About the Industry

The UK MR Sector


Industry commentators have sometimes estimated there are 500 or 600 full service research agencies in the UK - based perhaps on the population of the old MRS book, the Research Buyers' Guide, which at its peak had around this many (the MRS is the UK's Market Research Society, one of the foremost research associations worldwide). In fact, there have always been a good number of agencies which don't get listed in such publications (even this most respected of buyers' bibles, to give it due credit), and we think there are well over 1,000 research companies, even excluding the burgeoning sub-sector that is one-woman and one-man bands, represented ably by the Independent Consultants' Group (membership c.400). We've compiled the largest-ever list of agencies (>1 person), each with a link to its home page, here. Note: this kind of list goes out of date almost as soon as it's published - if you find a link no longer working, or know a company that's not included, please tell us!

The MRS - which allows both individual professional members and 'Company Partners' - publishes an annual review of the financial performance of the top companies in the sector, along with commentary on the state of the market. From the latest edition of this, we see that the top 100 individual agencies turned over 2.942bn in the year 2015 - representing a growth rate of 6.7% from 2014. Of this total turnover, the top ten agencies account for 52.1% and the top twenty 69.2%.

It's worth pointing out that the top two in this listing - Wood Mackenzie Research & Consulting and dunnhumby - were not in the list at all ten years or so ago, as they're not classic survey research-type companies and the MRS has extended its definitions recently to keep up with the change in the sector and in business more generally. Indeed, the inclusion of top UK company Wood Mackenzie in the MR world's rankings can be traced to a phone call made about eighteen months ago by one of the US / global ranking compilers asking a certain news editor if he could think of anyone we ought to add to the usual suspects - and that news editor having turned up the flourishing Scottish-based analyst firm in a Google search a few months previously when it was acquired for 1.85bn (http://www.mrweb.com/drno/news20564.htm). The question of who / what type of business to include is entirely one of interpretation (as above) and this in itself makes any valuation placed on 'the MR industry' moot - you will see variation by many tens of $ billions, depending on where you look. However the MRS estimates are a very good benchmark for the UK, and naturally if they make unjustifiable claims or inaccurate comparisons between years, there is an army of professionally qualified readers ready to scold them for it, so all credit to those who stick their necks out - and you can give credence to the society's published figures and its commentary on trends.

The top two firms both turned over around 240m in 2015 - not huge by the standards of global industry, and indeed MR is much smaller than other professions such as law, finance or medicine, never mind by comparison with the big consumer goods and service sectors, or technology for example. Globally, MR has a 'big four' - firms or groups of firms with 10,000 plus employees which have grown both organically and by acquisition over many decades, and have often acquired those snapping at their heels, thus widening the gap between themselves and the rest of the field. The four have backgrounds in survey research, although Nielsen's focus on data analytics makes it somewhat different to Kantar, Ipsos and GfK, who all combine divisions focused on analytics and new techniques with very large custom survey capabilities. By the way, Kantar itself contains around a dozen sizeable research agencies, who all use their own brands (many of them until recently without the Kantar prefix, and in one case still - http://www.mrweb.com/drno/news23211.htm), and the largest of which are big enough in themselves to appear in country and global top tens (Kantar TNS and Kantar Millward Brown are the two individual UK top ten entries). Kantar is generally considered no.2 to Nielsen in the global MR industry. If you add up the UK turnover of all Kantar's major agencies, it's almost equal to Wood Mackenzie and dunnhumby combined, at 467.5k (vs 240k and 238.7k respectively).


The MRS report records that spend on market research per head of population is 61 per capita - as above the highest amount for any country worldwide. You can argue from this that we're 'obsessed with surveys' but more to the point / more accurately, you could argue that we're doing a lot of international projects (ESOMAR says they account for 36% of UK turnover) and the high figure indicates the success of UK research and the contribution it makes to the UK economy. Incidentally the figures (in for comparison) for the US, Germany and France are 39 per head, 24 and 23 per head, respectively.

Here are the ESOMAR figures for the same stat, which also include the Swedes. Clearly, even at that year's exchange rate of c.1.5, the ESOMAR stats use a slightly wider definition of MR, but the comparison is very similar:

MR revenue per capita in 2015 - top 5:

Source: ESOMAR Global MR report

Big companies of course, are not the whole picture - as above, the industry has a long tail and we estimate more than 1,000 companies focused on offering MR services in the UK. The majority of supply side researchers, however, work in the big agencies and they account for well over half the turnover - the precise % again depending on definitions. A study called the Business of Evidence, conducted in collaboration with the MRS by the Research to Insight (r2I) team of consultancy PwC estimates that the country's 'business of evidence market' was worth about 4.8bn in 2016 and employs the equivalent of about 73,000 full-time workers.

Back to: Current Size & Structure - Leading Markets
On to: The USA, and the Major Firms Worldwide

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All articles in the 'About the Industry' section written by Nick Thomas of MrWeb during July - October 2017, and © MrWeb Ltd 2017. Thanks to GRIT, ESOMAR, the AMA and the MRS for stats and tables used.

About the industry - contents...

1. What is MR and how is it changing?

A comprehensive guide to what we do, how it's changing, and who else does similar stuff.

2. The global industry today

The supply side: revenues, rankings and company info, full listings.

3. Careers in MR

An introduction to the career ladder, activities, salaries and choices.