Go on. Prove it

Thursday, 5 January 2017 14:45

This is the last of these articles which I will write as editor. Given that the owners wish me to continue to contribute, I dare say that examples of my matchless prose may continue to grace this magazine, but not as head honcho. 

I must say that it has not come a moment too soon. There is hardly a subject over the past 20 years or so upon which I have not expressed an opinion and in recent times the search for something to say has led me to recruiting topics to the cause, whose relationship to the outdoor industry has at best been tenuous. Indeed, it was one of these that produced the greatest response from readers. This related to my musing on the business by which we are now expected to prepare our own toast when staying in a hotel. It struck a resounding chord with those who, like me, can remember a time when a suitably attired flunkey or flunkess would fetch and carry breakfast to one’s table. Of course this was before hotels ‘improved’ their service by getting you to fetch it yourself. These ‘improvements’, which are by no means restricted to the catering sector, are frequently explained and justified by those making them quoting the findings of ‘a survey’.

In this regard the ‘survey’ has become a useful tool for those who need to mask cost-cutting measures. For example, apparently the makers of Mars bars, surveyed customers and found, incredibly, the majority were happy to see the size of the bar shrink whilst the price remained unchanged, although somewhat mysteriously Mars carried out the change before coming up with the survey.

Surveys can also be used to explain what might otherwise seem like (and actually is) a business simply exploiting an opportunity. A great example of this was provided by The North Face’s Timo Schmidt-Eisenhart, then head of TNF’s EMEA region. During that 2010 conversation, I challenged him on the then growing number of North Face own stores. How did he justify competing with his indies in this way? Indies should be grateful, he told me, because The North Face knew that a brand shop nearby actually boosted sales for its indie neighbours. And apparently North Face knew this because it had carried out a survey.

So, naturally enough, I asked if I could see the survey? Apparently I could not. And neither could I see the questionnaire nor indeed know the dates when the survey was carried out.

Of course it is all very well for me to lampoon the evasiveness of those involved, but one must acknowledge the degree to which we, the media, are responsible for this state of affairs. It was newspapers and then broadcast media later, who were first to understand the value of surveys in creating news features. Not only that but how to amortise the cost by getting others to do the work. 

So it is, for example, that a woman’s magazine might survey its readers about their sex lives and agree a deal with a tabloid, allowing the latter to publish the more salacious results in exchange for which it will heavily reference that magazine’s latest issue to be published, say, the following day.

Thus it is that surveys are now designed to produce an intended outcome. I know this to be a fact, of course, because nine out of 10 editors say so.


By Simon Baseley