An Interview with Brian Sharkey
Director of Market Research
Putnam recently created your role and hired you this past Fall – what was the impetus for the firm to create this position?
In a word: growth. Putnam has grown tremendously these past few years and is now large enough where we need to centralize our knowledge and best practices in order to remain efficient while still consistently delivering the high quality custom research that underpins much of our strategic advisory services.
Tell us about your market research background.
I have been very fortunate in my career path and have had the opportunity to gain experience from some unique areas of market research. I began my career at Applied Marketing Science (AMS), where I started as an analyst in their Litigation practice where the research we did was used to support expert witness testimony in trademark and patent infringement litigation. Not only did I learn from the great Bob Klein about how to quantify some very unique questions, but I also learned about extreme quality control measures. In litigation research, there is always a lawyer or expert on the other side waiting to pick apart your report for the smallest mistake in an attempt to prove its lack of validity. As I grew at AMS, I moved from the litigation side of the business to join the AMS Innovation practice. It was there that I learned the “ins and outs” of more traditional market research consulting from Voice of the Customer icon Gerry Katz and John Mitchell. Not only did I get a wealth of experience in both Qual and Quant innovation research, but I also discovered my preference for the healthcare space which is what initially brought me to Putnam. Family circumstances triggered a move out to Denver for a few years where I landed at GutCheck, a leader in quick-turn agile research. GutCheck is doing some really exciting things in delivering fast insights and my time there opened my eyes to the power of process standardization and the impact it can have on efficiency and quality. All this brought me to Putnam where I’m excited to start the next chapter of my career.
What do you think are some of the biggest challenges (and opportunities) for consulting firms in practicing market research today?:
My initial reaction is to say “doing more with less” since timelines getting crunched and budgets getting stretched are an everyday challenge in consulting. While these challenges are true, they’re definitely not new. So I’m going to change my answer to “doing more with more”. There are so many information sources, methodologies, and technologies available, that market researchers and consultants now have a pretty large “tool box” available to them. The challenge then becomes selecting the best tool for the job and this can be more difficult than it sounds. Technology innovations have enabled a lot of really exciting new approaches to research, but researchers need to be cautious about using new and shiny tools that might not get to the heart of the underlying question at hand.
What makes Putnam unique from a market research perspective?
The word that immediately jumps out to me is “rigor”. There are lots of elements that go into delivering a successful market research project, many of which largely go unseen by the end client at the end of the day. Things like early stage grounding research, issue mapping prior to guide/questionnaire drafting, or data quality checks. Our teams are just as dedicated to these unseen “little things” as they are to the creation of a final presentation. This was something that stood out to me from day one since joining Putnam.