11 May Market Research Agencies recovered well from corona, but inflation calls a halt to growth
May 11th 2023. The Belgian market research agencies have continued to recover from the corona crisis in 2022, according to the Industry Statistics & Mood Indicator from industry association CUBE. Still, not all the stars are aligned favorably. Revenue growth is flattening out again and many agencies expect a negative impact in the coming months from the inflation crisis.
The Industry Statistics & Mood Indicator is a survey that CUBE organizes each year among its members and that is conducted by Phimedia, an independent research consulting company. The survey consists of two parts. The Statistics Indicator focuses on the size of the Belgian market research sector and was completed by 18 of the 25 members. The Mood Indicator gauges how agencies assess the future. This was completed by 17 members.
Corona crisis has been digested
The Statistics Indicator shows that the industry has now fully digested the COVID-19 crisis (which between 2019 and 2020 accounted for a drop in revenue of more than 11%). “Last year, the solid recovery that started in 2021 continued”, says CUBE President Tom De Ruyck. “However, this is not reflected in the overall figures, where we tally a 2.6% drop in turnover to 143.6 million euros. There is however a very specific reason for this: Kantar, one of the largest agencies in our country, divested its “Public division”-department and we see that effect throughout all the figures, not only in terms of turnover, but also in terms of employment and in terms of the position of Kantar itself.”
To start with the latter, Kantar currently ranks fifth in the ranking of market research firms in Belgium. The top three include Ipsos, GfK and Human8. Haystack is at four. Of the top five agencies, Kantar is also the only one that had to swallow a decline in revenue, all the others improved. Examining all 18 members who completed the survey, 15 of them saw an increase in turnover, by an average of 15%. Overall employment in the industry declined slightly from the previous edition of the survey, from 588,7 FTEs to 566,7 FTEs, or 3.7% less.
Nice growth path
“If you filter out the ‘Kantar effect’, you can see that overall, the sector still showed a nice growth path”, De Ruyck said. “That being said: most of our members are experiencing a kind of reality check. In our previous survey, there was enormous optimism about 2022. But the truly linear growth that many expected then didn’t materialize. Especially in the second half of last year, we saw gray clouds gathering. Not really thunderclouds yet, but still… Many agencies have their two feet firmly back on the ground.”
The Mood Indicator also shows this. Only 4 of the 17 agencies surveyed think the market will really pick up in 2023. Most (10) assume stable market conditions. Their own performance is in line with this. Five agencies expect no major fluctuations in revenues, five others assume a maximum growth of 5%. One agency expects to have to swallow a 16 to 20% decline in sales. At the other end of the spectrum, there is one optimist who predicts a doubling of his revenue.
“The rising energy prices and cost of living are causing headaches for many agencies”, De Ruyck admits. “As many as 88% of the participants think this will have an impact on business. 18% think the dip will be as bad or even worse than at the time of COVID-19. These are the ones who are really preparing for the worst. Specifically, they think it will lead to budgets coming under pressure, customers expecting more agility and wanting more value for the same budget. So, while revenue will remain fairly level, this does raise questions about profitability and margins.”
Another pain point that continues to trouble the industry is the prevailing war for talent, De Ruyck points out. “More than 8 in 10 business leaders in the industry indicate they are quite concerned about this. This isn’t just about finding people, it brings up a lot of other questions too: how do I keep my talent interested? How can I offer them a career path and make sure they don’t move to the client side or to the consulting agencies? The kind of talent we are looking for is also evolving at lightning speed. We are more and more in need people who can handle big data, who can find their way in AI or who can build digital platforms. And those are highly coveted and therefore very rare profiles.”
As a member of CUBE, you can request access to the full study at firstname.lastname@example.org.