Bruce Hayward is Head of Research at Kantar Public UK
As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
At an early age, I harboured an ambition to be a professional cricketer. A bit later I was the singer in a school punk band and enjoyed brief dreams of rock stardom. Then, after the inevitable split due to musical differences, I flirted with the idea of writing existentialist novels but never actually put pen to paper.
When did you first turn towards a social research career?
I left university with a degree in modern languages and no idea what I wanted to do next. Reading about market research in the careers office sparked my interest. While it’s not obvious from my choice of degree, I’ve always been fascinated by numbers and numerical patterns, which was the main attraction at the time.
What was your first professional job? And first project there?
I joined BMRB as a graduate trainee in 1988, working in the ad hoc surveys division, which did everything from FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods ie household products) work to social policy research.
I worked under Jenny Turtle, who led most of our public-sector work as well as a range of other work. We did a lot of work in the publishing sector and an early project I enjoyed was an annual industry survey of the UK’s book buying, borrowing and reading habits. Another highlight was a project for the Longman Group, part of a wider government-funded project to create a database of contemporary spoken and written British English, which I presented a paper on at the MRS Conference. Our role was to recruit a sample of adults to record all the conversations they had over a week on a Sony Walkman for subsequent transcription.
Where did your career go next? What motivated that/those moves?
I was at BMRB for 12 years, specialising increasingly in social policy research (the company created a social research division in 1997). One of the big projects I ran during that latter period was a survey that tracked business readiness for the Year 2000 Millennium Bug problem (there are differing views on whether it was a real or imaginary problem).
I left BMRB in 2000 to head up the London team of System Three Social Research (previously Public Attitude Surveys), feeling that I needed a new challenge. It was certainly that, leading a small team competing with the big players in the market. It was a tough job, which I did for three years, but a great learning experience.
I then returned to BMRB in 2003, becoming Head of Quantitative Research in 2009 when BMRB Social Research merged with TNS Social, becoming TNS BMRB. Then in 2016, our parent company Kantar established Kantar Public, bringing its public policy research businesses around the world into a single specialist global business, with TNS BMRB becoming Kantar Public UK.
What has been your best professional moment?
I would say leading our successful bid for the Understanding Society contract in 2013. It’s great to be involved in such a prestigious, important, ambitious and challenging project with the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at University of Essex and funded by the ESRC.
I think we’ve all had projects that ‘didn’t quite go to plan’. Many years ago, I ran a large postal survey where just about everything that could go wrong did, and in a fairly catastrophic way. Certain colleagues who’ve been in the business for a while tell new graduates to “ask Bruce about the xxxxxxx survey”. I don’t rise to the bait, obviously.
Do you have a social research hero/heroine?
Not really, but I think the real heroes and heroines of the social survey world are the interviewers who manage to persuade people to take part in our (usually over-long) surveys and who persevere in spite of regularly having doors shut in their faces or phones slammed down on them!
Do you have a favourite quote?
One thing we’re doing in the business at the moment is working on improving people’s writing skills, so I’ll pick this piece of advice from Mark Twain: “The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say.”
What would you say to encourage a young person today considering a social research career?
If you think it’s for you, then give it a go because, if it doesn’t work out, you will benefit from developing a broad range of skills that will be valuable in other spheres. There are obviously various options in terms of where to pursue a social research career (university, research institute, government department, research agency, etc.), but a graduate position in a research agency will certainly provide a good grounding.