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Peaks and Valleys: The Geographic Distribution of MR Firms

As a retired MR practitioner and educator who also has a Masters in Economic Geography, I just couldn’t help but put data from Quirk’s 2019-2020 Researcher SourcebookTM (QMRR, XXXIII/6, Aug/Sep 2019) into a spreadsheet so that I could look for geographic patterns – peaks and valleys where MR firms are located. What I found was a topographic map worthy of the Rockies or the Sierra Nevadas.

Table 1 shows the number of expected MR firms (those listed in Quirk’s) based on the 2018 populations of each state versus the actual MR firms located there. For instance, my own state New York contains 71 listings but should actually have only 47 based on its residential population. Conversely, Florida should have 51 but only contains 35 firms as listed in Quirk’s. 

Table 2 shows the largest discrepancies, both positive and negative. The findings are symmetrical in terms of the aggregate (total count) of over- vs. under-supply of MR firms (169 vs. 173), although only 17 states are over-supplied whereas 32 states are under-supplied.

As a longtime observer of where MR firms are located (the first analysis I did was with the ancient 1969 edition of the AMA-NY Greenbook), I have found that there are many logical reasons why there are peaks and valleys, including:

  • The legacy of where pioneer MR firms were located 50 to 100 years ago, such as Dr. George Gallup in Princeton and Dr. Daniel Starch in Boston.
  • The earliest universities that offered training in MR, such as: Harvard, Michigan, Princeton, UC Berkeley.
  • Cities that had the largest population of consumers 50, 75 or even 100 years ago. Changes do occur. For instance, Buffalo, N.Y., reached its peak of 700,000 in 1950 but will probably shrink to less than 250,000 in the new 2020 decennial count.
  • Where MR clients are located, although some clients are in small cities but still justify local client service offices. Examples include Cincinnati, Hershey and St. Louis.
  • Cities that are important political capitals, since many commercial MR firms also do polling. DC and its MD and VA suburbs are prime examples.

Of course, there are other, more specialized reasons – including the Quirk family that located several generations back in the Twin Cities! We also need to differentiate between what used to be called full-service MR firms vs. MR field/data collection services – although most have long-since morphed. Then, there is arguably the most important influence on where MR firms are located – the move of several generations of Americans westward and southward.

Allow me one other observation. The strongest personal factor affecting my tracking of the location of MR firms goes back more than five decades to when I got my Ph.D. in Consumer Psychology from Rutgers in 1973 (after an MA in Economic Geography from SUNY Buffalo in 1971) and began my MR career as a mid-level project director and sales rep at Response Analysis Corporation in Princeton. Years later I was an SVP and group dead at RAC before teaching MR to nearly 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students at Montclair State University and later SUNY Geneseo. After tracking the annual Greenbook published by the New York chapter of the AMA and later the annual reports of my late, great friend Jack Honomichl at Ad Age magazine, you didn’t have to be a geographic genius to watch the spread of MR firms out of New York, Philly, Boston and Jersey. Nor do you have to be a member of Mensa to see that virtually all of the MR firms that were on the Honomichl Top 50 list of the early 1980s have long since disappeared, many of them through foreign mergers. MR is a field of constant and rapid evolution.

Dr. Scipione is the author of the authoritative history of the MR industry, “A Nation of Numbers: The Development of Marketing Research in America,” published by Quirk’s in 2015. He is now writing his eleventh book, a 2003 Iraq invasion novel title, “Three Wise Men.”


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