How did you get there? Priscilla McKinney

So great to chat with MRX industry champion Priscilla McKinney, the founder and force behind Little Bird Marketing, and who in very few years has maneuvered herself into the center of key conversations within our industry and encouraged collaboration where you least expect it. Priscilla was recently awarded the Insights Association (IA) Laureate designation, which is an incredible achievement. Priscilla has been a huge supporter of Significant Insights, and all of our advocacy areas, from the word go. It is a huge privilege to bring her career journey, thoughts, wisdom and insights to life.

Priscilla, always great to chat! So, how did you get into the industry, and take us through how you got to this point?

I received my first call from Greenbook in 2016. They wanted a speaker for Insights Marketing Day. This was my first introduction to the world of commercial market research. Serving their audience of entrepreneurs, small business owners, and even large market research firms, this full-day event was designed to be taking a day away from “working at their businesses” in order to “work on the businesses”.

I went to New York and had an amazing time talking about the future of social media and what B2B companies needed to know to drive their businesses forward. I like to say that as luck would have it Kristin Luck and I shared a stage and our keynotes were so in alignment that we became instant friends. The depth of which was only strengthened through my introduction to Women in Research.

I made a conscious choice to lead with giving. My inherent belief in abundance kept me focused even when it got hard. The pandemic provided an opportunity for me to shine with my #alwaysbehelping attitude and this set my course to an expansive network within this industry and the momentum is just not stoppable.

Career paths are rarely without challenges. Can you share an honest moment from your career when things didn’t go quite according to plan, but the lessons remain with you to this day?

In 2011, three weeks after a historic convergence of tornadoes devastated Joplin, MO – leaving a destruction path one mile wide and twelve miles long, I received a call at 6am that led me to spend the morning standing on a sidewalk watching my creative studio burn to the ground.

Living in what I call the “stunning discomfort of entrepreneurship” there is literally something unexpected every time you turn around.

While a lot of people feel overwhelmed when I talk about this part of my journey it is amazing how much a crisis is also ironically often a moment of absolute clarity. I like to quote Anton Checkov, “Any idiot can face a crisis. It’s the day to day that will wear you out.” What I mean by that is that living in what I call the “stunning discomfort of entrepreneurship” there is literally something unexpected every time you turn around.

I’ve successfully grown my company internationally through a rebrand, after acquiring a (wait for it) travel and tourism agency in October of 2019, through a pandemic and more, but the difficulty of leading a team and balancing what employees want with what the company needs for sustainable growth will prove to be the challenge of my life.

Anyone who tells you it is easy is simply lying.

What two things should junior researchers focus on as they progress in their careers?

No matter what industry you are in, learning to network early and always in your career is key to success. Networking is not always about getting something. It is ability to understand that you are a part of the fabric of something larger than yourself.

It is about carving out a place to belong and a platform from which to serve and widening the front door through which people can come in and bring amazing things to you.

Do you have any advice for our sector?

I think two important conversations to have in this sector include the need for a bigger voice of the consumer at executive tables and the need for business prowess at all levels of the industry.

My observation of many market researchers is that they tend to be very careful, curious and ordered people. As professionals they are mindful and astute. They also tend to lead with empathy. This suits them well for their work. What it does not prepare them for often is the board room.

Facing increasing pressure from executives for insights that inform key and often critical brand pivots, I believe market researchers need to get louder and prouder about the work they do. I think they need to insist on closer access to the people who are using their data at least as much as they insist on getting closer to the humans who they query to obtain the insights.

Secondly, as a kind of outsider I have watched the last few years of increased private equity investment in this industry. In what is a very human-driven and traditionally quite manual social science the process of digital transformation is happening at different paces in the industry. It is also happening at different paces based on the vision of each company. No matter how much technology is in play, I believe everyone in this industry needs to educate themselves on the business side of the industry.

How do we ensure that students and those leaving school aspire to join our sector?

I know that internships are incredibly valuable, but not all sizes of companies have the bandwidth or resources to provide them. If that is not possible, I encourage companies to provide opportunities for job shadowing at all levels of their company even if that is as brief as one day long. By offering a view of the day-to-day in the industry I believe college careers can become more focused and relevant. The other added benefit is the opportunity to meet many more people within the industry than one or two longer internships may allow.

And do you have anyone who has helped your career so far that you’d like to acknowledge and say thanks or give a shout out to?

To be honest, the people I have connected with in the past 6 years have changed my life.

I mentioned Kristin Luck already, but the other three most significant relationships for me have been marketing and strategic collaborations with Sarah Kotva, Jamin Brazil and Lisa Wilding-Brown.

The biggest shout out goes to Women in Research, especially the WIRexec crew for their tireless service and camaraderie.

Those bitches mean business and I love every moment of it!