President & General Manager
(First published Feb. 26/01)
Jean-Marc Léger, head of Canada's largest all-Canadian-owned research house and known as a knowledgeable and successful entrepreneur, is also - contrary to the usual sober world of research - a people person with an almost perpetual smile on his face.
Whether Léger is showing off his company's offices, discussing new research tools, leading a Publicité-Club de Montréal luncheon meeting, anticipating a business trip to his new offices in Toronto or hurrying home to spend time with his young family, that youthful grin belies the fact that he's 39 and the head of the eighth largest, and one of the most successful, research houses in Canada, with offices in Montreal, Toronto, Quebec City, Winnipeg - and Morocco.
"I like my job and I try to lead a balanced life, not just for my kids, but for me," Léger says. "My family is very close. And I'm disciplined. I eat well, sleep well, play hockey with my boys, work out every day, and am home almost every night by 7 p.m.. If I fly to Toronto or New York on business, I fly back the same day. I don't work on Sunday and only half of Saturday. And I choose the people around me to build a strong company that's based on family values."
Léger learned young that he wanted to lead such a life. His father, the late Marcel Léger, was a well-known politician, Minister of Environment and Tourism with the Government of Quebec. Following his political career, he launched the research house with his son who has a Masters degree as an economist.
"My father worked hard, unfortunately was away from the family a lot during his political career, didn't eat or sleep well, and died at 62," says Léger. "I want a more balanced lifestyle."
Specialty: Marketing Research
Despite the company being started by a politician and initially doing a lot of public affairs research, Léger & Léger - which recently changed its name - evolved quickly into a company specialized in marketing research. That now comprises 83% of the business, with public affairs research in such sectors as health and education comprising 15%, with only 2% political - and that only for media and not linked to any political party.
"It's only 2%, but 95% of my trouble," says Léger. "This is not a good market for pollsters. There's no money in it." Nevertheless, Leger Marketing has an excellent record in election predictions. "We've been the most accurate with polls in nine of the past 10 federal and provincial elections and referendums, and were accurate right across Canada in the last federal election in our predictions published in
The Globe and Mail and
Journal de Montréal.
But it's marketing research that has built Leger Marketing's reputation and where Léger himself excels. It's where the money is, he admits, but it's also the sector that is in the middle of society. "If someone wants to evaluate advertising or launch a product or gauge consumer behaviour, they need research. We work with business and society and cultural leaders."
Léger clearly enjoys being in the centre of what's going on. He's vice-president of the Publicité-Club de Montréal, where his mini-research questions at monthly luncheons are entertainment, but also build awareness of research possibilities among key communications and marketing players in the Quebec industry. He likes being among PCM members, he says, because they're "idea people, creative. Searchers are boring."
He's also president of the Board of Directors of the Université du Québec à Montréal.
Léger says that he gets a lot from such activities. "I think I could play a role in society to help young people. The activities don't take too much time, because I'm organized."
After Three Years, Finally a Toronto Office
He has, however, dropped a couple of other Board positions to give more time to his family and to integrate and build his company in Toronto. After three years of searching and talking to 31 different firms, Léger bought 20-year-old Criterion Research Corp., one of the two companies that most interested him, a few months ago.
"It wasn't easy to acquire a company in Toronto," he says. "They're more used to acquiring, than being acquired by a Quebec company."
The purchase involved a mix of cash and exchange of shares, with Criterion president Brian Collins becoming president of Leger's Toronto office. Criterion had offices in Toronto and Winnipeg, and two main modules: one dealing with advertising research and the other in agricultural research. (It does a major syndicated study with farmers for eight clients in the chemical and pharmaceutical sectors out of its Winnipeg office.)
Criterion had special software that enables the evaluation of a company's image and its impact in the media. Leger has now imported that specialty to Montreal as a client offering. Criterion's Winnipeg office acts as a call centre for Toronto as well as Winnipeg. (A Winnipeg accent is more neutral than Toronto's, and neutral accents draw a higher rate of response, says Léger.)
The Quebec City office was added seven years ago with purchase of a marketing consultancy there, while the Casablanca office was opened six years ago with Moroccan partners. Leger also does considerable work from there for such countries as Algeria, Tunisia, Gabon and other French-speaking African countries.
Company Integration Results in a Name Change
"We have plans to grow by acquisition in other centres in Canada as well as on the international scene," says Léger who changed both companies' name to Leger Marketing with the Toronto purchase. It was done to coordinate the companies, better reflect their specialty and reliability, and to make it easier for the English market. The accent on the company name was dropped in English Canada, although the new company logo has a line within the first 'e' to simulate an accent for the French market.
Whereas 91% of Quebecers and 21% across Canada knew the name Léger et Léger, research since the name change shows that Leger Marketing is known by 60% of Quebecers and 30% of the rest of Canada. Its slogan is 'We are proud to be second because our client comes first.'
Three of Léger's four sisters are shareholders in Leger Marketing (the fourth, involved in politics, is not). Two, Françoise (second in command) and Hélène, are active vice-presidents handling finance, human relations and administration. There are three other vice-presidents plus Collins for a total of eight shareholders, plus the Fédération des Travailleurs et Travailleuses du Québec (FTQ) whose labour fund invested in the company, giving it capital to build.
New Specialty Research Tools Being Introduced
Four years ago, Leger Marketing signed a working agreement with Taylor-Nelson-Sofres, active in 42 countries and fourth largest marketing firm worldwide. Leger pays TNS royalties to use its marketing models.
"It's important for us because many of our clients have international offices," says Léger. "TNS association probably accounts for about 10% of our income. We use it more than it uses us. It offers our clients a chance to participate in an international Omnibus."
The use of various proprietary marketing models and software from TNS means that Leger can offer its clients special services. One offers the use of simulation to evaluate the performance of new products and how the market will react, thus helping reduce the margin of error in an area where so many new products end in failure.
Another brand new tool offered by Leger is Webperform, currently being introduced. Rather than simply measuring the number of hits, page views and stickiness of Web surfers, Webperform allows the researcher to follow a representative sample through four sectors: demographic, surfing habits, transactional, and technological, transfering the information in software, evaluating the material and providing the means to build a strong data base and marketing strategy for the client.
"We're the only ones who can evaluate the efficiency of advertising on the Internet, knowing not only how many see the ads but also who they are in terms of these four sectors," he says. "Webperform is an example of how we're not only adapting to working in the Canadian market but were offering new tools. We don't want to replicate what's already out there. We want to provide something new."
Canadian Research $200 Million Business
Research in Canada today is an approximate $200 million business overall. Marketing communication accounts for about 30%, says Léger. Research is always evolving, he says. In the 1970s, it answered 'what' and was quantitative. In the 1980s, it answered 'why', with qualitative research coming to the forefront. In the '90s, the consumer process meant that researchers were measuring 'how'.
"Now we're into the 'what if', with new tools to predict how the market will react. And we have the tools. I tell clients that when you face tomorrow's challenges with yesterday's methods, you have today's problem. Things are moving fast. We're entrepreneurs using international models to adapt to the new realities."
However, it's not necessarily always high tech tools that can reveal some data.
Leger uses an example of how recent research on behalf of a ski station discovered just what most interested customers. As part of the research, skiers were armed with Kodak cameras and asked to take pictures of the things they liked, to help the ski station tailor its strategy. No ski pictures were taken. Rather, the activities photographed were all the related to the leisure activities around the ski hill: cars, beautiful women, wine. It helped the ski station discover trends.
"The big trend is to follow trends," says Léger.
Role of the Internet
"But it's the Internet sector that will change the research industry and that's where the growth will be. The Internet phenomenon is important because it changes the methodology. The Internet is not an end. It's a means. It's a way to access thousands of people without cost. A lot of companies lose out because they thought the Internet would be for a consumption society. It's not. It's for an information society.
"The Internet will be one of many ways researchers will now reach respondents. But with so many ways to reach them - the Internet, telephone, telemarketing - and with everything moving so fast, it will be more difficult to reach people. In a few years, maybe researchers will have to pay people to respond like they do in Africa. The culture there requires researchers to exchange a small gift in return for information. Acceptance of the gift obligates the recipient to answer truthfully."
Two-Year Goal: The Market
Leger Marketing's head office occupies two full floors in a building in Old Montreal's Place d'Armes across from famed Cathédrale Notre-Dame. It has a huge call centre, modern focus group facilities, and a small theatre for presentations. The company overall has a staff of more than 315, including 84 professionals, largely analysts with Master's and PhD. degrees.
"We're always recruiting," says Léger. "Everyone wants to work for Leger Marketing, and it's important to maintain the team with good salaries, good working conditions and good clients. It's difficult to find people with the right combination of knowledge of new techniques plus experience."
Keeping such an organization going requires planning, and Léger claims that is his personal strength.
"I'm clear on where I want to go, so it's easier for people to follow me," he says. "I follow a two-year plan and I share that plan every month when I meet with employees. (Each month the plan has a vision slogan. December's was: 'First we'll be the best. After, we will be the first.')
"In the past two years we've met our goals, among them buying a Toronto company; building an Internet division through buying an Internet provider, Planète e-marketing; and integrating our offices with the name change. Among goals over the next two years are: improving the partnership with TNS; having share participation with key employees; and taking the company on the market as soon as possible.
"The aim is to build Léger, to grow with new techniques. We have a choice: we could be little and specialize or big and compete. Our choice is to be big. And I don't want to sell. I want to buy."
Time to Play
With such goals, Léger also plans his leisure time with his wife, Linda Asselin, and two sons, Jérôme, 9, and Philippe, 5. Last summer, his three weeks vacation included two fun weeks with 25 pre-planned regional and local activities with his sons. He and his wife also escape pressure by occasional weekends at a spa in the Eastern Townships.
At home, he's more patient than at work, he says. "At work, everything goes too slow for me. I tend to make plans, build, and have the emotions of the entrepreneur. My sister Françoise finalizes the details. We complement each other and work as a team."
After university, he briefly considered a career as a journalist, and applied to television network TQS. "They refused me, " he says. "I've built on that. It's the last time someone told me 'No.'"
If annoyed at work, the smile seldom disappears. "He always thinks before speaking," says Michel Simard, director of public relations for Leger Marketing. "If he's annoyed, he just takes longer before he speaks."
Views on Research
Léger has strong opinions about research. "A good survey isn't complicated," he says. "People say that you can make statistics say what you want. Yes and no. Statistics themselves are clear, but the question, the way it is asked, to whom and how it is interpreted can all play a role. An example is a survey asking people about building an incinerator in their community. One question asked if they objected to an incinerator and 80% said 'yes'. Another question asked if they would mind having an incinerator if it means providing a certain number of jobs, and the answer was 80% 'no.' It depends on the question."
If a client wanted a research study done to reach a predetermined conclusion, would Leger do it?
"No. We would lose our credibility. Our reputation is most important and we stand behind our signature. But if a client has a hypothesis and wants a survey to confirm whether it's right or wrong, we will do it. If I arrive with statistics to support his hypothesis, I'm a genius. If I arrive with statistics to say 'no, you're wrong' I have to be very well prepared to answer questions. Clients like to hear what they think, but our business is accuracy."
Leger Marketing won't work for direct competitors, but since most jobs are done under contracts of a few months, that's seldom a problem. It also won't take on companies who aren't wlling to pay for the expertise, where "the chemistry isn't good", or where they've shown in the past that they are too slow, making it non-profitable.
"Little clients can be profitable, but we mainly target companies who are number one or two in each industry, and ones who come regularly with repeat business."
Asked what he thinks when, after a BBM Bureau of Measurement or Nielsen People Meter survey is published, every station or channel seems to find one area where they're 'number one', he says, "They're right, too. The problem is the message they send out to the public, plus the fact that broadcast ratings are a grey zone because the two companies use different techniques that could both be improved.
"A problem also lies in the fact that a lot of traditional media do fast research and take decisions based on uncertain numbers. They don't invest a lot in quality and in the end, that can have an impact on marketing. You don't have only to measure. You have to understand. And you have to use large enough samples.
Given that target groups can be defined with many different demographic, socio-economic, psychographic and media usage parameters, major mass media are generally not able to deliver the type of pinpoint targeting that research seems to encourage, he says. "But today's consumers are more complicated and their behavior is more complex and eclectic than ever. They buy a Mercedes but shop at Club Price. That's where we get down to micro-marketing techniques."
Given that, how much research is enough?
"It depends on the client, where they are in the market, and what they want to pay for."
We Will Be First
Léger's own expertise as a 'searcher' has given way over time to jobs as president, manager, and now, entrepreneur concentrating on business development.
"People say I'm everywhere, but I have to be to build the company through marketing and visibility. The hardest thing for an entrepreneur is to manage employees, especially in marketing because they're more mercenary. But I have a strong team, chosen person by person to be sure they fit our kind of company.
"The spirit of the company is important. We work hard, but are disciplined. First we'll be the best and then we will be first!"