those, those screeners prior to handing them to the recruiting team. And they are very comfortable with identifying maybe questions or skip patterns or criteria that isn’t quite clear and getting that clarification from the client. And, and we al we always wanna keep those lines of communication open with our client and tell them exactly what we’re finding. If we’re seeing a trend a termination trend with recruitment that is really holding things up or, or really people are falling through the cracks that is the, the duty of our recruiters and our project managers to really bring that to their attention. Because it really can’t make or break a recruit.

Sharday Torgerson (08:46):

We do quite a bit of work when it comes to looking at projects to get the most out of the takeaways, especially when we’re looking at recruitment within the last five years, even ourselves. We, we sample, we have sourcing from many different types of samples. Online community is a big one for us. We have in Citrix communities in-house, and we’re consistently recruiting. But we also exist in, in an area in Canada where the population incidence is quite low in comparison to other places. Were very spread out as well in Saskatchewan and central Canada. And we often find that our sample sources and screening right criteria are very important. Just in terms of localizing people, knowing people and knowing the people that you’re trying to get in front of is, is inherently more important than it has been in the past. As you mentioned, gen pop seems to be less important these days right. Folks are really looking to get in front of the right person in market research.

Natalie Renna (09:48):

Yeah, absolutely. And we utilize, you know, we never just stick to our database. We have a very healthy local database, but with social media, just so such a great resource, we use that so often to really target a specific folks say we are recruiting for a specific medical condition, we’ll tap into those communities and talk to them. And or we’re looking for consumers who are buying a specific type of lawnmower, for example, <laugh>. We’re gonna, we’re gonna target them. And, and there’s ways to do that. I think you have to always look outside the box mm-hmm. <Affirmative> you have to always keep recruiting fresh utilizing social media, utilizing referrals you know, reaching out to community groups and support groups. It’s all there. It’s just a matter of taking that step to, to reach out.

Sharday Torgerson (10:48):

Absolutely. Yeah. I, I love that actually, recruiting fresh, what a, what a great way to put it. Consistently doing this not just catering to the project. I think sometimes that often we get into the, the weeds of things where, you know, we just need somebody who does a certain thing, and then we recruit for that person when we should be replenishing consistently.

Natalie Renna (11:12):

Right. It’s looking ahead. It’s, it’s exactly what I said. It’s a good project manager’s looking ahead. They’re anticipating, they’re seeing those proposal requests come in that maybe that project isn’t it, maybe it’s six months out, but they know it’s on the way. So what can we do now to set us up for success down the road?

Sharday Torgerson (11:32):

Absolutely. Again, I just feel like I’m, I’m listening to my project manager <laugh>. This is a consistent conversation in house. I love it, but, right. It, it, it’s super important. And I think, again, just back to the whole idea about ensuring that we’re recruiting for the right people. Project managers play a really, really special role in that. So I would argue that’s a, that’s a super, superpower. All in event, all

Natalie Renna (11:56):

<Laugh>. Yeah. Yeah, definitely.

Sharday Torgerson (11:57):

So getting kind of back into, you know, the, the risks of things, if you will, but you, the biggest risk to success can often be, you know, the most significant impact, especially on cost recruitment. We’re talking about sample sourcing and criteria. How do you manage recruitment goals with your clients to ensure that we’re keeping projects on budget?

Natalie Renna (12:18):

Yeah, I think it really starts at the proposal phase. First gathering all of the information that they have on their research, what they need, what is vital for, for their project. Our team works really hard to have a clear understanding of the screening criteria and the client’s expectations. What they’re needing enabled to, to enable them to pull this off what kind of, of assistance they’re needing. And from there, if we have all that information, we can provide the most realistic proposal for their project. And we’re always willing to discuss if things don’t come right to the budget that our clients are needing. We, we use our proposals as, as a discussion a place to start the discussion because we want it to work out for all parties involved. But, you know, I think what’s super important, like you said sticking on budget, it’s, it’s communication. It’s sharing with the client what we’re finding, if we’re finding a huge number of potential respondents terminating at a, at a certain point in the screening criteria, and it’s really cutting into our, our resources that needs to be discussed mm-hmm. <Affirmative> because that does impact budget for their overall project. So I think being transparent with what we can provide and what the client is looking for and communicating th that’s key to, to keeping things on track.

Sharday Torgerson (14:00):

I love it. Couldn’t have said it better myself. You know, within the market research industry, within project management, I think there’s another segment where project managers provide an inherent value and that be in the hospitality area of market research. So often we talk about hospitality being a part of, you know, travel and tourism. But, you know, I, I would argue that in-person research is very much within the mix of hospitality and it, in terms of it being super important to the services provided. Now, I understand field work specializes in this area as well. I wouldn’t mind knowing maybe a little bit more perhaps in the last few years. It sounds like field work has taken a bit of a collaborative approach to these types of services. Can you dive a little bit more into your growing team and those types of hospitality services you provide?

Natalie Renna (14:58):

So, my team’s comprised of project managers, recruiters and client services specialists. And we work together, provide solutions for our clients, and that’s done through hospitality in our facility. And I think that can also be extended to online virtual spaces too. It’s the idea that you are taking care of, of your guests, taking care of the people that you’re working with. And when clients come into our facility, they’re welcomed by a, a beautiful office space and spacious rooms and anything that they need to make sure that their sessions can run successfully. And we take care of all the details we’re, we all wear many hats. And I think the, the beauty of field work is that’s just ingrained in, in how we do business. Totally. whatever you need to do, we’re all will always willing to jump in and help wherever it’s needed.

Sharday Torgerson (16:05):

Absolutely. I, again, I, I would argue that supporting you know, both in-person research and virtual research you know, for things like focus groups and IDIs, that the incredible level of hospitality that goes into it is, is undervalued. You know, hospitality is a service that exists in many industries, as we talked about, but as you mentioned, it’s really about being welcoming and, and making people feel comfortable. And I’m, I’m sure there is plenty of topics and sensitivities within the market research you know, study perhaps where these types of things really matter to ensure that we’re getting the best quality results from, from each individual. So, you know, as that comes to mind, how do you maybe compare hospitality in market research with perhaps say, hospitality at a a luxury hotel?

Natalie Renna (16:55):

Yeah. So, so when you stay at a hotel, you wanna know that all your needs are taken care of, right? Like a clean and comfortable room stocked refreshments and your mini fridge and a welcoming face at check-in. So we take that idea and we apply it to our facility experience. We have a saying at field work, focus on the research, we’ll take care of the rest, and we really mean it. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, we take care of everything from recruitment, check-in, catering, av office supplies, and any other coordination needed so that our clients can focus on really what’s important to them, and they can have the best experience.

Sharday Torgerson (17:39):

You know, we’re, we’re kind of talking about walking through maybe this, this experience. So as a participant and, and I say I am freshly recruited for a focus group through field work. Perhaps walk me through my experience when, when I may be, you know, working with an organization like you.

Natalie Renna (17:58):

Yeah. So we really couldn’t do what we do without our wonderful respondents mm-hmm. <Affirmative> mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. I mean, it’s just so important to care for them. It it’s just as important to care for them, it is for our clients. Absolutely. and so we reach out to respondents who have signed up in our database to say, Hey, call me. I wanna see if I qualify. We will reach out to them and, and screen them over the phone, and if they qualify we invite them to their session. And from there they will receive a confirmation email with all of the details. I think that’s really important. We’re taking all the guesswork out of it so they know where to show up, what time, what’s expected when they’ll be paid afterwards. That’s important too. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. So they’ll receive that, that email.


 And then they’ll also get confirmation phone calls and reminders beforehand to answer any questions that they might have. So when they come to the facility they’re welcomed and checked in, we have refreshments waiting for them and we really strive to start sessions promptly. It’s their time and we wanna really be respectful of that and make sure that the sessions run for the allowed time that they’ve agreed upon. And so really, you know, like I said, we, we really wouldn’t be able to do what we do without them. And they’re so important and, and we want them to have a positive experience with fieldwork as well.

Sharday Torgerson (19:42):

Absolutely. We, we had a full service focus group facility prior to the pandemic. We’ve since moved office spaces. But the one thing that we took major pride in is obviously the hospitality side of things, but then really just carrying that forward to the end client a lot of the times I think in, in most cases of a focus group or an I d i, you, you could have that end client participating as well. And, and they could be watching from a separate room, from a, a streaming, perhaps live a real recording of, of the focus group itself. I, I’m curious you know, without giving away the, the magic beans, if you will how do you guys really make sure that we’re, you know, you’re catering to, to end clients, especially maybe if they’re, they’re actually participating by, by watching the focus group live?

Natalie Renna (20:34):

Yeah. So we do have streaming capabilities in our facility so they can log in and view the sessions because often time they are remote mm-hmm. <Affirmative> and logging in from all corners of the globe to, to view the sessions. So we make sure that all of our tech is up and running and, and up to standard. So they get a nice clear view of the session. And no troubles with logging in. And we could provide assistance if, if they do have trouble. And then sometimes we’ll have the end client in facility observing the sessions and we welcome them in by providing them with a comfortable observation room refreshments, meals, whatever they need to be comfortable. And so they can focus on viewing the research as it’s happening. And with our end clients, it’s really interesting because oftentimes our contacts are, are moderators or independent researchers. Yeah. And their client is the end client. They’re here viewing the sessions, and, you know, we really wanna make sure that our clients are shining too. It it’s kind of showtime for them. And, and we wanna make sure that things run smoothly and they can provide the very best for their clients too.

Sharday Torgerson (21:59):

I love that. As someone who, again, works for a market research firm, when you work with another organization when they themselves inherently care about your client as if it were their own, I think that’s, again, an invaluable portion of that hospitality. It’s recognizing that if you win, we all win,

Natalie Renna (22:17):

Essentially. So. Absolutely. And really, you know, and I always, it’s something that we say within our team is if it’s important to our client, it’s important to us. Absolutely. You know, we’re a service. We’re, we’re in the service industry, essentially. We wanna provide that care. And and, and great, great service to, to anybody that we, that we work with, we have the opportunity to work with.

Sharday Torgerson (22:42):

So, and I, and I think really when it comes to hospitality, and, and again, the travel and tourism industry really push and promote for this, but you give someone a really great experience, nine outta 10 times, they’re gonna come back. And I think that’s really important, especially within the market research industry, is recognizing we’re, we’re full of one-offs. It is a part of our industry, right, in terms of working on research projects. But when you really go that extra mile for your clients, for your end clients, for your participants, you, you will grow the reputation where hopefully they come back again.

Natalie Renna (23:16):

<Laugh>. Absolutely. And when we get those reviews or notes from our clients afterwards, it just means so much. And it’s, it’s a celebration within our team. We love sharing that with everybody. Because we, we do work so hard that when it’s validated by by those we are, are working with it, it, it just feels really good.

Sharday Torgerson (23:39):

So suppose we, we keep talking about tourism as a top industry dedicated to hospitality as a service. In that case, you can see a transition from what the tourism industry may be offering in the past. So say, you know, the free cookies, the origami style towels to a service that’s more focused on health and safety as its customers, I now can only assume we’re experiencing the same shift Regarding perhaps services that you provide, say within the, the in-person research

Natalie Renna (24:08):

Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>. Yeah, definitely. So health and safety of our clients and respondents and staff. It’s, it’s extremely important to us. And the past few years we’ve seen quite a shift. We, at, at one point we’re having you know, meals family style, essentially catering, meals, family style. And so we really had to change our, our methods for that. But we made it work. We were able to get meals packaged individually for our clients. We we changed our, our backroom setups and, and snack areas to make sure people were comfortable. And, and once things started to kind of go back to it’s normal you know, things started to loosen up. We followed what we were hearing from our clients and from our respondents and how they were feeling. Were they feeling comfortable not wearing a mask or did they prefer to wear it?


 Did they feel more comfortable with individual meals or back to more of family style catering? We really wanted to keep those lines of communication open. We you know, we followed all of the safety and health protocols that our, our local officials had laid out for us. And, and we were real, we, we still continue to be very diligent about cleaning and, and disinfecting all of our surfaces. And that’s something that we’ll just continue to do <laugh>. But really, I think it’s, yeah, it’s just been as we’ve kind of transa transitioned kind of out of that keeping those communications and expectations open and talking about it with, with, with whoever comes into the facility. And we actually we even conducted exit interviews with respondents and clients to hear what feedback they had regarding cleanliness and safety standards during their visit to see us. And, and I’m happy to say we had not one complaint, everyone was in agreement that they felt comfortable. And, and that’s really important to us. That’s what’s important to us in the end.

Sharday Torgerson (26:30):

I love it. Again, the strength of market research, using our own tools to really understand the services that we provide. Absolutely. So wonderful. Yeah. In thinking exit surveys and, you know, again, it, it feels like maybe the health, health and safety protocol side of things that we’ve been dealing with recently in terms of the pandemic, you know, it may, may have disrupted in-person research to an extent, but a, as you mentioned, I think it’s something that we’ve always really strived to care about having the these top notch best in class facilities. You know, don’t come without having protocol in that nature already. But what a great habit to keep up as well. So this is not something that, you know, as an agency or as an industry, that we’re saying, oh, this is no longer a requirement. We’re gonna go back to the family style meals, as you mentioned, really connecting with our customers to ensure that, you know, they’re comfortable. So that, again, we’re getting the, the best quality data.

Natalie Renna (27:20):

Yeah, absolutely. And, and letting them take the lead on what, what they feel is most comfortable for them and their team. Love

Sharday Torgerson (27:27):

It. I love it. Couldn’t agree more. Again, back to that, the hospitality side of things, making them feel as comfortable as possible by letting absolutely <laugh>. But you know, in part of the, I, again, we can’t kind of keep talking about the hospitality, but I love the conversation. I think it’s actually, it’s not talked about enough in market research as far as I’m concerned. So I’m, I’m happy we’re, we’re putting this topic out there. But you know, a part of hospitality is the, the expectation management of everything. And, you know, unfortunately people are kind of full of assumptions and maybe preconceived notions, or that’s just me being bitter on a Monday. Just kidding. What, what do you, what do you do at fieldwork maybe to ensure that you are meeting a research participant’s expectations when entering a facility? And now I, we kind of talked about just making them feel comfortable, but just kind of going back to that idea about the hospitality side of your service to help ensure that stronger show rate.

Natalie Renna (28:23):

So as far as hospitality, when it comes to show rates, something that we have noticed really actually helps show rates quite a bit, is really taking that extra care to reach out to respondents with timely reminders via email and phone calls. Providing them with all the details in multiple ways written and verbal and and providing any kind of support that they may need in order for them to follow through with their commitment. So, for example, if they are joining us for a focus group that has a pre group assignment, they have received everything. We confirm verbally that they understand they need to complete that before joining us for this session. And they have everything they need to get here on time and ready to participate. Same codes for virtual sessions. We do check, we do tech checks to make sure that their webcam’s working, their microphone is working, they can access the virtual room easily. It’s just taking extra care to make sure that they are all set and ready to go. And it’s absolutely worth it a hundred percent of the time because it really improves show rates and just the overall respondent experience.

Sharday Torgerson (29:53):

I, I what I’m hearing is that humanizing the approach is incredibly important.

Natalie Renna (29:59):

Absolutely. You know, it’s funny, these past few years we have really noticed as, as a lot of work went digital and to virtual interviews, and we still do have quite a bit of that mm-hmm. <Affirmative> as, as things went back to more and more face-to-face research, we really see how important it is that that human factor getting, getting people together to talk is a really powerful thing. And to be able to share those human experiences together, it, it’s, it’s such a huge part of what we do day to day Yeah. And in market research. So humanizing every, every step of the process is, is important.

Sharday Torgerson (30:48):

We recently did a mystery shopping project in-house, and it was a very large undertaking for us. But the reason why it was is, is mainly because the humanized approach we took to ensuring that our mystery shoppers understood their assignments, the projects that they were doing. And at one point in one project, we were working with 30 different shoppers on any given basis, and we have one project manager in house who, bless her, really, really managed it well. But the, the, the in intricacies of, of working with other people, people you’ve never met, people with different backgrounds, skill sets, experiences, and, and really getting them to be a part of the, the research process without having to feel like they’re doing any extra work. And as you mentioned, that’s a big part of it. Taking the guesswork even away from the participant. Really what they should be doing is showing up, participating with, with their, you know, best thoughts at, at hand, rather than, you know, worrying about where they have to park or, or who they have to, to greet when they, they enter the building. So I think really taking those variables out of the equation really support the market research. And we are even seeing on our end client side, you know, we’ve done incredible work on this mystery shopping project. So it’s definitely being seen on the client side, which is great for us, but it be really dedicated to just being hospitable with our mystery shoppers.

Natalie Renna (32:10):

So. Absolutely. Absolutely.

Sharday Torgerson (32:13):

Well, I would love to continue kind of diving into this conversation, Natalie. I could probably talk all day about anything to do with market research, but I think we’ll end our conversation here today. Is there any maybe final thoughts you would like to, to land today in, in regards to us talking about everything from hospitality and market research, the services you provide? You know, what has fieldwork got going on right now?

Natalie Renna (32:36):

Yeah, we are finishing up this year really strong. We’ve had a fantastic year. Facility has been busy and we’re seeing so many clients return to face-to-face market research, which is thrilling. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. We’re excited about the new year, seeing more people come in and, and and more projects on the horizon. So we’re excited and really proud of, of what we’ve been able to accomplish. And excited to see what’s next.

Sharday Torgerson (33:12):

I love it. Yep. I would agree that face to face market research is gonna continue to be an important topic in 2023. It’s always been a very important part of our, yeah. Our service providing side of things. But I do anticipate, again, just how things have changed. You guys are very clearly ahead of the curve in a lot of the needs in terms of how things are changing because of the pandemic. So kudos to you guys at fieldwork, and again, I really appreciate you jumping on the podcast today, Natalie. As I mentioned, project researchers are an unsung hero. Hospitality is an undervalued topic in market research, so I’m happy to shine a light on both.

Natalie Renna (33:48):

Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. It’s been fun.

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