Welcome to the SampleCon 2021 Highlights Series. Recorded live in Pasadena, this series is bringing interviews straight to you from exhibitors, speakers and attendees at this year’s event. In this interview, host Jamin Brazil interviews Howard Fienberg, Senior VP of Advocacy at Insights Association.
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Jamin Brazil: Hey, everybody. Live at SampleCon. Howard Fienberg, Insights Association, D. C. lobbyist. It is a pleasure to finally put a face to the name, sir.
Howard Fienberg: Likewise, Jamin. Nice to see you in person.
Jamin Brazil: Yeah. We’re at SampleCon. What’s it like being with people?
Howard Fienberg: It’s kind of cool. Been very excited to be here and to just talk to people in person. And I’ve had a lot of fun.
Jamin Brazil: A lot of people, a lot of market researchers, don’t fully- Including myself- Don’t fully understand the role that you’ve played in maintaining our rights to be able to gather information from consumers and for consumers to be able to give us information that we can use to inform business decisions among the brands that we love. Tell us a little bit about your job and what you’re doing.
Howard Fienberg: So I play the role of the all purpose representative for the insights industry. And that means that I am meeting with members of Congress and senators and their staff and state legislators and trying to make them aware of the industry itself, which most people aren’t aware. I mean, as most folks that are listening to this podcast probably know, even getting your clients to understand what it is that they’re talking to them about can be a bit of a challenge. Policy makers are in a similar boat, sometimes worse, because other than talking to them about political polling, it’s something that is completely oblivious to them. So I am trying to explain to them, “All right, well here are the Insight Association members in your constituency.” And that gets their attention a little bit like, “Oh, potential voters. I’m gonna pay attention to that.” But it’s a lot about niche policy issues that even a lot of the policy makers don’t fully get their heads around, things like data policy, stuff that’s bread and butter for the daily operation for almost everybody and certainly in this industry. But, also, other just business issues of taxation. Is there gonna be an extra tax on your- The sell of data or the- Just the revenue of an insights company because they’re- Happen to touch a certain state’s consumer data and they’re gonna get a little excise tax added on for that to punish you for doing research with their- People in their state.
Jamin Brazil: And, of course, they don’t frame it as punishment. They frame it as, this is the state where the value is created.
Howard Fienberg: Exactly. Therefore, we’re extracting the value from you because you’ve extracted the value from our citizens.
Jamin Brazil: Exactly right.
Howard Fienberg: That is exactly how New York puts it.
Jamin Brazil: So let’s talk about a specific example, which you’ve kind of already talked about one relative to taxation at a state level. Which I can only imagine how complex our world gets if that actually went through. Are there any other specific examples of where you’ve had to step in and help-
Howard Fienberg: So a big one has been- And what dragged me to SampleCon originally for a webinar and now impetus for coming here is a law in California called AB-2257.
Jamin Brazil: Which I’m very familiar with.
Howard Fienberg: Which passed in- Became law last September and requires a prorated hourly minimum wage for a research subject when they receive any kind of incentive and is amazingly one of the least compliable laws that I’ve ever encountered. And, look, it was never the intention of the legislator to punish our industry for anything, I don’t think. She thought she was doing us a favor by providing us a carve out because this is all about whether or not someone can be treated as an independent contractor or an employee because it’s an either/or. And we want to be able to treat our research subjects as independent contractors rather than treating them as an employee of your company just for having them fill out a survey or participating in some- Anything. So this has been a big deal, driving a lot of companies insane trying to figure out how to comply with something that’s so complex it can’t actually be complied with, other than not doing research with a California person or not giving them an incentive. And we don’t think that works out real well either way.
Jamin Brazil: It’s a pretty important part of the overall economy.
Howard Fienberg: Yeah. It’s a big deal.
Jamin Brazil: Yeah.
Howard Fienberg: So California’s a problematic state, but it’s a big one. So we put together, basically, a coalition of our members, help raise money, got us a lobbyist to help us out in Sacramento. And we’re on a pretty good path to getting a fix for that law to get rid of that minimum wage requirement. And it’s the cooperation of folks within this industry who were presented with a four alarm fire. And we gave them an opportunity to respond to it in a collective fashion and a lot of people have taken that. And I’ve been very pleased so far that people have. I mean, it’s one thing to run around with your hair on fire, it’s another thing to try to do something about it and help other people do something about it too.
Jamin Brazil: Melanie Courtright has taken on the CEO role for the Insights Association. She’s done a very good job, in my opinion, of elevating the role that the Insights Association plays with representing our industry to legislators. That’s been a great shift for us. When you think about that transition, how’s that impacted you?
Howard Fienberg: In practical terms, she’s based in Dallas versus my old boss who was based in the D. C. area, so I don’t have-
Jamin Brazil: Just don’t see her very often.
Howard Fienberg: My boss- Yes. I don’t see her very often other than on Zoom. But, look, she’s been an awesome asset from pretty much day one, far more than I could’ve ever hoped for. And, I mean, she’s been great. And she is both supporting in everything that I do regularly, but she’s also got the whip hand because she’s vested in the insights industry in a way that no one can be. If they’re not- If you’re from the industry, you’re gonna care about the well being of that industry in a really deep way and she does. So when things were going all to hell in a hand basket with COVID, we went- I was working 60 hours a week trying to get things like the Paycheck Protection Program pushed forward so that our members in the small business category could get some help because there were a lot of people that were on the verge of bankruptcy. There were- We have had a couple members that have gone- Have- One or two that have gone under. And, I mean, there’s a lot of turmoil, and we wanted to make sure that folks could survive, both in terms of the companies and the people. And we’ve extended memberships to unemployed people within the industry for free, which we’ve never done before but makes perfect sense, especially in a crisis. And doing the- Every- She’s looking for every avenue possible to take care of the best interest of the industry and also put forth the best face.
Jamin Brazil: Love it. Yeah. Totally. It’s in a really strong position right now, I think. So I want to say thank you so much for the contribution that you have in helping us make sure that we can do our jobs.
Howard Fienberg: You’re welcome. I appreciate that.
Jamin Brazil: Everybody else, I hope you found this very interesting, I certainly did. If you want to reach out to Howard for any reason, I’m sure you can find him on LinkedIn. There you go. Have a great rest of your day.