An Appreciation: Margaret Henderson Blair, Marketing Science Pioneer (1943–2018)

A LIFETIME OF ACHIEVEMENTS

Dr. Margaret (Meg) Henderson Blair was a pioneer and innovator who made many contributions to the realm of marketing measurement and accountability. Her numerous achievements include:

  • Founding president of the ARS Group, once recognized by Advertising Age as one of the nation’s 10 fastest growing research organizations
  • Founding President and CEO of MASB, Chair of Marketing Accountability Foundation
  • Prolific author of marketing research articles, including one of only 18 designated “classic” by the Journal of Advertising Research
  • Awarded two U.S. patents for innovations in marketing measurement and management, fields where patents are rare
  • Distinguished Practitioner Award from the Academy of Marketing Science, 2005
  • Lifetime Achievement Award from the Advertising Research Foundation, 2012
  • MASB Trailblazer Award, 2017 – for embodying the spirit of marketing accountability
  • Mentor to many marketing professionals and academics
  • Funded first Presidential Scholarship and endowed first chair at University of Southern Indiana

In 2004, a group of marketing professionals and academics saw a need to increase the contribution of the marketing function through the development of standards for marketing performance measurement and processes. The Marketing Accountability Standards Board was founded, and the leader that emerged for this new movement was Meg Blair.

Having retired from an outstanding and much-lauded career in marketing measurement, Meg seized the opportunity to increase CMO effectiveness and make the marketing field better for all. Serving as founding President and CEO, she led MASB through its first decade, creating awareness of the issues and helping establish the first of many game-changing projects, including Brand Investment & Valuation, Improving Financial Reporting, and the Common Language Marketing Dictionary.

Meg at 2017 MASB 10th Anniversary Summit

She also recruited many marketers, measurement providers, industry associations and academics to the cause. After relinquishing her leadership role in MASB a year ago, she continued to serve as Chair of the Marketing Accountability Foundation until her unexpected, untimely passing.

Meg had a keen eye for seeing the potential in people and served as a mentor to many. While demanding as a boss, she always provided her reports the tools and knowledge needed to rise to her challenges.

Former ARS employees gather in Evansville to share stories and toast Meg’s life.

As one former colleague put it, she regularly “provided motherly attention and advice without my having to ask.” Meg’s protégés now hold executive positions in leading research companies, marketer companies and business schools around the world.

David Stewart, MASB Chair and President’s Professor of Marketing and Business Law at Loyola Marymount University, reflected, “I came to know Meg in the early 1980’s while I was an assistant professor at Vanderbilt. She was a friend and mentor. Meg was one of a handful of industry leaders who understood the importance of measurement and who advanced best practices associated with the development and use of reliable and valid measures. Her contributions will live on.”

Her work over the past several decades has had a permanent, positive impact on marketing.

Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling

Mechanical calculator used by Meg Blair. It is still in working order.

Meg began her career in marketing at Schwerin Research in New York City. Horace Schwerin was a pioneer in marketing research and developed several pre-airing methods of assessing television advertising impact. Meg took on the role of a human computer; tabulating test results by hand and later with a Resulta 7 mechanical calculator imported from Berlin. Through her thousands of calculations, Meg gained a fundamental understanding of how metrics worked and how best they could be used. Her attention to detail garnered her a reputation of providing accurate and timely information.

Like the “Hidden Figures” women whose calculations were critical to the success of the NASA space program in the 1960s, Meg’s work was critical to the success of Schwerin Research. She became known as “the Numbers Girl,” a nickname she often referenced in later years as a badge of honor.

In the late 1960s, Schwerin sold his firm. When the new owners asked how their measures could achieve greater adoption, Meg raised her hand. Drawing upon the insights from her thousands of calculations, she laid out a vision for their adoption as standards and became leader of a new entity, the Advertising Research System (ARS) Group.

Leading One of the Fastest Growing Research Companies

As the young president of ARS Group, Meg moved aggressively to advance the state-of-the-art in measurement science. At that time, marketers routinely used on-air day after recall scores as the ultimate test of advertising success. Meg developed a secure, off-air related recall solution that accurately predicted these scores. The Proctor & Gamble Company quickly adopted this approach, making it an industry standard.

As ARS Group President, Meg was a young, female business leader at a time when business leaders with either characteristic were uncommon

Meg also knew from the Schwerin days that recall was a weak indicator of sales and that the behavioral pre-post brand preference method (aka persuasion) was better. Initially failing to convince P&G to switch, Meg made the unprecedented decision to provide the ARS Persuasion scores free to build up the dataset and prove its value. Two years after making this bold move, an analysis comparing the metrics to sales results demonstrated the superiority of the measure and soon after it was adopted by P&G and others as their primary airing criteria.

From this experience, Meg took on a “give them what they want, but also provide them what they’ll need” mindset which served as the basis of a constant investment in metric innovation.

Meg Blair circa 1987

Meg was also an early devotee of system automation and the quality movement, authorizing the acquisition of a Hewlett-Packard 2000 mainframe computer. At that time, this was an unheard-of investment for a market research company. In the 1980s and 1990s, she drew on the work of Deming and others to put in place a quality management system which, among other things, incorporated routine monitoring of the reliability, validity and calibration of all metrics delivered to clients. This system approach served the firm well at the turn of the millennium as it became one of the earliest to be declared Y2K compliant.

Championing “Research-on-Research”

Meg placed great emphasis on “research-on-research,” consistently budgeting five percent or more of ARS Group revenue towards measurement innovation. This fueled numerous findings within the space which were regularly released as white papers and published in industry journals.

One discovery – that an ad’s effectiveness ‘wears out’ in a predictable manner as media weight is placed behind it – fostered substantial changes in the way advertising was purchased and managed. Advertisers now had the means to manage their ad inventories and plan refreshment schedules. This finding became a key underpinning of what is now known as market mix modeling. In the year 2000, the Editorial Review Board of the Journal of Advertising Research selected only 18 to merit the title of “classic” by having withstood the test of time. Meg’s 1987 study on advertising wearout is among them.

Meg did not believe in research for the sake of research. Her focus remained on using knowledge for useful business applications. Given the intangible nature of marketing, patents are rarely granted, but Meg’s application of these findings proved so ‘useful, novel, and non-obvious’ that two patents were awarded: U.S. Patent #8,160,918 for the collection of behavioral brand preference data online, and U.S. Patent #8,676,638 for empirically based ad planning. These patents are still under license and in active use.

In 2002, Quirk’s Marketing Research Review published an overview of the major copytest players. The section on ARS Group stated: “Their overall philosophical approach is that the advertising process is an investment that can be managed and should ultimately pay out in an identifiable ROI to the advertiser. Moreover, the ARS Group views itself as a ‘copy management’ partner whose goal is to help the advertiser and the agency improve the odds of success… [Their] measurement has been validated to actual business results more than any other advertising measurement in the business.”

This is a good summary of Meg’s empirical approach. To further spread this type of method both within marketing and beyond to other disciplines, she endowed the Blair Chair of Business Science at the University of Southern Indiana, where she served on the advisory board for a decade.

Receiving Industry Accolades

For her contributions to the advancement of marketing science, Meg received the Distinguished Practitioner Award from the Academy of Marketing Science in 2005 and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Advertising Research Foundation in 2012. She was recognized as a MASB Trailblazer in 2017 for embodying the spirit of marketing accountability and being instrumental in carrying out the MASB mission.

A celebration of Meg’s life will be held at the Coral Isles Church in Islamorada, Florida, on April 7, 3 pm. A second celebration is being planned for this summer in Massachusetts.

Meg’s career and impact on marketing will be honored at a MASB meeting at Forbes Media in New York City on May 17.

Memorial donations can be made to Coral Isles Church, 90001 Overseas Hwy, Tavernier FL 33070, or The Good Health Clinic, 91555 Overseas Hwy, Tavernier FL 33070.

READ TRIBUTES TO MEG BELOW AND ALSO AT IN MEMORIAM

12 Comments

  1. Frank, I got to know & appreciate Meg through MASB. I was aware of some of her history, but your write-up greatly expanded my understanding of Meg’s impressive legacy. Thanks for sharing. She’ll be missed!

  2. Meg was one of the smartest people in a field of very smart people. Mentor, innovator, polymath, pioneer, visionary, creative genius, great hearted human being, we all owe her a lot for the initial vital integration of copy testing and attribution technologies. She is undoubtedly causing positive change wherever she is now.

  3. Meg made a huge impact on my life, from my first days at research systems corporation in 1990 to my current work on the Common Language project for MASB. She will be missed. I can honestly say I can’t imagine my life without her.

  4. Frank. Nicely done. Meg was an outstanding woman and professional. She cared for many of us. Her passion for the highest quality and accountability is a legacy that has guided my career. She will be missed.

  5. I was greatly sadden by her passing. Meg was a “one of a kind” individual – a keen intelligence combined with a generous spirit. I’m honored to hold a position associated with her name and I continue to try to represent her values for the field.

    Kevin Celuch, Ph.D.
    Blair Chair of Business Science and Professor of Marketing
    Romain College of Business, University of Southern Indiana

  6. Meg was truly a trailblazer, not only for Marketing Accountability but also for women in business. Thanks Frank for capturing her essence here.

  7. I only knew Meg from the Florida Keys. I knew she was brilliant, but never knew all of this, thank you. My lasting memory of her is the night at the Whistlestop bar where she had an employee there almost in tears trying to explain to them that they were so much better than they thought and capable of anything. This person took a while to get away from drugs and alcoholism, but now is a counselor at the AA and NA meeting place somewhere up north. I understand they are writing a book now as well. She always said Meg’s words that night was why she straightened out finally. The girl actually thought Meg was a retired teacher the way she talked to her.

  8. I didn’t know Meg well personally but had a chance to talk to her at the summit in August 2017 in Boston. We had only exchanged a couple of e-mails prior to that on some suggestions that I had for MASB but she recognized me and was gracious to say hello. Launching MASB so many years ago when the idea of Marketing Accountability was perhaps an oxymoron to most at best was indeed a pioneering act by Meg. Her legacy will live on as MASB’s role and work get recognized.

    Purush Papatla
    Professor of Marketing
    Sheldon B. Lubar School of Business
    University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

  9. I did not know Meg personally, but worked with many people she mentored and inherited people she trained. I was truly a beneficiary of her dedication to our industry. A true trailblazer! RIP #Numbersgirl

  10. I learned a ton from her. When I was a young researcher at P&G in the 80’s and 90s, she taught me the importance of a measure having (statistical) sensitivity, reliability, and validity; those are things that will never go out of style. Later, she was a great example of what it means to have a long-term vision (MASB) and persistence. She was sharp, intense, penetrating, and challenging, and always with good humor.

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