Breaking the Rules in Research: 6 Questions for Shelley Zalis

Shelley Zalis is the CEO of The Female Quotient and the creator of The Girls’ Lounge. She founded the online research company OTX in 2000, which was acquired by Ipsos in 2010. A research and technology industry veteran and self-described “Chief Troublemaker,” she also sits on the board of the Advertising Research Foundation and Women in Film, among others. This month, we got the chance to chat about her experience as rule-breaker and what’s next in research.

Verto Analytics (VA): Please tell us a bit about yourself, and what projects you’re currently working on.

Shelley Zalis (SZ): I’ve always been one who pursued a challenge and broke some rules throughout my career, whether that was going against the grain to launch OTX or leading in my own style within a male dominated research world. Currently, with my new venture, The Female Quotient (TFQ), we are creating an algorithm for equality and new measurement standards for advancing equality in the workplace.

VA: You were the founder of OTX and a long-term senior executive at Ipsos. Do you have plans to return to market research? If so, in which way, and why?

SZ: Research is in my DNA, so it will always be a part of anything we do. Currently we are working on some incredible projects that simplify and contextualize data for the C-Suite. We are also collaborating with the ANA/AFE on the #SeeHer initiative, where we have created a new gender equality metric (GEM) to measure the portrayal of girls and women in media and entertainment. Creating tools for measurement and accountability will ensure next step solutions for change and rapid progress.

VA: Looking back on your experience with OTX, market research on digital has been centralized around the big tech, software, and internet companies. What is holding brands back? Are they using insights today around digital, and how?

SZ: The world has changed but research has not. We have moved from a linear push environment to a multimedia world on steroids. Traditional research methods can no longer measure media in a silo and be retrofitted for today.  It’s time to challenge the status quo, get rid of the junk in the trunk, ask the scary questions, step out of our comfort zone, embrace technology and put consumers at the center of everything. The best solutions are those that contextualize, simplify and visualize the questions and the answers into sound bites of actionable knowledge.

VA: What is the biggest challenge that brands have today, in terms of seeing the ROI from market research and media measurement within digital?

SZ: Asking the right questions and connecting the dots with their terabytes of data.

VA: What advice you would give to new insights team members at some of the biggest brands (eg., Unilever)? What skills, mindset, and attitudes will they need for the next 10 years?

SZ: Be bold, brave, curious, collaborative and always break some rules. Katharine Hepburn said, “If you don’t break any rules you miss all the fun,” and I agree.

VA: Who or what will be the next big disrupting factor in market research?

SZ: The future belongs to companies willing to turn research on its head and measure what matters.  I always say that data can be messy but data can be beautiful.

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