How did you get there? Danny Sims

Great to hear from Danny Sims who set up DJS Research back in 2001, rising to Chairman of the company in 2021.

My arms were found to be too short to be a pilot within the RAF! so I next turned to Social Research, something I learnt about during my degree at University (BSc Sociology & Social Psychology). I started looking into social research jobs and stumbled across Market Research and the Research Buyers Guide (a really thick book and often referred to as the bible of market research companies). The guide runs from A to Z listing out all companies in the market research industry. I began sending my CV and covering letter to the A’s, no luck with them! I started on the B’s and achieved my first interview with BPRI based in London. Before I knew it, I was off to the big smoke to work for them. Ironically London was the one place that I didn’t want to work but I’m really glad that I had my time there. I initially worked in the performance monitoring and improvement team conducting on-going mystery shopping mainly for banks and building societies. Latterly I also gained some ad-hoc project experience.

After two years I came across an opportunity to move back up North and work with another B! this time B&MR. I made the move to Stockport and started working in the Purple team. I spent nearly 4 years at B&MR conducting a range of continuous and ad-hoc pieces of market research. I made it to a Senior Research Executive but decided to move on when I felt I was not being promoted fast enough (I’ve always been competitive, but I was especially so when I was younger!). When I think back on my time there now it was a great company to work for with some fantastic talent. I also met my now wife Ali at B&MR and a number of good friends (more on this later!).

So, the next stop, was on the clientside as a Marketing Executive – I won’t mention the company name because of how they treated me… After a year with them, a colleague and I found our redundancies letters on the printer! I walked out the same day without even having a chance to say goodbye to my friends and colleagues. It was a total shock and a horrible thing to experience but it’s funny how things turn out…

In 2001 after lots of encouragement and support from my wife and former colleagues from B&MR I set up DJS Research and became a freelancer (hence the initials). Never in a million years would I have dreamt of having the ability or courage to become self-employed but with the redundancy situation there wasn’t much to lose, so I threw myself into it, all guns blazing! B&MR were kind enough to give me 2-3 days a week working as a freelancer and I also secured contract work with the Department for Education & Skills. So, not a bad start.

In my early days as a freelancer I did a number of things that were different and stood out. I also worked really, really hard (people have said it’s the competitive side in me!) and before I knew it I was working for my own clients and offering jobs to the now jewel in the crown at DJS Research – my wife Ali along with Sharon Nichols, James Hinde and Alasdair Gleed who were all friends from B&MR and are still with the company today. So, that’s pretty much how DJS Research started.

The company has organically grown practically every year and we now have over 100+ partners employees). We sold the majority of the business to our employees in 2021 and are now employee-owned, which is something that we are very proud of. This brings with it many benefits but perhaps most important is that we are able to retain our independence and legacy.

It’s certainly an interesting, rewarding and varied profession to work in. You learn so much about many different sectors and businesses. You become an expert in lots of subjects. If you have an inquisitive mind and attention to detail, Market Research will be a very good option for people to consider. In addition, at my first interview with BPRI, I remember being told that once you have a few years’ experience in market research you’ll have a job for life. And this still rings true today – the same situation remains that there are plenty of vacancies out there and not enough applicants.

Well, I guess my redundancy was something totally unexpected and definitely was not part of the career plan! As I’ve explained, it was an awful experience – particularly how we were treated. However, the experience remains with me today and has taught me how not to treat people. In a service industry like Market Research people are our only asset so why wouldn’t we want to treat them like gold dust?! I believe having highly engaged and motivated employees is an essential ingredient for any successful company. People need to be a key part of a company strategy – understanding what engages and motivates employees and then implementing strategies to improve in these key areas. Over the years I’ve come to realise it’s not an easy task at all because we are all different! – but at the very least we must seek to engage the majority.

Work hard and be enthusiastic. I think with these two attributes any junior person will go far. There is a lot to Market Research – qualitative, quantitative, b2b, consumer and lots of potential tools (methodologies) for carrying out the research. It is worth mentioning as well, that we should not just be focusing on junior researchers here – they are only part of the picture. We must not forget that the Market Research industry is made up of so much more. For example, Operations, Admin/Finance/Marketing, Creatives, Developers as well as Researchers. We need all of them to create fantastic research.

Whichever role you have chosen though I would highly recommend getting as much experience as you can and go the extra mile to achieve this. Be proactive, enthusiastic, volunteer to do different things and try to stand out as a person who wants to help. Not only will you get noticed but you’ll gain exposure to so many different elements. Over time as you gain more and more experience, you’ll start to learn about yourself – what you like, don’t like and where your strengths and weaknesses lie. This is when you might want to specialise for example in a particular sector or methodology. It is very important to keep evaluating yourself in this sense so that you can continue to enjoy and thrive in your career. Market Research has so much variety to offer so it’s key that you find your happy place!

Where to start?! I guess this interview is mainly about careers in market research and what market research has to offer so maybe if I focus my advice on how the sector could improve in terms of attracting and retaining talent within the industry – a subject I know the Market Research Society is working hard on currently.

I believe the industry has always suffered from a general lack of awareness compared with other more high profile industries like Advertising and certainly that we are so much more than just a clip board, pen and asking questions in the street or a focus group on the Apprentice!

The Market Research Society is doing its best to help raise awareness of the industry for example by placing adverts within the likes of Marketing Week and Campaign. However, if we really want to have a big impact we need to think differently and crucially we all need to play our part and take responsibility – so all agencies, consultants, fieldwork companies, viewing facilities etc.- everyone needs to be part of the solution. The Market Research Society can help facilitate the process but let’s all start to do our bit! For example, at DJS Research we send our people not just to Universities to talk about our profession (a note to agency leaders – graduates are not the only option!) but to Schools and Colleges. If we could all sign up to do this each year, throughout the UK, it would have so much more impact than a one-off advert in Marketing Week – how many school leavers read Marketing Week?!

Once we have increased awareness of our fantastic industry we also need to work on retaining talent – something which is another current issue within the industry and hence why the Market Research Society have set-up working groups to help us understand and improve the situation. For me, it comes back to my point about people – they are the life blood of a company. We need to understand them inside and out and do our upmost to create an environment where employees can thrive, be motivated, engaged and happy. It’s been proven about the link between highly engaged employees and productivity. I find it totally bizarre that apparently some agency leaders still do not see the value in investing in their employees – I mean truly investing in employees…e.g. addressing resourcing issues, looking after well-being and making them a central part of company strategy.

I think I have to take this opportunity to thank my wife Ali Sims for encouraging and supporting me initially to have a go at freelancing and setting up DJS Research in addition to Kate Roberts, a former Director of B&MR who also kindly did the same. I should also thank Sharon Nichols, James Hinde and Alasdair Gleed for bravely joining me in the very early days and for everything that they have done and continue to do at DJS Research. Finally, I’d like to take the opportunity to thank all past and current employees (now partners) for their hard work and loyalty over the years. We have a great team and company, and this is down to the fantastic people that we all are.