Does Transparency Pay Off?

And other strategies for delivering good service

By Remek Gabrys, Commercial Director, Sapio Research


Unfortunately, I will not be able to help on this occasion”. How often were you brave enough to say this to your existing or prospective client?

It was only a few months ago when I moved to Sapio Research, 10 years+ into my client management career, that I saw the whole team being encouraged to do this.  It felt really refreshing!

Market research is a fascinating and important industry. It should never be underestimated. It helps to make educated business decisions, provides justification for strategic investments, identifies new opportunities, lowers business risks and much more. Market research is behind the sustainability of organisations, no matter how big or small they are. I’ve been a part of it for many years now and I still love it!

On the other hand, it is also a very competitive industry. Over the last decade since I’ve been working in the industry, market research agencies started to pop up everywhere like mushrooms after the summer rain. UK, US, Asia… the numbers are growing, and everyone constantly thinks about new and innovative ways to position themselves in front of clients as “Global Leaders”. Marketing departments are swamped with demands for new campaigns. New business roles are created.

Online panel providers cannot stop informing potential clients about how many respondents they can reach, how fast, how cheaply and where. These figures do not go up in tens or hundreds of thousands of people. We are talking about millions now! Looking closely, we see these are not real as usually the number of active panelists is much lower than that, but hey! Seven digits always look better than let’s say five, right? In my experience, many qualitative providers, both for in-person and online research, do pretty much the same too. Boasting about their facilities (many of them without convenient ways of getting there), recruitment capabilities, quality of respondents they can provide etc. Again, a lot of information is not entirely true and goes straight into the same bucket called “marketing tricks”.

Looking at all this, I cannot help but notice that somehow the market research industry created (knowingly or not) a bit of a toxic melting pot. Clients started to learn that not everything we tell them is as we describe it. They started to pay less attention to the quality of research and its genuineness, mostly focusing on cost and fast turnaround. The idea of loyalty went out of the window a long time ago, as there is no need for it right now.  And who could blame them?

It is us as research providers who put more attention on quantity instead of quality. It is the industry ready to sell services for the sake of selling them (quite often this practice is being encouraged from the very top of the leadership). It is us who are ready to lower costs to the point of running projects for pennies, just to bring another name on the board, so we can shout about how many new clients we have and how fast our portfolios are growing. Clients see all that and rightly take advantage of it on regular basis. At the same time, the understanding of real market research value diminishes right before our eyes. You pay peanuts, you get monkeys. – Does this resonate in the PR & Comms market too?

What is the solution to all this? Transparency!

One of Sapio Research’s values is being forthright (together with friendly, fast and flexible), and I cannot stress enough how important it is. Not just to me personally, but also to our clients. The combined experience of our Team is up to the highest level and research solutions we bring to our clients are simply outstanding. I know, I’ve worked with a lot of teams.

However, would I say we are the best in the industry, or that we are the “Global Leader”? No, I would not. Not because I do not like this type of statement but because this would be a stretch. Because we are aware of our limitations and shortcomings, and we are not afraid to admit it, especially when talking to our clients. And neither should you! Although we all need to strive for the excellence in fields we specialise in, it is pivotal to know what we can and cannot do. Simple as that.

So, while I entirely appreciate it is not easy to admit to this common ‘over exaggeration’ practice, I would advise market research (or any other) agencies to stop saying you “are the ‘best'”, as you are probably not. Stop describing yourself as a global leader because there is really no such thing (well, at least not for long). Stop creating unreal statistics because all you do is paint a misleading picture, which affects the whole industry. Just be honest. In every aspect of your work.

In the long run, there is nothing better than that. Perhaps going back to basics and reminding ourselves about this can help us rebuild the industry’s reputation and best practices.

Whether research or PR agency, instead of blowing our own trumpet, what about the following?

  • Do not be afraid to admit that there is something you do not understand. From the moment you receive the brief, it is all right to let the client know there are bits which are blurry and to ask for clarification.
  • Provide the feedback based on your expertise and knowledge if changes to it are needed. Clients do not need to be research (or PR) savvy. We are the experts; therefore, we should be positioning ourselves as such (even if it means tweaking the brief).
  • Do not overcommit on what you can deliver and where. Being truthful is important and trust me, if you are not, your client will very quickly figure that out.
  • Do not change your cost after the project is commissioned! It is extremely unprofessional and leaves a long-lasting negative impression. It is fine not to be sure about certain aspects of the projects, especially those which are niche. At the same time, it is not that difficult to let the client know about your assumptions, estimates or provide different cost options based on different scenarios. All this at the bidding stage though, not after the sign off.
  • Keep your clients informed and in the loop. They are often new to market research and giving them reassurance about the progress is crucial for developing a strong relationship
  • Stick to your deadlines. The outcome you provide is only the first step in their journey and not doing this can have some serious consequences.
  • Ask for feedback after project completion. Real, honest feedback! It is a constant learning process for all involved and knowing how your performance is ranked should be considered one of the biggest assets for your company.
  • Finally, do not be afraid to educate your clients. Either by providing them with a real picture of the process or by offering some complimentary learning sessions to make them better equipped too. For example, Sapio Research offers “Lunch & Learn” sessions for teams from different sectors and in different markets. All this with remarkable success and appreciation.


Do not get me wrong here, please. I am not trying to slag off the industry I love. I know plenty of fantastic market research agencies around. I was part of some of them. Sometimes I was a client too. My point is that unfortunately there are still some “bad apples” out there and I hope that one day there will be absolutely none. Once that happens, we can all get back to being proud of what we do and the industry we represent.


BHM annual PR report expanded to now cover the entire African continent

BHM Research & Intelligence has announced that starting this year, its annual report on the public relations and communications sector in Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, will be expanded to cover the whole continent, adding 53 more countries with a combined economy of over $ 2 trillion and a population of over 1 billion.

This will be the first-ever report that will cater exclusively to the PR and communications industry within the African continent.

The Africa PR and Communications report is being compiled in partnership with the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA), the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR UK), CIPR International, International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO), Africa Communications Week (ACW), Wadds Incorporated, ID Africa, Plaqad Incorporated, and Magna Carta Reputation Management Consultants. Other partners are to be announced.

BHM Founder Ayeni Adekunle commented:

“Since we launched the Nigeria PR Report on January 29, 2016, we have witnessed the growth of the industry at home and abroad. Five years after, we are pleased to confirm we are now expanding our research to cover a continent that holds plenty of promise for the global communications sector. We hope the Africa PR and Communications report will quickly become the authoritative voice in the industry, providing insights, data, and useful information for those working here, as well as everyone outside looking in.’’

With 54 countries and an expected GDP of $5.6 trillion in four years, the continent is home to six of the top ten fastest-growing economies in the world. Africa accounts for around 17% of the world’s population, but only about 3% of global GDP.

If Africa sustains and accelerates structural reforms, some believe the continent can emulate China’s rapid rise over the last 50 years. It will, after all, have 24 million more people, on average, living in its cities each year between 2015 and 2045, according to the World Economic Forum.

The COVID-19 pandemic has, of course, taken a heavy toll, but the recovery is afoot.

The implementation of the ​​African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is further proof of the continent’s plans for the future, as it has the potential to create a continental free-trade zone with a combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of USD 3.4 trillion, according to the African Union (AU).

These advances are also being reflected in the continent’s burgeoning PR & Communication landscape – the industry best equipped to help fix the continent’s reputational issues.

The 2022 Africa Report will contain verified facts and statistics on the Public Relations industry, analysis that can guide governments and multinationals, resources and recommendations that assist practitioners in building better careers and business models, designed to enhance and deliver value to all stakeholders.

Ayeni adds:

“The past 28 months have been volatile for the world. It invariably highlighted our strengths and weaknesses as a continent. And the PR & communications industry was one of the first points of call in advising government and business leaders on wading through the times and supporting initiatives across the continent.
“Yet, this only showed a glimpse of the potential of the PR & communications industry. Because beyond health and financial crisis, as an industry, there is a dire need for professionals to be embedded in every area of policymaking, advisory, and management. It is important that the industry understands the almost impossibly heavy sense of duty it has to the continent and the people.
However, we cannot do any of these without data-driven insights that will enable us to give the proper advisory required. By modelling well-founded world reports such as the Holmes Report, World Development Report, Relevance Report, Edelman Trust Barometer, and others, we are hoping to create a standard global report that can easily be used for referencing details, instances and facts about the industry.”

Moliehi Molekoa, a member of the APCR board and the Managing Director of Magna Carta, a pan-African reputation management consultancy, says:

“PR professionals, now more than ever, have an increased duty to advise clients based on sound data and experience. APCR will be one of the key sources of that data. We are filling a void within the industry, and this report will better equip us as professionals as well as the businesses about the African PR landscape. It will provide valuable insights on how to build, manage and protect reputations with the overall aim of elevating the role the industry plays in brand building.”

According to the Economist, It is expected that Africa’s total population would reach nearly 2.5 billion by 2050. The continent will also be home to the world’s largest under-25 workforce, which will open the door to immense opportunities for growth and development.

BHM Group, through this seminal industry-wide report, therefore, seeks to foster an in-depth understanding of the world’s business, tech, commercial and communications landscapes, among others. It will tell Africa’s story by Africans, for Africa and for anyone else hoping to gain a deeper understanding and foothold on the continent and the immense opportunities it offers.

CMS More Accessible with 5 New Auditors Added to Roster

For more than 20 years, PRCA and ICCO have offered CMS audits framework for independent certifications to help agencies be accountable and to improve their business processes. Customers’ growing demand for trust and accountability is fuelling a desire from clients to work with more quality certified agencies.

The growing international demand for certifications has, in turn required ICCO to actively grow its pool of approved auditors, making the standard more globally acknowledged and accessible in alternative languages. The most recent a CMS auditor development course took place in Vienna from 16th to 18th February, hosted at the premises of The Skills Group. Organised by ICCO’s audit partner organisation

Five distinguished PR experts and ICCO board members have successfully passed a state-accredited auditor exam under the auspices of the inspection organisation TÜV, comparable to BSI or ISO.

Now AgencyExperts has a growing pool of international CMS auditors who can be booked to run quality certifications in communications agencies and in in-house comms departments. The newly certified CMS auditors are all in the leadership teams of their national PR associations and experienced agency managers:

Alexander Dourchev, Bulgaria
Dimitris Roulias, Greece
Patrik Schober, Czech Republic
Andras Sztaniszlav, Hungary

(Photo: from left to right, incl. Anita Mohl, CEO AgencyExperts, Juergen H. Gangoly)

The new auditors are enlarging ICCO’s and AgencyExperts existing auditor team with experts from 11 different countries, additionally including Austria, Germany, Egypt, Switzerland, and the UK. With the PR associations of Ireland and Turkey also processing audits.

The next CMS auditor development course shall take place in autumn 2022. If you would like more information about gaining CMS accreditations or becoming a certified auditor, contact

PR rising stars reflect on their careers and the industry: An interview with Max Mitchell (part 1 of a 2-part series)

Gifted with a talent for editorial narratives and a perfect environment for professional growth, markettiers Team Head Max Mitchell, reflects on his career journey, including winning the 2020 Rising Star of the Year award at the 2020  ICCO Global awards.

Mitchell got his start at markettiers—a leading broadcast PR agency generating creative national, regional and international campaigns—six years ago. After completing a Media Studies course at Kingston College, Mitchell reached out to markettiers’ CEO, who set him up with an internship. When his stint as an intern ended, Mitchell was offered a full-time role in the company’s newsroom. Now, he works as a Team Head, a position he’s held for the last two years.


ICCO: Can you walk us through your roles/ career up to now including your time at markettiers?

MM: I started my career at 21 within markettiers’ newsroom. I was introduced to, and worked with, ex-journalists and broadcast experts who taught me what makes a good editorial story, how to pitch to broadcast and the importance of understanding the needs of different media.

My role then moved from media-facing to client-facing as I became a Senior Account Executive and began taking my experience of the media to clients, advising, and reviewing current PR plans through the lens of landing broadcast media.

After a few years I climbed the ranks, and eventually, when I was a Senior Account Manager, I lead a team of 6 people. My role was very much about leading from the front and to help nurture and grow the team as we continued to bring on more brands.

The team grew to eight to 10 individuals and my role then included ensuring we continue to hit commercial targets and milestones. At which point, I was promoted to my current role as a Team Head.

ICCO: What attracted you to a career in communications?

MM: Growing up I always loved watching TV and going to the cinema. If you look at that as a standalone statement everyone’s first reaction would be ‘ooh he’s a bit lazy,’ but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Unlike most people, I loved the adverts and always wondered why they all looked and sounded so different.

What this ultimately meant for me is I excelled in anything in school that included media and allowed me to get answers to those questions. Eventually, my interest shifted from wondering why brands were talking and sounding the way they did to how and why those particular words were chosen and positioned the way they were. I ended up meeting the head of markettiers, who gave me the opportunity to join their newsroom, where I fell in love with editorial narratives. I never looked back.

Max Mitchell, winner of the 2020 ICCO Rising Star of the Year award and Team Head at leading broadcast PR agency, markettiers.

ICCO: What aspect of your work do you enjoy the most?

MM: I’m going to cheat a bit on this answer because I honestly feel that without any one of these things in my day-to-day my job just wouldn’t be the same.

Firstly, the variety of clients I get to work with is extraordinary. I can be helping to launch a new vegan food product from a well-known high-street retailer on Monday, by Wednesday be championing small businesses and helping traditional bricks and mortar businesses digitally upskill and broaden their offering, and finish the week off making sure an environmental charity’s B-roll has had a touch point with international media in South America.

None of that, however, would be possible without my colleagues, whom I adore more than they know, and being a team lead puts me in a unique position where I can interview and help bring new, amazing, and diverse talent into the industry and into my team, to ensure we can continue our great work.

ICCO: How has your work life evolved over the past 2 years, not only in terms of your win but also the pandemic?

MM: Completely. And I don’t mean this just in the way that I now work from home most of the time in comparison to how I used to. The beginning of the pandemic for me was such a learning curve. I watched our senior team completely re-organise and re-focus a 100+ people workforce, not out of fear or worry but out of understanding that media habits were changing and therefore we must too (despite how comfortable we have become in the 27 years the company has been going), which is no easy feat, let alone to do it successfully.

This meant that my team and I had to, in essence, forget a lot of what we knew and spend even more of our time understanding media habits, needs and wants to ensure that we could continue to guide our clients through an ever-changing media landscape and continue to do great work for them.

ICCO: Has there been a campaign or project over the past year that you’re especially proud of contributing to?

MM: Absolutely. I run the team within markettiers that works with Freuds and the Cabinet Office on their Covid response within broadcast. Since the beginning of the pandemic, our role has been to use radio and TV to ensure the messaging around keeping safe, getting vaccinated and alike have cut through.

I’m extremely proud to have been a part of the current drive to make the UK the leading country in the vaccination programme and if even just one person listened and did something which ultimately saved theirs or a loved one’s life… that’s a job well done as far as I’m concerned. However, we know the reality is that many thousands have been reached and influenced by our work in a valuable way.

ICCO: Is there a personal characteristic that you feel has been greatly developed through your work in PR and communications?

MM: Through all its pros and cons, I have always been a pretty empathetic and understanding person, and this for me has continued to develop as we continue to work with a variety of diverse brands: the only way to truly communicate to diverse groups is to try and understand their hopes, dreams, fears, and cultural differences beyond just demographic.

ICCO: What are your thoughts on the importance of ethical PR & Communications globally?

MM: Being ethically sound should be strong in everything we do, and PR & Comms is no different. I personally believe there is a high standard of ethics within the industry but of course there is more that can be done, not least by actively engaging and supporting the individuals and organisations making those changes.

ICCO: ICCO’s World PR Reports over the last two years have revealed that retaining talent is the industry’s number 1 challenge. As a young person in the industry, do you have suggestions regarding ways PR leaders can nurture and retain the talent of younger employees?

MM: This is such an interesting question because I don’t think we can understate how important fresh, ambitious, and diverse groups of young talent are in this ever-changing industry and world. I also don’t feel this topic needs to be over complicated.

We work in an industry where businesses boast and win awards for reaching and changing the perceptions of everyone from the general public to the most discreet groups. Saying that, you would think we should have the highest rate of retention! Yet the truth is behind closed doors they lose young staff due to lack of understanding, listening and communication.

My advice for PR leaders is this: truly want to teach the next generation, share, and recognise the successes and compensate the pressures. I genuinely believe at markettiers my senior team care for me, want me to succeed and, although I’m not perfect, make sure through my career I’m on the straight and narrow. And for that I give them my loyalty and best.

Ultimately, be as great at communicating with your team as you are your clients. Be empathetic, give space to grow and celebrate growth that comes from the inevitable bumps in the road. In essence, make everyone feel we are all in this together.



This is part 1 of a 2-part interview series with 2020 and 2021’s ICCO Rising Stars of the Year. Visit News – ICCO PR next week for an interview with 2021’s winner; Interel’s Victoria McNish.

Sweta Fernandes – ICCO Next-Gen PR World Cup Finalist from UAE

Sweta Fernandes is one half of Team UAE’s ICCO Next-Gen PR World Cup finalists. The finals of the global event kicked off on October 13th and comes to a close today, October 18th. Leading up to the official end of the tournament, when a winner will be selected, we have been highlighting the talented group of young professionals who’ve made it into the finals after winning local and regional rounds of the contest over the past month.

Sweta Fernandes, Account Executive at Golin MENA & 2021 ICCO Next – Gen PR World Cup Finalist

Below, join us as we get to know Sweta Fernandes in a brief round of Q&A.

Golin MENA’s Sweta Fernandes

Q: What’s your favourite PR campaign that you’ve been involved in or have seen?

Sweta: I think my favorite PR campaign is a fictional one. Mad Men is one of my all-time favorite shows and I watched it as a young advertising student and learnt more about advertising from watching the show than in my classes. In one of the episodes aptly titled, “Public Relations” Peggy Olson comes up with an idea to regain the Sugarberry Ham account. She hires two actresses to fight over ham in a grocery store. The plan goes awry when the fight turns real and one of the women pressed charges against the other for assault, and Peggy has to ask Don for bail and hush money. Don disapproves of the stunt (which was carried out behind his back), but Peggy points out that they did retain the account. Of course, public relations is so much bigger than just a stunt but it always stuck with me when I think “PR Campaign”

Q: What does being creative mean to you?

Sweta: Being creative to me means thinking like the quirky side characters who are cooler than the protagonists. Think Cosmo Kramer from Seinfeld, think Phoebe from Friends and of course Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter

Q: Favourite social media account to follow?

Swera: Twitter

Over the last 5 days, Sweta and her teammate Hazem Beshr  have worked to create and film a video pitch of an original campaign for a brief set by think tank, the International SOS Foundation. As of today, an international team of judges will score each pitch. Winners will be announced on October 21st.

Results of the 2021, inaugural PR World Cup Finals will be announced on October 21st, 2021 on all ICCO platforms.

Iknoor Kaur & Neha Chandra, ICCO Next Generation PR World Cup Finalists

Get to know Iknoor Kaur and Neha Chandra, who won first place at the local PR cup in India. The duo will go on to compete against 10 other teams, from October 13th to October 18th, in the ICCO’s Next Generation PR World Cup finals.

To read more about the competition, click here.

Iknoor Kaur

Corporate Brand & Communications Lead at SPAG Asia


Iknoor Kaur, Corporate Brand & Communications Lead at the Strategic Partners Group Asia & 1st place winner of the PCRAI PR World Cup

What’s your favourite PR campaign that you’ve been involved in or have seen?
A campaign close to my heart is Mission Medicine: Delivering Life – a campaign for Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance during the pandemic in June 2020. Amidst the ongoing COVID- 19 pandemic, the agency created a campaign that showcased technical expertise as well as the emotional drivers behind the pharmaceutical industry. It was an integrated (PR & Digital) campaign that celebrated unseen heroes, not only doctors but also those behind the scenes involved in the supply chain as they work tirelessly to ensure that medicines reach us all on time, in the toughest of times.

The 360-degree integrated nature of the campaign clicked with me. The campaign was driven through a series of videos entailing the stories that shed light on the challenges faced by the pharma employees – right from manufacturers to logisticians and pharmacists as a result of the lockdown. The messaging was supported by a systematic PR campaign which created an all-round impact.

I believe in this rapidly changing world of today, integrated communications plays a crucial role. Moreover, cause-related and purpose driven campaigns hold way more impact and connect with audiences at a much deeper level. For me, it’ll always be those campaigns that’ll leave a mark.


What does being creative mean to you?
Creativity is all about looking within and going with the flow. I don’t think creativity is something that can be learnt. It’s a soft skill that needs nurturing. It’s almost a mindset, in my opinion. An ability to constantly unlearn and learn, to be aware, mindful, open to change and ever evolving; where every new idea is an opening into a new possibility. A creative world is a world without limits.

Favourite social media account to follow?

It’s tough to pick only one, but I think I’ll go with Kunal Shah on Twitter.



Neha Chandra

Senior Account Executive at SPAG Asia


Neha Chandra, Senior Account Executive at SPAG & 1st place winner at the 2021, PCRAI PR World Cup

What’s your favourite PR campaign that you’ve been involved in or have seen?
My favourite would be Medela’s Back to Work campaign. Medela, a breast pump and nursing accessories manufacturer, had found that many Indian women either gave up breastfeeding when they went back to work or quit their jobs when they gave birth. They took to PR to solve this unique challenge. Medela conducted a survey to study trends on maternity leave, breastfeeding practices, and work-life balance for a new mother and the results showed that nearly 42% of working mothers quit breastfeeding due to the inability to manage work and motherhood. The survey results also showed that many women didn’t know how to use breast pumps. An integrated communications campaign was designed to educate mothers on using Medela’s products through a mix of on-ground activities, video storytelling, blogger engagement, print and broadcast outreach and social media in an engaging and relatable way. Encouraging the dialogue further were the Medela Experts and the Lactoclave – a series of webinars designed for experience sharing.

I have always been passionate about healthcare communication and the power PR holds in changing the narrative, and so when I came across this campaign I knew there was something so new and refreshing about it. In India, breastfeeding is still seen as an under the covers act and women often get ogled at for feeding their children in public.  Breastfeeding in itself is such a taboo topic so when the conversation started on encouraging women to go back to work, once they feel fit and creating a suitable environment for them, it was bound to catch eyeballs. The campaign showed that while biologically, mothers are responsible for carrying and delivering the baby, taking care of the baby then on must be a shared responsibility. Women should not feel like they have to give up their passion professionally to take care of their baby. And that actually paved way for the next campaign I got to work on with Medela.

What does being creative mean to you?
Being creative means to let loose, to eliminate any bias/pre conceived notion you may hold, to not be afraid to question, and not be afraid to be questioned, to let your imagination run wild.

Favourite social media account to follow?

Tough one. At present I am immersed in healthcare content created by doctor influencers so I would say @dr_cuterus, who talks about everything we should have learnt in sex ed at school.


The winners Of  the PR World Cup will be announced on October 21st.


ICCO University PR World Cup Competition

The ICCO University PR World Cup

The ICCO University PR World Cup is a PRCA led initiative for university students aspiring to work in the PR industry a chance to shine. 

What is the ICCO University PR World Cup?
In teams of two, participants will work together to invent a PR campaign that demonstrates a comprehensive understanding of a brief which will be set by a chosen NGO (TBA) and meets all their detailed requirements. Campaigns will be submitted to a list of international judges (academics and PR professionals) who will, using a scoring system, select a winning campaign.

What do you need to consider?
– The competition is open to all Universities (members and non-PRCA members)
– Teams to be made up of two students (open to all undergraduate students) with one mentor from PRCA/ICCO’s NextGen Groups.
– Mentors must commit to 1 chat before briefing and 2 chats during the 48-hour competition
– One team maximum per university.
– Ensure availability for the week of 14th November.
– Judges will be a combination of academics and practitioners


Cost to compete?
– Participation in the The ICCO University PR World Cup is free.


– Internship with a leading agency in their local city (F2F or virtual internship)
– Feature interview on ICCO and PRCA websites, appearance on industry podcast, and name headlined in member newsletters (more than 10,000 PR professionals subscribed)
– Free tickets to PRCA Virtual International Summit 2023


To learn more about the ICCO University PR World Cup, please click the button below.

Learn More