ThinkSpotlight: A conversation with RG+A’s Ellen Gordon

We spent a few minutes getting to know Ellen Gordon, RG+A’s Head of Research.

As with Ellen_Gordon_RG+A_Head of Researchmost of us, you didn’t come to marketing research directly. What were your early career ambitions?

As an undergraduate, I became interested in politics and the former Soviet Union – an interest sparked by classes in contemporary Russian politics and literature. A summer in what was then Leningrad studying Russian and visiting family, allowed me to complete a master’s degree in Russian area studies and then a Ph.D. in political science. I eventually landed at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point as an Assistant Professor.

We hear that your experience researching your dissertation was quite a bit more adventurous than most people might expect. Tell us more about that.

My dissertation research took me to Lithuania (at the time, a Soviet republic). I arrived planning to study education reform, but the political events, which eventually led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, led me to refocus my research.

I was conducting research in Lithuania when the government declared independence. The Soviet government’s response to that declaration was to send troops into Lithuania and announce that all foreigners should leave the country, an announcement specifically directed towards journalists and tourists. Luckily for me, they forgot about the students who were there studying. As a political scientist, I decided to stay in Lithuania; I thought it would be an incredible opportunity to observe and be a part of political history. Soon after, I volunteered at the Lithuanian Parliament in the information center, where I would translate documents and take phone calls from journalists who couldn’t get into the country and wanted to know what was happening. I ended up giving interviews to the BBC, NPR and several other global communications and media centers. I was also able to interview politicians and local community leaders and really weave what was happening in the country into my dissertation research.

So, after all the excitement of a front-row seat to history, why did you focus your sights on marketing research?

At some point, I decided that being an academic in central Wisconsin was not what I wanted, so I decided to parlay my academic training in survey research into something that was less academic and more business-oriented. I began doing healthcare survey research and eventually migrated to the pharma side, then from the survey research side to the market research side. It was definitely an evolution.

Most of us have some sort of journey or another that led us to where we are today. What was your journey like?

I started out doing public policy healthcare research. Early on, I oversaw the survey program for the Center for Health Studies, which was part of a large HMO in Seattle. While I was doing more academic-based research, because I was part of this large HMO, I was exposed to the marketing side and some of the marketing research that was being done in support of that. This was my first entrée into the marketing research world. From there I went to Market Strategies International, where I stayed for nine years learning the pharmaceutical side of marketing research. I was hired at MSI to focus on government and foundation research. Because I was also teaching a course at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health on the politics of health policy, I approached MSI’s pharma head and asked if he would do a guest lecture on Medicare Part D for a course I was teaching. In exchange, I committed to supporting the pharma team on a research project. These experiences are really what launched my career into pharma market research.

What do you consider your greatest career achievement thus far?

After my nine years at MSI, I continued my career at ImpactRx, which became Quintiles IMS, now known as IQVIA. While I was there, we had two global clients approach us — one with a product in pre-launch phase and the other with a product in the early launch phase. They both wanted to understand physician treatment behavior within their respective categories as well as the promotional effectiveness of their respective campaigns. At the time, a syndicated data source that would give them what they needed didn’t exist, so we leveraged the ImpactRx syndicated offering to custom build a real-time mobile data collection app. We shipped iPads to physicians in several countries and asked them to provide real-time data on patient treatment decisions and product detailing. The project was hugely valuable for the clients and gave them a source of data that was consistent across all their markets. We coupled it with some pretty innovative reporting, that not only reported out on what we were learning, but also integrated primary and secondary data.

Where do you see the marketing research industry going in the next 5 – 10 years?

As much as marketing research has changed over the last 25 years, the techniques and approaches have remained largely the same – collecting data and reporting out on that data.

My sense is that as secondary data and machine learning come into their maturity, the landscape of what we have traditionally considered being primary marketing research will undergo a fundamental shift. Following what we saw in the consumer sector, there’s a high likelihood that healthcare will embrace big data sources as a means of mining for insights, with primary research being used more strategically to address knowledge gaps and articulate the “why” behind big data findings.

What attracted you to RG+A?

The two questions I hear time and again from clients are, “What is your sweet spot?” and “What do you do that’s innovative?” During my interview process, I posed similar questions to Roger (RG+A’s CEO) and Kevin (RG+A’s COO) and they had great answers for both.

More so than other companies I’ve seen, RG+A has real areas of expertise that address very specific needs that clients struggle with every day — particularly around demand forecasting and value proposition development. Yes, RG+A’s patient treatment simulation approach is innovative, but what really puts RG+A in a class of its own is the way in which they are constantly looking to drive innovation further and improve how they address client research needs and business challenges.

I’m impressed with the way the RG+A team is fully committed to working collaboratively and communicatively with clients to deliver the right answers. I think this is reflective of the company’s core values; they take pride in working as a team and are willing to go above and beyond to provide extraordinary customer experiences, which really sets them apart. I am thrilled to become a part of such a unique team.