On loving 70-page Powerpoints


Bored!!!!!!! by SAMAEL TRIP, on Flickr

I feel compelled to weigh in on the whole ‘Death by Powerpoint’ discussion.  Steve Gatt of Volkswagen was interviewed in August’s edition of Research Magazine, and gave an interview in which he complained about the standard of market research in general and in particular about receiving 70 pages of Powerpoint when all his team really needed were 15. Or even three.

As I read, I found myself nodding like the Churchill Insurance dog, for do I not complain about Powerpoint all the time?  Do I not, in fact, possess a copy of Edward Tufte’s seminal critique of Powerpoint?

He wanted 15, they gave him 70.   Time after time, apparently.

That’s odd.

And I’m wondering: is something else going on?  So, I have three thoughts: power imbalances, time pressure and researcher disbelief.

Power Imbalance

Listening to the interview, I had a couple of flashbacks to my time as a green young researcher attending what’s usually known as a ‘car clinic’ – possibly the largest-scale market research ever undertaken.   A research company and a car company take over a giant hall space, and do endless top secret research over the course of a very long weekend.

If I recall, automotive research is some of the most scary that an agency will ever undertake. It’s often very expensive, it’s very high profile and the working culture can be robust, to say the least.  It is so expensive that the agency chairman will pop in for a chat.  The politics of large organisations like this are labyrinthine.  The investment decisions are immense.  (NB I have no knowledge of Volkswagen and it may well be entirely cuddly).

It is very, very, VERY important not to screw this up.

Unfortunately, I don’t think these are the ideal conditions for breezing in with three pages of recommendations.  At the very least, you would want to justify your recommendations thoroughly.

Time Pressure

It takes ages to write a very short report. I would also argue that for some projects, the recommendations will be far more helpful if they are jointly developed.    Too often, there isn’t time for the succinct report.

Researcher Disbelief

Every time I hear a market research manager ask for ‘just three pages’, my soul is a little bit crushed.   I don’t really want to admit this, yet it’s true.  You pour everything you have into researching, analysing and reporting and pfft, three pages and a call to action, that’s all we need. Be on your way,  you dull purveyor of data, for we are marketers.

It sounds disrespectful, to be honest.  All those hundreds of interviews, all those miles of road.   That budget, for heaven’s sake.   And yet it often sounds as though you don’t really want to know the detail.

The comparisons don’t wash, either.   Management consultants are liable to produce 140-page documents in densely packed 12-point fonts, and they’ll charge four times the price.

I need to be clear:  I’m not advocating the 70 page Powerpoint when we’ve agreed something different; but I’ve been in many a 50 page Powerpoint and even a 90 page Powerpoint presentation that was client-sanctioned.  It is often the one time that people look at the data, and the one time that the agency is there to explain it.   Also, many private sector clients live in meetings cultures – you could send it in as a document, but they probably wouldn’t read it.

For me, reporting is like a pyramid.  For every 10 minute presentation to the Board, there’s a 30-minute presentation to the sales team and a lost afternoon to the research department.    I think you need them all.   I’m assuming Steve (or his department) also gets the massive reports to file, and the data tables to look at. If not, I’m worried.

I’m also saying this because I do think there’s a mismatch.  Researchers, God bless us, often want to say more than marketers want to really hear.  That’s the tension.  Different agendas, different interest.  My challenge to the marketers is whether they are really getting the value that they should from the huge investment that research represents.

I’m interested in your thoughts.

Ray Poynter has an excellent post on getting the best out of Powerpoint.