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Meet Sarah Gale, Head of Insight at OMD UK

We caught up with Sarah Gale, Head of Insight at OMD UK, to find out a bit more about her background, the role insight plays in the wider integrated comms planning world and some of the weirdest bits of insight she’s uncovered.

Hi Sarah – thanks for your time today. Please could you give our readers some insight into what it takes to work in an insight team – what’s your background and how did you end up doing what you do?

My pleasure!  I would really love to say that insight has always been my vocation, but if I’m honest, I kind of fell into research.  After I graduated from university, I went home for the summer and after about 3 minutes of living back with my mum, I decided that you can never go back and I needed to get a job and a flat on my own!  So I started work as an academic researcher at a university in 1997, where I specialised in financial services and after a couple of years at Ebiquity, I moved to Ipsos where I spent 13 years heading up the Media, Content and Technology Insight team.

Even though I fell into research and insight, it’s a career that really suits me.  To be a really good researcher I think you need to be nosey, curious, tenacious and thoughtful – all things that suit my personality.  I love finding out what makes people tick and (sadly) nothing keeps me happier than coming up with a story from a set of data tables….

You’ve recently launched the Future of Christmas – what inspired you to seek out these myths? Do these ring true in your day to day life?

I think that, if we’re not careful, we’re all guilty of making assumptions about the world we live in and what makes us tick.  Far too often, we all talk about what we do and how we live our lives and assume that this is the case for the rest of the country.

Christmas is one of those times where we all think we know what people like, how they shop and buy their gifts.  The team here spoke to people across the whole of OMD UK to uncover the assumptions we have when we’re working with clients at Christmas and they came up with things like the fact that men buy stereotypical and unthoughtful presents, that families all love Christmas and that huge numbers of people buy their presents online, on Black Friday. I can’t take credit for all of this as the inception of the project was before I arrived at OMD UK but the myths the team came up with definitely all rung true.  And the findings were fascinating.  For example, we found that Christmas love peaks around the end of November and never quite recovers to this level again, even on Christmas day.  We also found that while those with kids do have more love for the festive season, the whole period is tinged with stress, worry and panic for parents.  Grandparents are not immune to this either and, contrary to what we might think, they don’t always relish spending the whole of the festive season with their grandchildren and sometimes can’t wait to escape on the day itself!

It has been a busy year for your team! What have been the particular highlights?

It really has!  I started here in March this year and it’s been brilliant and hectic in equal measures ever since then.  We have an incredibly strong and talented Insight team here so I came into an environment that was already running well and delivering great work, so a huge part of my job has been easy.  The Future of Britain was already established but we needed to further consolidate Insight into the heart of the agency and that’s what we’ve been focusing on.

We’ve set up YourVoice, our proprietary online community where we talk to real Britons every day about their lives, their motivations and the brands they love.  This is a great help in ensuring that we stay Culturally Connected  and that insight is at the heart of everything we do.

We’re also working on The Future of Generations, the next instalment in our Future of Britain series.  This will look at how generations are changing and the differences and similarities between different generations in terms of their values, beliefs and how they view different product categories.  We’re also very excited to be doing some inter-generational interviewing, where members of one generation interview another and some implicit testing to provide some in-depth insight into brand perceptions and values of these groups.

Next year looks even more exciting – we’ve revamped the Future of Britain to make it more relevant to our planners and clients and we’ll be covering themes such as sport and well-being, consumer journeys, being together and the role of music in communications.

How does Insight fit into the wider integrated comms planning world at OMD UK?

Wow, that’s a big question!  One of the biggest factors in me deciding to move to OMD UK was how insight is central to everything we do.  We really believe that great communications come from ensuring that we’re Culturally Connected and this often comes from great insight.  And this insight sits across the whole of the agency, not just in the Insight team.

From generating those nuggets of insight that might plant the seed for a brilliant idea, to ensuring that our planning is grounded in real behaviour and motivations, through to understanding bigger, macro trends that are developing across the country using The Future of Britain and Newsroom, everyone here is part of generating insight.

So as well as running proprietary and client projects, the Insight team here works really closely with planners and client teams to ensure that everyone is, firstly, familiar with the huge number of tools we have to generate insight and, secondly, that we’re layering behavioural data with motivational insights to ensure that we have the breadth of insight we need to really understand a client’s business.  And that’s why I love working here – we get to explore the world around us, to uncover ‘the why’ behind ‘the what’ and to work across different clients using new methods and really see how insight is being applied across the whole communications cycle.

And finally, what’s the weirdest bit of insight you’ve ever uncovered?

There’s a saying in research that if you find something that surprises you, you’ve probably done something wrong.  But some of the most surprising (and scary) insight that I’ve seen was around how wrong people’s perceptions were on stats behind the news.  It was a survey by Ipsos and asked people to give their estimates on things like percentage of immigrants in the UK or teenage pregnancy rates.  There were huge over or under estimations of many of these numbers – for example people estimated that 24% of people in the UK were immigrants, whereas the actual figure stood at 13%; they estimated that 16% of teenage girls give birth each year and the actual figure stood at more like 3%.  It just goes to show that we all need to check our assumptions and try to work with actual numbers rather than our guesstimates.

Aside from this though, my life is full of weird and wonderful statistics.  Some of the recent ones I’ve read:  12% of sick days are fake,  a quarter of British adults don’t brush their teeth every night, British people eat twice as many baked beans as people in other countries,  cows in different parts of the country have different accent moos, the number of baby boys called Walter doubled after the first series of Breaking Bad and nearly one in five women have been to work without knickers on….  (I cannot vouch for the validity of ANY of these but they’re fun!)

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