Decorum and Etiquette Behind the Two-Way Mirror* — Michael Wintrob

10 Mar 2011
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Michael Wintrob

Enter the world of corporate design for more than a couple of months, and you are sure to quickly find yourself on the dark side of a two-way mirror at a set of focus groups. After eleven years at LPK and countless afternoons in drafty, windowless rooms, I have accumulated some hard-earned information. Setting aside my personal views on the merits** of focus group research, here are some handy tips on how to act while representing your agency.

1.     Pay attention. Seriously. To what the people are saying. It’s why you are there. Oh, you will be tempted by a million little things trying to pry away your focus from the focus group. Let’s see, there will be email, texts, phone calls, Twitter, Facebook, instant messaging, THE INTERNET, Tumblr, Amazon, Gilt, did-I-say-Twitter?, your colleagues and — potentially — your clients***. Pay them little (as “no” is too ambitious) mind and remember that these 12 people will have a lot of say on the project that you’ve been consumed by for the past 3 months; giving them your undivided attention is probably in your best interest.

2.    Take notes.

3.    Capture the insights. Ignore everything else. Focus groups are designed to elicit a lot of talk from those gathered around the table. People are literally being paid for their opinions, so here they come. The signal-to-noise ratio is rarely in your favor. Your job is to suss out what is what.

4.    Write a summary. Frame things in according to the project brief. Identify opportunities.

5.    Avoid crass comments about the people on the other side of the mirror, especially as it pertains to appearance. I mean, who raised you?

6.    Pay attention to non-verbal communication. If it helps to pretend you are on a FOX drama, so be it.

7.    Resist the natural urge to take cognitive shortcuts. Write these terms down: Confirmation Bias, Recency Effect, Availability Heuristic. Look them up. Understand them. Don’t fall victim to them.

8.    Take care of yourself. All things in moderation, ok? There will likely be prodigious amounts of free food — much of it delicious. There will be freshly brewed coffee, Diet Cokes and trail mix as far as the eye can see. Some monstrous facilities will even innocently deliver just-out-of-the-oven cookies after lunch. Chill, or by 3:30, you will be a complete basket case with head pounding, gut aching and double vision. Also, get some fresh air between groups.

9.    Make the moderator your friend. They have a lot of influence and often set the agenda during a debrief.

10.  Don’t try to win the debrief. Everyone on your side of the glass is smart. You don’t need to prove it.

11.   Get there before the client.

12.  Leave after the client.

13.  You won’t use the DVDs, but take them anyway.

*Inspired by the brilliant Chris Jones and his Son of Bold Venture blog.

**They have their place. Early. Not too often. Henry Ford, faster horse, grain of salt, lowest common denominator, and all that.

***I have seen the back room treated as a playground, where people are consumed with making friends with the cool kids, hating on their enemies and gossiping about anything except the package’s priority of communication. This is certainly not the norm, but that makes it no less rude and boorish.

Michael Wintrob is a strategy director at LPK with more than 10 years of industry experience. He has worked across a variety of categories and brands, including Swiffer, Folgers, Dunkin Donuts, Expedia, Lu and Kool-Aid. Michael is also an adjunct instructor at the University of Cincinnati College of Business and can be found on Twitter at @mwintrob.