Back to the Future: Recruiting Quality Respondents

Anne Hedde, Executive Vice President of Schlesinger Interactive, discusses the topic of recruiting quality respondents.

Remember when the research world was a simpler place? At Schlesinger Associates, we often joke about our disappointment in the dwindling number of ‘Diet Coke’ studies. It’s not that we are all Diet Coke drinkers or that we have any other affinity to the product. Diet Coke, in our world, is simply a metaphor for the ‘good old days’ when research bid requests seemed much simpler and easier to achieve. Today we would gladly welcome a research request to find one thousand Diet Coke drinkers in NY, Chicago and other large markets but today’s project request is more likely to be for Zeo drinkers in Des Moines, Birmingham and Guanzhao with equal representation across purchases in big box stores, grocery stores and convenience markets. Needless to say, finding one million Diet Coke drinkers would be easier.

Complicating the increasing targeted research recruiting environment is the fact that research basics have not changed. When we recruit for research, as we did in the ‘good old days’, we need to adhere to good research standards and practices including selecting recruits at random with the least amount of bias. In a nutshell, that means having processes that reduce or eliminate the degree and direction of risk introduced by selection bias, systematic bias, interviewer bias, sampling bias – the list goes on and on – it’s not any shorter than it was 50 years ago!

What has changed is the ability to engage effectively. It’s increasingly difficult - or at least different – today then it was 15 years ago or even 5 years ago. And, it will be different tomorrow. We are a media-guzzling society and the opportunity that potential respondents have to engage with any form of communication continues to rise as digital communications become more sophisticated. Once we have identified a highly targeted qualified respondent and ensured that our group of respondents does not have significant bias, respondent engagement is the final qualifier in the respondent selection process.

This brings us to the question of “What is the best way to recruit the targeted, increasing hard-to-find, highly articulate and engaged, and unbiased respondents?” In a perfect world, we would simply recruit randomly across the entire population – and all recruits would be high responsive and happy to give us their time and attention. This is obviously not an option in our budget constrained, limited availability and privacy-challenged world of market research. But, we also know that the easiest option - recruiting from only a few sources using limited techniques – is also not going to provide the highest quality research in most instances


The Art and Science of Recruiting

We believe that respondent recruitment and sampling is a science, as well as an art. Good research processes that reduce the risk of bias and ensure representativeness will always be important. The ‘art’ is the increasingly important creative aspect of recruiting. Recruiting is constantly evolving and an increasing important consideration is combining recruiting methods that embrace the future and draw from the past. We recognize that recruiting is the beginning of the value chain and if it’s not on target or high quality, clients risk making an incorrect business decision. It’s simple - if you don’t have high quality recruits that will support good research to you reduce the ability to make a good business decision

Recruiting online to build panels and databases is one of the most common and cost-effective methods to identify and recruit research respondents for qualitative and quantitative research. Online recruiting for panels has replaced traditional phone recruiting for all but the most exceptional panel-building circumstances. Schlesinger Associates utilizes a wide variety of online recruiting methods from social media to traditional email campaigns and many other methods in between. Beware those who use a limited number of online recruiting sources – your respondents may be biased. Online panel recruiting campaigns are cost-effective and can effectively generate a critical mass of potential research respondents and it’s possible to draw them from only a few online sources. While cost-effective, this strategy is highly risky in terms of bias and representativeness. It’s important to use a wide variety of digital recruiting methods including use of evolving digital techniques.

Even in today’s high evolved digital world, traditional recruiting methods are still important. In the US and many other developed countries, a ‘digital divide’ still exists. Internet penetration rates are higher than 80% in most developed countries but the groups that make up the non-internet population are specific and important groups to include in market research to reduce the risk of bias and ensure you can capture certain targets. Offline recruiting via phone or utilizing other face-to-face methods still remains an important method to ensure that bias is minimized and that we have accounted for different subsets of the population.

For Schlesinger Associates, the value of phone or face-to-face recruiting to ensure respondent quality has not diminished. Phone or face-to-face recruiting to capture portions of the population largely absent from the Internet population remains an important aspect of research recruiting. It is also the best method to proving respondent validity and ensuring high levels of respondent articulation. It remains a primary and highly effective method for a wide variety of difficult to recruit targets. Good examples include recruiting for specific therapeutic areas and reaching senior business executives.

Recruiting for patients and caregivers is best achieved using a mixed recruiting approach for a variety of reasons. Chronic disease increases with age and as age increases Internet penetration rates are lower. By using traditional and face-to-face methods, you have access to portions of the population that are not online. The ‘art’ of building recruiting networks through traditional relationship building is also a highly effective way of sourcing a critical mass of patients and caregivers related to a particular disease. In order to truly capture access to qualified and engaged respondents, building relationships with support and advocacy groups, where there is a high level of trust and understanding between the data collection company and the patient and caregiver groups is highly effective. In recent research projects, where we were building a critical mass of early Alzheimer’s patients, the relationship with the support groups who care deeply about the services they are providing to sufferers and caregivers and the patients whose lives are changing in ways we cannot even imagine, is of critical importance. The level of trust required between Schlesinger and the respondent is driven by human contact via phone and face-to-face meetings. Another good example of the value of traditional methods is recruiting high level business executives. How about that really tough business decision maker project that you have been struggling with? Jeff Bezos of Amazon or Marc Benioff of Salesforce would be fantastic research respondents. They are digital leaders of the world so why not send them an email invitation? Well, as they say, “good luck with that”. We know that it won’t do the trick - even in our highly evolved digital world. All business executives are bombarded with far too many digital offers. Human interaction and relationship building are still the best ways to reach these individuals. My guess is that Jeff Bezos does quite a few interviews and that most of them begin with a relationship. The trick in research is determining access to those relationships. Traditional recruiting methods do not downplay the value of digital. In fact, digital access is increasingly important in research today. In many developing counties where face-to-face research is the most prevalent methodology, respondent access in the future will be via mobile. The trend will be from face-to-face directly to mobile – skipping the desktop/laptop stage of respondent access. Access to the younger population in the US will be the same and recruiting via mobile will replace computer access. Just think of how few (if any) emails you receive from your children these days!

Full Speed Ahead and Back to the Future

Recruiting for market research has evolved rapidly and the value that digital brings is uncontested. We have access to millions of respondents in mere seconds with a simple click! We can target large pools of online respondents using search engines, posting on websites, crawling personal profiles, and joining networking sites. The Internet has delivered access and efficiencies that we could never had imagined only ten years ago. But, we also cannot discount the value of the past and what human interaction and relationships can accomplish especially in the most challenging projects. It’s important for recruiting, for validation and for engagement. By combining many recruiting methods and ensuring we have the best approach for the target we are recruiting, we can maximize the value of the interview, ensure data quality and more importantly feel confident that we are providing the best data for the research objective – and for making good business decisions.


This content was originally published by Schlesinger Associates New Jersey . Visit their website at

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