Happy MR Podcast Podcast Series

Ep. 560 – In-Person vs. Digital Research with Aryn O’Donnell, Vice President of Corporate Services at Fieldwork

My guest today is Aryn O’Donnell, Vice President of Corporate Services at Fieldwork. 

Find Aryn Online:

Find Jamin Online:

Find Us Online: 


This Episode is Sponsored by:

The Michigan State University’s Master of Science in Marketing Research Program delivers the #1 ranked insights and analytics graduate degree in three formats: 

  • Full-time on campus 
  • Full-time online 
  • Part-time online

NEW FOR 2022: 

If you can’t commit to their full degree program, simply begin with one of their 3-course certificates: Insights Design or Insights Analysis. 

In addition to the certification, all the courses you complete will build toward your graduation.

If you are looking to achieve your full potential, check out MSMU’s programs at: broad.msu.edu/marketing.

HubUX is a research operation platform for private panel management, qualitative automation including video audition questions, and surveys. 

For a limited time, user seats are free. If you’d like to learn more or create your own account, visit hubux.com


Jamin Brazil: Hey, everybody. Thanks for tuning in. You’re listening to The Happy Market Research Podcast. We are joined today by Aryn O’Donnell, Vice President of Corporate Services at Fieldwork. Many of you know Fieldwork as one of the big three field organizations here in the U. S. I’ve used them for many years. Aryn, it is an honor to have you on the show. Thank you so much for joining me.


Aryn O’Donnell: Well, thank you so much for having me. I love all the guests that you have on here, so it’s really an honor to be a name among so many of the wonderful guests that you get to chat with on the show.


Jamin Brazil: The Michigan State University’s Master of Science in Marketing Research Program delivers the number one ranked insights and analytics degree in three formats, full time on campus, full time online, and part time online. New for 2022, if you can’t commit to their full degree program, simply begin with one of their three course certifications, Insights Design, or Insights Analysis. In addition to the certification, all the courses you complete will build towards your graduation. If you’re looking to achieve your full potential, check out MSMU’s program at broad.MSU.edu/marketing. Again, broad.MSU.edu/marketing. HubUX is a research operations platform for private panel management, qualitative automation, including video audition questions and surveys. For a limited time, user seats are free. If you’d like to learn more or create your own account, visit hubux.com. Yeah. Well, I mean, ironically, I think most of us, if not all, have probably been in a Fieldwork facility. So I’m really curious, you’ve been there 11 years and I want to talk a lot about that journey. But, before we do, how did you first hear about market research?


Aryn O’Donnell: Well, I have to admit, when I took my first job with Fieldwork, I had no idea what market research was. After college, I really had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. And just by different connections, I was able to work as a client service specialist in my hometown of Denver with the Fieldwork team. And growing up, there was always an element of market research that I was interested in, but I never knew the vocabulary around it. I really enjoyed learning about people and their motivations and decision-making processes. And once I started working as a client service specialist, I really began to better understand why so many companies use research and insights. And it just all clicked, getting to see what was happening in our facilities with them buzzing with clients that are testing out innovative new packaging and products and medical devices, it really all clicked. And, so, it really wasn’t until I was in the field of market research that I fell in love with what it can do.


Jamin Brazil: Yeah. It’s funny. I think I was employed by a market research company for, maybe, even three months until I realized it wasn’t really marketing, we were doing, it was just research.


Aryn O’Donnell: Yeah. And I think that, as I’ve been in this industry for 11 years, I’ve loved watching it evolve as well and learning about it. So, in the facility, we were really focused on the qualitative side, what was happening in person. But, man, our industry is huge. And there are so many cool ways in which clients are utilizing technology and building on the research that they gained from their research with Fieldwork. And, so, it’s just it continues to evolve and it remains really exciting.


Jamin Brazil: So 11 years, you’ve seen a lot, right, in the qualitative and quantitative space.


Aryn O’Donnell: Yeah.


Jamin Brazil: Let’s talk just really briefly about Fieldwork today. Because, obviously, there’s been a pretty significant evolution over the last four years.


Aryn O’Donnell: Yeah. So for those that have been in the industry for a while and they hear Fieldwork, they may think focus group facilities or Critters. And, yes, Fieldwork has focus group facilities all across the U. S. And, yes, we still do have our infamous Critter squishy toys that you can find in all of our back rooms. If you are missing one from your collection of Critters, please email me, I’d be happy to send you some of our Critters. But, really, in the most basic terms, Fieldwork is a qualitative support service. We recruit respondents and host in person, remote, and hybrid research where our clients are able to uncover insights for brand and business impact. And, as you said, it’s changed a lot. And it can mean a lot of different things to our different clients that we serve. It can look different, really, even project to projects with the clients that we work with. So, for some clients, this means in person research at our venues or at offsite locations, whether it’s doing IDIs or taste tests or focus groups or co-creation sessions or we are supporting clients on their path to getting FDA approval for medical devices or it can be supporting mock juries. And, even today, as we’ve seen some teams move to a remote model, we’re able to host ideation sessions for those teams that just want to collaborate in person. Something that was obviously very big in the last couple of years was research online. So we can recruit to our platform, to our other clients’ platform to connect with respondents. And, beyond all of that, we help manage the logistics, so whether it be March of 2020 when a client who’s never done online research was doing online research, supporting every aspect of that so the client could really focus on gaining the insights. And we were managing all the logistics. And that is a theme throughout all of the ways in which we support our clients. Regardless of how we’re supporting them, customer service really is at the core of what we do.


Jamin Brazil: Qualitative went through a massive acceleration into digital through COVID. We’re back in person, and I would say back in person with a vengeance. Facilities are booked out well in advance. In fact, I know people that are trying to do research and, unless they’re booking it literally three months out, they’re not able to get into facilities in main- The top six markets. They’re having to go outside of those municipalities. What do you think the mix looks like between in person and digital as we go forward?


Aryn O’Donnell: So, first of all, I have to say how great it is to be back in person. It’s been to fun for us while we’re having this conversation remotely, the chances we’re gotten to break bread together and see each other at conferences. So I just, I want to celebrate the fact that we’re in person. And, really, over the last two years, two and a half years, everybody was forced to find a new way in almost every area of our lives. And I think with something like that, it brings up a lot of questions about why we do things a certain way, whether it be in your personal life or professional life. And it really forced researchers to increase their digital literacy quickly. But, with that, I think it also helped all of us really understand what we were missing by engaging face-to-face. So through that process, I think many researchers I’ve spoken to came to the conclusion that while digital is a really- It can be a really effective methodology for a lot of different reasons, whether it’s the target that you’re trying to get or the timeline, whatever it might be, I think digital is a great solution. But, at the same time, humans really crave human connection, whether it be a moderator leading a group discussion in real time where the respondents are really able to engage in a discussion as opposed to what can often happen on a digital platform where it’s more call and response, or those nuggets that come out between sessions when clients and researchers are in the back room and they’re debriefing. Or even those insights that come out of someone’s mouth in the ten-minute walk back to your hotel. So I think we were all better able to articulate why we do what we do, whether it be digital or in person. And I don’t see either of them going away. I see people being more strategic in how they use these different tools. And at Fieldwork, we really believe strongly in the value of in person research. We have beautiful facilities that are really created as these insight generation centers. So our clients can really take that next step that they need. And we believe so much in in person and what its future is that, in 2020, Fieldwork partnered with other qualitative leaders, really, to create the #facetofacemrx initiative. And we created this as a news source for our clients to know what was going on in in person, that it was happening and how it was happening. And, so, I really encourage anybody listening here, check out the #facetofacemrx on LinkedIn to get a snapshot of what is happening in the face-to-face space. We want our clients to have all the tools at their fingertips for them.


Jamin Brazil: Yeah. And there are a lot of tools. And it is interesting, as thinking about the framework of tools. In person was just the dominate way of doing it, and as the adage goes, to a hammer, everything’s a nail, right? And when COVID hit, we’re like, “We need other tools in order to be able to get to these important insights.” I’m thinking about an interview I did with the head of ethnography at Ipsos. And in that interview, they did zero digital, and then they went to 100 percent digital. It’s a big transition in a matter of weeks for them. And they had to check all the biases they had in place. And now, as they’re into this new normal framework, they’re just so much better equipped to be able to deliver against clients because they have a full set of tools in the toolbox. And, so, to that end, with it, really, the digital enablement or education that we all had to have as researchers, with Fieldwork, do you think that modern facilities are going to be both a combination of physical assets and software companies? Or do you see them more partnering with software companies to build things out?


Aryn O’Donnell: That’s a really great question. For us, we want to make all the tools accessible to our clients, while at the same time being the expert in what we do. I think that, oftentimes, it- Maybe not oftentimes. If someone claims to be an expert in everything, you want to proceed with caution. I feel Fieldwork is really an expert in finding the people and getting them to the right place. If our clients are looking for added technologies or tools, they’re able to benefit from our experience, whether it’s something that we’ve done in-house or we have vendor partners who are able to do it. So I think, for us, it’s really understanding what all is out there to be able to bring in front of our clients. Because there are experts out there in that technology, whether it be streaming or eye tracking or biometrics, there’s so many experts in the area. For us, we want to know those experts so we can bring them in for our clients. I don’t think that means a facility is without technology. Throughout COVID, streaming was, really, I think it grew in a way to meet the clients’ needs of offering off site moderation or really allowing our clients to be present when they, maybe, couldn’t physically be present. So I think it’s a mix of both. I think it’s making sure that we’re well connected and understand what our clients’ needs are and matching them with a solution based on our experience.


Jamin Brazil: Yeah. I like the agnostic approach to that. So we’re in a tight labor market. You’ve been at Fieldwork for 11 years, going on 12 years. What do you see as a key- Some key tips or a key tip to retain quality employees through a very competitive labor market?


Aryn O’Donnell: I think culture is one of the reasons I believe we have Fieldworkers who’ve been around for such a long time. Eleven years, I feel like, is a baby in Fieldwork land for some of my colleagues who have been here 15, 20, 21 years. And, at the core of our culture, as I mentioned, is service, both externally and internally. We really believe in partnerships, as opposed to transactional relationships with our clients and with one another. There really is no such thing as too small of a task for someone. And when we’re taking on these larger projects, larger tasks, there’s a support system in place so that no one feels like they’re alone. And a phrase that often is shared within Fieldwork meetings is, when you’re down, find a Fieldworker who is up. And when you’re up, find a Fieldworker who is down. And I really believe at all of our team’s core is we want to see others succeed. And we know their success is our success and that we are better together. Something that we’ve been doing a lot of over the last two years is creating spaces to celebrate successes. And we’ve always had these spaces. We share client kudos with one another, but really having these spaces to gather and share even the smallest of wins, which there were days where there were some small wins. But we’re seeing bigger and bigger wins. And we want everyone to be able to come in, walk alongside one another, and celebrate that success. But, at the same time, be able to share learnings. Be able to share what, maybe, didn’t go as planned and how we addressed it and best practices for the benefit of one another. We have a very collaborative structure at Fieldwork. And I think that helps to highlight individuals’ superpowers and really let one another shine in the ways that they are successful. I really love being in a group of individuals and they have skills that I don’t have. And I feel that we can be better for our clients when we’re able to each home in on the skills that we have because I don’t think one person can be all things. And, as a group, whether it be in person or remote, we really are a group that loves to gather and source opportunities and really welcome new, big, different ideas, whether it be an idea that we’re able to move forward in that moment or something that we need to brainstorm to create alternatives for to find that path to success for either our client or one another.


Jamin Brazil: It’s interesting that you use this term superpower. And it’s also in your LinkedIn, under your- I don’t even know what it is, job description, I guess.


Aryn O’Donnell: Headline? Yeah.


Jamin Brazil: Yeah. Right. And, headline, thank you. And, so, the- You create a nomenclature, right? By referring to, “Hey, this is what I do really, really well.” That is unique. That wouldn’t necessarily transfer into another company. But when somebody else comes in, all of a sudden, it creates a sense of belonging.


Aryn O’Donnell: Yeah. I think that we talk as well about being in all the lanes for ways to support our clients. As we have so many different roles and there are so many ways to support clients, from our recruiters who are on the phone to make sure our respondents have all the information so they can show up to our client service specialists who are on site making sure that the respondents actually show up and the client has everything they need in that back room. Whether it be printing or the catering that is making sure that we don’t have any peanuts in the catering to make sure that client’s allergy doesn’t act up to our project managers that are providing consistent communication throughout the life of the project. So there just are so many ways that our clients need to be supported. And to be able to see my colleagues support them in these beautiful, unique ways that isn’t my skill set, it’s such a gift. And I think it allows us to show up the best possible way we can for our clients because not every client has the same need.


Jamin Brazil: Aryn, my last question. What is your personal motto?


Aryn O’Donnell: So this actually changes annually for me. The past few years, I have chosen a theme for the year. It usually ends up being a word or a phrase, but it’s an exercise I like to do near the end of the year. And I look at my different values that I hold close and break down how I want to live out this theme within each value. Last year, I was actually- I had the honor of attending the WIRexec Retreat. And Heidi Dickert actually formalized this process for me, so thank you to Heidi for helping me better articulate why I have a theme, what my theme is. And thank you to the WIR community for helping me remember it, because sometimes life happens and you forget the theme that you chose for the year. But this year, my theme or my personal motto is to hold space. And for those that may be listening that have done yoga, this may resonate with them. But for those of you that haven’t, holding space really just means to be physically, mentally, and emotionally present for someone. So, for me, whether it’s ensuring my colleagues feel supported and appreciated or I’m helping a client navigate a new project or it’s a new client to Fieldwork and I’m trying to help them navigate Fieldwork or a friend having a bad day or a family member going through a life change, I think there is so much power in how you show up and how you share energy. And, so, this year, I am trying to be more cognizant and aware of how I’m holding space for those around me, both personally and professionally.


Jamin Brazil: Now, if somebody wants to get in contact with you or somebody else at Fieldwork for their qualitative research, how would they do that?


Aryn O’Donnell: LinkedIn is a great place to start. So, please, find me on LinkedIn. You can probably see how my name is spelled in this podcast, but it’s A-R-Y-N. And yeah. I think LinkedIn’s the best place to connect with me. And I would be happy to connect you with any Fieldworker who might be able to support your needs.


Jamin Brazil: Our guest today has been Aryn O’Donnell, Vice President of Corporate Services at Fieldwork. Aryn, thank you so much for joining me. Super fun interview.


Aryn O’Donnell: Thank you so much.


Jamin Brazil: Everybody else, I hope you have a great rest of your day. And, as always, if you take the time to stream, capture, and post this on LinkedIn or Twitter, tag me and I will send you a free t-shirt.