Set Yourself Up For Learning: What It’s Like to Work in a Small Market Research Firm

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When you’re in the middle of a job search, it can be easy to focus on finding a position at a company that wants you. But it’s important to spend time thinking about what YOU want and need from your company as well. Consider things like the size of the company and what the culture is like there.

We catch up with Sophie Meharenna, Senior Associate in Marketing and Brand Development at Kelton to discover some of the benefits of working for a small market research firm (or any small company) and the importance of finding a company that’s a cultural fit for you.

How did you get started at Kelton and how has your position evolved over time?

I started as an intern while I was still in school as a Creative Writing and Marketing major. My duties included supporting the qualitative team and marketing. Then after I graduated I came on as qualitative research associate and project manager and I recently transitioned to a new position as the senior associate in marketing and brand development.

I found out about the internship randomly; I actually think it was a Craig’s List posting. At the time I was working at an entertainment law firm and thought that I’d like to explore marketing a bit more. I started off doing admin support and that quickly changed. I got a lot of exposure to what the qualitative team was doing and went to focus groups with them. Upon graduating, I came on full-time. I interned for about two years and I’ve been here for almost five years all together.

How would you describe your role within Kelton? What does a typical day look like for you?

I was in a bit of a dual role before, so my schedule was split between doing projects with clients and preparing marketing materials, so I would talk to potential clients and put together specific pitches.

Now my role is oriented toward marketing and business development, so I’m trying to create content we can leverage with our brand repositioning, which includes things like leadership pieces, brand voice, the new website.

We interface with a really diverse client base. It requires creativity on our part because we need to tailor our work to our audience. We may potentially work with churches, non-profits, and large companies.

I love this because it allows you to really get your feet wet in so many different industries.

Because we serve so many different clients, it almost feels like changing your job every few months because you get a new client and a new set of initiatives—it keeps you on your toes.

What drew you to your current profession? Which skills, education, and experience were necessary to get you there?

I was studying marketing and creative writing. At the company’s inception it was a market research firm started by two journalists, so it was a perfect fit for me in that it married the two things I’d already been studying—storytelling (since everything we provide is driven by storytelling) and marketing. A lot of market research firms just do a data dump, but our findings and reports are really presented in a way that can make an impact in an organization and can be easily disseminated to marketers and across different departments. Everything given to our clients is actionable.

The skills required include creativity and being nimble and service oriented. Consulting can be strenuous and you have to deal with a lot of moving parts, travel, working with high-level executives.

It’s exciting to see the outcome of our work in different campaigns, improvement of products, development of new service.

I like the philosophy of the company and the guys that started it. Their background in journalism translates well to what we do (interviewing). They’re nimble themselves, everyone is willing to roll up their sleeves and get dirty. They’re big proponents of entrepreneurship. It feels like a start-up—but we’re ten years old.

I think the company tends to hire people who are more experienced, but because I came in as an intern, my situation was a little atypical. Hiring is often based on organizational fit, but there’s a certain type of mentality of being able to work hard, go out of your way to make everyone happy on the client side, and there are ways to get in without having a deeply rooted research background.

How would you describe Kelton? How does it fit within your industry at large?

For our direct competitors it runs the gamut of market research firms. Some are huge quant shops that focus on things like online surveys with qualitative research being secondary. Then there are smaller boutique firms that do the qualitative piece.

Now as we’ve been repositioning ourselves, we’re playing against larger consultancies.

We pretty seamlessly integrate a lot of capabilities—qual, quant, communications strategy, design, and marketing strategy.

With every team you have senior folks who have great backgrounds, like the former VP of marketing of Westfield malls and the former CMO of Taco Bell. And also research teams and designers who partner with them to create succinct and visually attractive materials that combine visual and verbal storytelling. We’re at around 50 employees split between New York and LA and we recently partnered with a firm in London, Purple Market Research.

What are your favorite things about your job? Which aspects would you change if you could?

I’ve had the ability to wear many hats within the company, just by the nature of having had exposure to many elements of what we do and being able to carve out a role based on my background and what played best to my strengths.

I think it’s great that I got exposure to a lot of different things, but sometimes you want to do a lot and there’s not enough time for it. I miss traveling to meet with clients. I also sometimes feel jealous of the clients since they’re the ones that get to do the fun stuff and implement it after we provide them with the research.

The culture here is really unique, too. It’s like a family and it feels like a start-up. Everyone gels around each other’s personalities. Everyone is unique and has different backgrounds, but there is kind of a Kelton personality at the same time. That trickles down from our leadership team (they grew up together and it’s apparent in the way they communicate and interact). There’s office Olympics and other activities across coasts creating opportunities for us to create bonds; it’s just a fun place.

What advice would you give to college students interested in pursuing a job similar to yours?

Get ready to work hard but really enjoy it. It’s not easy. Try to get as much experience as you can.

Before deciding, get as much exposure as you can to lots of different companies so you can see what it’s like, e.g. a really big company or a smaller company because the size really impacts your ability to make an impact and flexibility. I’d encourage you to try both avenues because that plays a big role in your experience.

Culture is also a really big deal. At the end of the day, everyone has to work. There’s always things you don’t like to do, but if you’re doing it alongside people you share the same values with, that makes a really big difference. I would come to any interview with questions for them about their approach. Treat it like dating; see if you’re compatible. Through different jobs or internships you can hone what you want to do.

I think there is value in going to a boutique firm where there’s less of a chance that you’ll get lost, you’ll get more individualized attention. You set yourself up better for learning in a smaller environments.

Homework time! Sophie talks about the importance of finding a company that’s a good cultural fit for you. This can be hard to do if you don’t have much work experience, so try to learn as much as you can by talking to people you know about their jobs. Ask about things like the size of their company and team, what the dress code is like, and what types of activities coworkers do together (if any). Think about which aspects of company culture would be most important to you.

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