Thoughts on the MRS Conference 2016

I don’t know what’s been going on over at the MRS but they have certainly upped the ante regarding their Annual Conference. Over the last few years I felt it was less inspiring and more of the same old folks spouting on to the same old folks about the same old stuff. I got to the point where I did not even attend last year – finding it impossible to justify the cost when we are a small business and having not seen or heard anything new for several years (well, nothing that I couldn’t get from my entrenched BBC Radio 4 addiction).

But this year there was a renewed energy – which was pretty impressive for a 70 year old. Perhaps the theme was what did it – Curiosity, Insight and Revolution – perhaps it was the free champagne doled out as part of the 70th celebration, or perhaps it was the Research Now Alice in Wonderland themed party on the first evening; whichever it was things got curiouser and curiouser and left me smiling like a Cheshire cat.

Day one started for me with the impossibly handsome Gavin Patterson of BT (my disgust of the company fast dissolved in a puff of smoke) and led swiftly onto the inspiring speech by Stan Stanunathan from Unilever which had me Tweeting like a Jubjub bird (look it up!). My favourite quote from Stan was ‘get visual or get impaired’ – a topic that had strong resonance on day two of the conference in ‘Picturing the difference’ which included a typically excellent presentation by Jon Puleston on his research into the impact of different visuals. At last the industry appears to be waking up to the fact that we live in a visual world, and increasingly so. I feel like I’ve been a lone and annoying stuck record on this topic so was thrilled to learn how others are approaching it.

Other highlights were the engaging ‘Manifesto’ session with its musical interlude thanks to Disney, and the Polling session where BrainJuicer revealed the scary thought that The Donald’s hair would come third in a US election run tomorrow, without even having Donald attached.

But the really strong performances for me came from the Keynotes. Jon Yorke “Into the Woods: how stories work and why we tell them” interviewed by Martin Lee, of Acacia Avenue was truly inspiring, and reminded me why I studied English Literature in the first place. Then Richard Osman, producer and co-presenter of Pointless, further lifted the mood and provided star struck inspiration at the end of Day one. Finally my colleague Adam was raving about “Sex by Numbers: what statistics can tell us about sexual behaviour” by Professor of risk at Cambridge University David Spiegelhalter, which I understand was a fascinating insight into the history and evolution of revealing the truth behind sexual behaviour. All this rounded off by Bill Bryson cast reflective light on our industry and how we perceive and market ourselves.

I am looking forward to entering the curious Looking Glass World again next year – preferably with an app so the programme is really easy to view on my phone (like the one ESOMAR has) and a larger phone battery so I can keep up with the tweets!