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Ethical Issues in Business Relationships between New Zealand Marketing Research Practitioners and Clients

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Marketing research, as part of the marketing discipline, encompasses complex relationships between the general public, respondents, clients, and researchers. The ethical issues between clients and researchers have been under-researched generally. No studies have been conducted in New Zealand until now. This paper presents the first empirical research on the ethical issues that arise between New Zealand-based marketing researchers and their clients. A qualitative study of twenty-nine interviews with marketing research practitioners was conducted to identify ethical conflicts they experienced in client relationships. The study presents rich data on ethical issues in practitioner-client relationships and finds that while New Zealand researchers face the same ethical issues as those in the international literature, they also confront some locally distinctive features. The two most frequent ethical issues are related to the identification of respondents and the reporting of research results. The findings are discussed in relation to the Market Research Society of New Zealand Code of Practice and accompanying suggestions are made for the future improvement of ethical awareness in the industry.
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VOLUME 12, NUMBER 1, 2014 35
Abstract: Marketing research, as part of the marketing discipline,
encompasses complex relationships between the general public,
respondents, clients, and researchers. The ethical issues between
clients and researchers have been under-researched generally.
No studies have been conducted in New Zealand until now. This
paper presents the rst empirical research on the ethical issues
that arise between New Zealand-based marketing researchers
and their clients. A qualitative study of twenty-nine interviews
with marketing research practitioners was conducted to identify
ethical conicts they experienced in client relationships. The
study presents rich data on ethical issues in practitioner-client
relationships and nds that while New Zealand researchers face the
same ethical issues as those in the international literature, they also
confront some locally distinctive features. The two most frequent
ethical issues are related to the identication of respondents and
the reporting of research results. The ndings are discussed in
relation to the Market Research Society of New Zealand Code of
Practice and accompanying suggestions are made for the future
improvement of ethical awareness in the industry.
Ethical Issues in Business Relationships
between New Zealand Marketing
Research Practitioners and Clients
ANCA C. YALLOP, PhD
SENIOR LECTURER,
WINCHESTER BUSINESS SCHOOL,
UNIVERSITY OF WINCHESTER
SIMON MOWATT, PhD
ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR,
AUT UNIVERSITY BUSINESS SCHOOL,
AUCKLAND UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY
Corresponding Author:
Dr Anca C. Yallop
Senior Lecturer in
Marketing, Winchester
Business School
University of Winchester
Email:
anca.yallop@winchester.
ac.uk
Keywords: Codes
of ethics, marketing
research, ethical issues,
client relationships
INTRODUCTION
The ethical issues in business relationships between marketing research practitioners
and their clients are an important but under-researched part of the marketing research
industry. Not enough is known about whether issues identied in previous studies are
specic to particular national contexts, and the wide range of issues has not been fully
explored. This paper presents the rst empirical research to examine ethical issues in the
New Zealand context, brings new issues to light through qualitative research, and adds a
rich understanding of the issues relating to the specic local context. The paper reviews
how the accepted Market Research Society of New Zealand (MRSNZ) code of practice in
Acknowledgments: We would like to thank the marketing research
companies and researchers who generously gave their time for this
study. AUTEC Reference no: 05/175
NEW ZEALAND JOURNAL OF APPLIED BUSINESS RESEARCH
36
the New Zealand industry addresses the ethical issues identied. The results provide new
information that could be used for later comparative studies to add to our development of
the theoretical understanding of the area.
A focus on marketing research has wider implications, as ethical issues in marketing
research may have wider interest within other elds where there are ethical issues between
clients and researchers and where a code of ethics is in place to govern these relationships.
Marketing research makes a compelling case for studies in ethics, as Lund (2001) believes
that marketing research is the most challenging from an ethical perspective. It ‘revolves
around a researcher’s relationship with four parties in the research process, namely,
the general public, respondent, client, and the researcher . . . and in fulfilling his/her
duties and responsibilities to these constituents, the marketing researcher encounters
many ethical dilemmas’ (Lund, 2001, p. 6). Similarly, Malhotra and Miller (1998) suggest
that marketing research is more complex because of its relationship with the client and
supplier. The marketing profession is, therefore, understood to be a very dynamic one that
involves a higher degree of risk-taking and pressures from the business and organisational
environments in which it operates.
Following an examination of the nature of the complex relationships between various
parties in marketing research, Ferrell, Hartline and McDaniel (1998) proposed that
understanding these relationships represents the rst step in an attempt to control the
potential for ethical conict among marketing research participants. These issues are
currently not fully understood within the literature. Giacobbe and Segal (2000) reviewed the
literature on marketing research ethics and stated that ‘research from studies in marketing
and marketing research ethics can be described as fragmented and mixed’(p. 230) and
that ‘the extent of unethical behaviour among marketing research professionals has
virtually remained unchanged’ (p. 239). A more recent review of the literature conducted
by Schlegelmilch and Öberseder (2010) revealed that while research in marketing ethics
carried out in the 1990s had a particularly strong focus on the area of marketing research
since 2000 most of the published research addressed issues relating to consumers, norms
and codes, and decision-making. Moreover, their literature survey identied that ethical
issues related to marketing research have not achieved great importance within the
mainstream marketing community (Schlegelmilch and Öberseder, 2010).
Nevertheless, seminal studies in the area of ethics in marketing research have involved
the analysis of ethical issues with which marketing researchers are confronted and the
attitudes of marketing research professionals towards ethics (Aggarwal, Vaidyanathan &
Castleberry, 2012; Akaah & Riordan, 1989; 1990; Ferrell & Skinner, 1988; Kelley, Skinner
& Ferrell (1989); Kelley, Ferrell & Skinner (1990); Lund, 2001; Malhotra & Miller, 1998;
Michaelides & Gibbs, 2006; Murphy & Laczniak, 1992; Peterson, 1996). An emerging
research theme is the consideration of new-ethical challenges raised by new technologies
and online research methods, particularly with regard to issues related to condentiality
and privacy of data (Boyd & Crawford, 2012; Hair & Clark, 2007; Nunan & Di Domenico,
2013). Most of these studies have focused on the interaction between marketing research
practitioners and respondents, with few studies conducted around the practitioners’
perspective on their interaction with their clients (i.e. any individual or organisation that
requests and commissions a marketing research project). In addition, most of this research
stream has been undertaken in the United States, studies in the international context are
limited, and those examining the New Zealand marketing research industry are non-existent
VOLUME 12, NUMBER 1, 2014 37
(Segal & Giacobbe, 2007). For this reason, this study proposed to identify and examine the
ethical issues in the relationships between New Zealand marketing research practitioners
and their clients by presenting the marketing research practitioners’ perspective with
regard to these issues. The paper investigates whether the ethical issues identied in the
literature are present in the New Zealand context, renes our understanding of these issues
and identies new themes to forward our understanding.
LITERATURE REVIEW
Studies in marketing research ethics can be classied by the type of the dyadic relationship
under examination (Giacobbe & Segal, 2000). Consequently, ethical issues involving
marketing researchers are generally divided into two main categories: studies that address
ethical problems faced when interacting with respondents, which has been extensively
examined in the literature, and ethical problems and issues that appear in the relationships
with clients.
Marketing ethics research focusing on the unethical behaviours undertaken by marketing
research organisations and practitioners in their relationships with clients are fewer than
those investigating the relationship with the respondents, despite Skinner, Ferrell and
Dubinsky (1988) having emphasised that ethical conict between clients and marketing
researchers is prevalent and that these relationships are complex. Skinner et al. (1988)
suggest that a better understanding of these ethical conicts can help establish open and
candid client relationships. The importance of generating and maintaining good and ethical
client relationships has been discussed in the literature, and Giacobbe and Segal (2000)
maintain that the success of the marketing research profession depends on the level of trust
built with clients. They also suggest that relationship building has been long recognised
in the marketing research industry as important in maintaining and improving the market
position and protability of marketing research rm.
Murphy and Laczniak(1992, p.16) identied three main categories of ethical abuse in the
relationship between market researchers and clients that can serve to provide a framework
for organising our understanding of research in the area providing additional insights in
each of the categories. The three categories of ethical issues identied are: 1) research
design, 2) the researcher’s responsibility to the client, and 3) the client’s responsibility to
the researcher.
Ethical Issues in Research Design
Ethical issues concerning the design of a research project were brought to the attention
by Malhotra and Peterson (2001) and Hunt, Chonko and Wilcox (1984). The literature
has found that these issues encompass the integrity of the research design: conducting
unnecessary research, researching wrong or irrelevant problems, use of unwarranted
shortcuts to secure contracts or save expenses, misrepresentation of limitations of the
research design, inappropriate analytical techniques, lack of sufcient expertise to conduct
required research, overly technical language in research reports, and overstating validity
or reliability of conclusions.
Ethical Issues in the Researcher’s Responsibility to the Client
The main focus of previous research has been on the researcher’s responsibility to the
client and this is responsible for the general focus from the client’s perspective in the
NEW ZEALAND JOURNAL OF APPLIED BUSINESS RESEARCH
38
wider literature. Those issues that have been identied concern over-billing the project,
failure to maintain client condentiality, failure to avoid possible conicts of interest, data
reliability and accuracy, deception and abuse, ethical issues in the research analysis and
the presentation of research ndings. The themes explored have related to deliberately
withholding information, falsifying gures, altering research results, misusing statistics,
and misinterpreting the results of a research project. Some of these issues have been
the focus of more in-depth studies, especially those concerning condentiality and the
protection of data sources and the use of research data obtained within the project for
a particular client for other projects or clients (Hunt et al., 1984). The fair treatment of
outside clients has also focussed on hidden charges, pricing issues, conicts of interests
between research rm and client, and budget issues, such as requiring subcontractors to
follow all specications demanded by clients when costs are running higher than estimated
(Hunt et al., 1984). Boggs (2003) reports deceit and abuse in different situations – e.g.
in the selection of research, and outcomes of commercial focus groups used to test new
product development. On the same note, Michaelides and Gibbs (2006) believe that the
potential for ethical wrong-doing exists from research methodology through to research
reporting and conclusion drawing.
Ethical Issues in the Client’s Responsibility to the Researcher
From the extant literature, there has been little exploration of the issues around the client’s
responsibility to the researcher. This major part of the research relationship in particular
lacks research from the research agent’s perspective. Murphy and Laczniak (1992)
identied the inappropriate use of research proposals, disclosure or use of the researcher’s
specialised techniques and models, cancellation of the project (or refusal to pay) without
cause, conducting research solely to support a priori conclusions, and failure to act upon
dangerous or damaging ndings, and misuse of research data (Phillips, 2010). Also, there
have been situations noted where the client asked the research rm for unfair concessions
for the current project by making false promises relating to future research projects
(Murphy & Laczniak, 1992; Malhotra & Peterson, 2001).
The New Zealand Research Context
Although it is apparent that ethical issues in marketing research have received increased
attention in recent decades, there are signicant limitations to the existing body of
knowledge. One signicant limitation is that the majority of previous empirical research
has been conducted on samples in the United States (Tsalikis & Fritzsche, 1989; Giacobbe
& Segal, 2000; 2001; Segal & Giacobbe, 2007; Rottig & Heischmidt, 2007) whilst studies
in other countrys’ contexts appear to be scarce. In the context of Australia, in particular,
Segal and Giacobbe (2007) claim that no empirical study reported in the marketing
literature has focused exclusively on research ethics issues, and there have been no studies
based on New Zealand. Consequently, it is not clear whether the issues identied in the
literature are the results of local business culture and institutions or reect systemic issues
within the wider industry. Equally, it is not clear whether business cultures and institutions
outside of the United States exhibit different ethical issues. To date, no published studies
examine the New Zealand marketing research industry and the ethical issues faced by
marketing research practitioners. With a generally smaller rm size than the United
States and Australia, the New Zealand marketing research industry could have distinctive
features. New Zealand practitioners could be faced with distinctive ethical issues as a
VOLUME 12, NUMBER 1, 2014 39
result of the level of inuence and authority they have in the relationships with their clients
that may inuence their ability to maintain appropriate ethical standards. The research
ndings presented in this paper represent a rst step in understanding the range of ethical
issues that New Zealand marketing research practitioners’ face.
The Context of Industry Codes of Ethics
Codes of ethics are variously described in the literature as codes of conduct, codes of
practice, ethical codes, ethical guidelines, operating principles, and so on (Fisher, 2001;
Marnburg, 2000; Schlegelmilch & Houston, 1989, cited in Schwartz, 1998). The literature
also distinguishes between corporate codes of ethics and professional codes (Kaptein &
Schwartz, 2008; Schwartz, 1998; Stevens, 1994) such as codes developed by professional
institutions and associations. In New Zealand the Market Research Society of New Zealand
(MRSNZ) is the professional body for New Zealand marketing research practitioners.
The association has a code of ethics that its members adopted based on the International
Chamber of Commerce (ICC)/The European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research
(ESOMAR) International Code on Market and Social Research. This is the ethical code
to which the majority of New Zealand marketing research organisations and practitioners
subscribe.
The joint ESOMAR and ICC code was formed in 1976 after it was agreed that it would
be preferable to have a single international code. Following this decision, a joint ICC/
ESOMAR code was published in 1977. The joint code was revised and updated in 1986,
1994 and 2008. The 2008 code claries expectations through specic description of
acceptable practices in marketing research. The existence of a code highlights the accepted
importance of business ethics in the marketing research industry and the fact that there is
a perception of widespread ethical problems (Aggarwal et al., 2012; Akaah & Riordan,
1989; Phillips, 2010). The MRSNZ code will be examined alongside the ethical issues
raised in the paper to contextualise the issues within the local context.
METHODOLOGY
This addresses gaps in our current knowledge by addressing the client-researcher
relationship from the researcher’s perspective within the New Zealand context. The
literature review was used as the basis of constructing a research frame to explore the
ethical conicts perceived by marketing researchers with their clients. This allowed an
exploration of whether local relationships were subject to the same ethical issues as those
found in the literature largely based on North American samples. A qualitative research
approach was used with a semi-structured interview designed to cover the issues identied
in the literature and explore any emergent themes.
The participants in this study were selected from a wide range of New Zealand marketing
research organisations, i.e. large, medium and small organisations as well as members
and non-members of the MRSNZ. In order to assess the size of the marketing research
industry in New Zealand, a thorough examination of New Zealand businesses databases
was conducted. The search identied 97 organisations that are active in the industry (18
large, 8 medium, and 71 small marketing research organisations). Following the stratied
purposive sampling procedure, 29 in-depth interviews were undertaken with marketing
research practitioners from nine large marketing research organisations (all members of
the MRSNZ), ve medium marketing research organisations (three members and two non-
NEW ZEALAND JOURNAL OF APPLIED BUSINESS RESEARCH
40
members of the MRSNZ), and 15 small marketing research organisations (ve members
and 10 non-members of the MRSNZ).
In order to add to the under-researched marketing researcher perspective on industry ethical
issues the interviews provided the marketing research practitioners with the opportunity
to discuss their views and opinions on situations of ethical conicts encountered in their
relationships with clients. The majority of these participants held managerial positions in
which regular contact with clients was required, and all 29 participants had over ve years
marketing research experience in New Zealand.
Qualitative data generated by means of in-depth interviews was analysed to identify
different themes in the relationships between practitioners and their clients as regards the
ethical problems they encounter, coded against literature and the MRSNZ code of ethics.
Specic qualitative data analysis methods, including manual and computer-assisted
methods (the nVIVO qualitative analysis software) were used, and new themes coded to
analyse the participants’ responses and narratives.
RESEARCH FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION
The semi-structured interviews explored the participants’ perceptions of ethical issues
and problems they encountered when working with clients. The following sections
present research ndings related to the MRSNZ code and organised following Murphy
and Laczniak’s (1992) framework of research design, the researcher’s responsibility to
the client, and the client’s responsibility to the researcher. The two most common themes
that emerged from the interview data were ethical issues relating to the identication of
respondents and issues related to reporting of research results, both instances of the client’s
responsibility to the researcher. In order of prevalence, the other identied themes were
the identication of respondents, reporting of research results, release of information to
third parties, ownership and access to data, and research design. Although the literature
identied many of these classes of issue, the range of issues presented as the client’s
responsibility reported here was much higher and covered a broader range of issues.
Locally specic concerns were also raised, such as the contextual factor of working within
a small industry population. The following sections examine the interview ndings and
relate the ethical issues to the code of ethics adopted by the MRSNZ, which being based
on the ICC/ESOMAR code, also gives the ndings broader international comparability.
Research Design
The professional responsibility of marketing research practitioners to use appropriate
scientic principles so that truthful and reliable results are generated and presented in
the research ndings is emphasised in the MRSNZ code of ethics. Interview participants
referred mainly to problems related to the design of survey questions. In these cases, several
participants described situations when clients interfered in the design process, instructing
the marketing researcher on how to design the questions and what sort of questions to ask.
Some examples included those of clients who wanted respondent businesses to identify
names of suppliers; another client made unrealistic requests for questions that were too
intrusive, and in yet another example the questions that the client wanted to be asked were
biased. One participant said:
‘… I’ve got my credibility to think of as a researcher, but I’m also thinking of
[client’s] credibility … so we needed to make sure that the questions and the
VOLUME 12, NUMBER 1, 2014 41
information provided are really very much from a neutral view, that we get as
much bias out of it … so that it can be credible.’
The Researcher’s Responsibility to the Client
Ethical issues were brought to the attention by a couple of participants around researchers’
responsibility to the client in avoiding conducting unnecessary research (Murphy &
Laczniak, 1992). Participants also reported issues around the release of information to
third parties. In previous research, these issues are referred to as situations where client
condentiality is not maintained by the marketing research organisation or practitioner
(Murphy & Laczniak, 1992) or research data and information obtained within the project
for a particular client is used and / or made available to other clients. The MRSNZ code
stipulates the requirement that the client’s name and any other information about them
are to be kept condential by the researcher and are not to be disclosed to third parties.
Closely related to this ethical issue is the aspect of off-limits clients. Several participants
described this issue as purposefully avoiding conducting any research for their clients’
competitors. However, as a few participants explained, doing so can have consequences
for the organisation’s future workow and nancial situation, particularly for small
organisations; it also proves to be more difcult in a small market, such as New Zealand:
‘We guard ourselves by only working for one supplier or company within an
industry... And that has issues. Today we’re nding more and more companies
want contracts signed and often those contracts are tied with several years that
you cannot work for another competitor for maybe a number of years afterwards.’
‘In a country like New Zealand, it’s very difcult not to bump into each other and
often you’ll get into situations where there is a potential conict of interest.’
Situations of conicts of interest between marketing research organisations and clients
have been identied and discussed in previous research Hunt et al.(1984) refer to the need
to treat outside clients fairly that involves the avoidance of conicts of interest between
the research rm and client; likewise, Murphy and Laczniak (1992) discuss researchers’
responsibility to the client, that of avoiding possible conicts of interest.
The Client’s Responsibility to the Researcher
The exploratory nature of this research and the focus on the researcher’s perspective
highlighted many issues where marketing researchers identied ethical issues relating to
client requests and behaviour. The identication of respondents where the client asked for
the names of respondents was the most-recurrent ethical issue that participants referred to
in the interviews. In most cases clients wanted to receive information on who said what,
or they wanted to be provided with a list of respondent names along with respondents’
comments made within a survey or interview. The responsibility of the marketing
researcher in these cases is stipulated in the MRSNZ code, and this identication is not
allowed unless prior permission to do so is sought from respondents. This requirement
has been emphasised in the latest revised version of the code within the section that states
ethical principles specically related to client relationships, providing clear guidelines
about when the disclosure of respondents’ identity is acceptable. All participants stated
that they simply refuse to reveal the respondents’ identity or seek to obtain respondents’
permission to do so.
NEW ZEALAND JOURNAL OF APPLIED BUSINESS RESEARCH
42
Revealing the identity of respondents is an ethical issue that has been identied and
discussed within previous research; in some cases this issue is attributed to condentiality
and anonymity issues – i.e. protection of data sources, with the marketing researcher having
the responsibility to maintain respondents’ anonymity and treat all personal information
collected as condential (Hunt et al., 1984; Kelley et al., 1990).
One New Zealand industry specic issue, however, seems to be the difculty in maintaining
the required level of condentiality and anonymity due to the smaller scale of some sectors
in which research is conducted. One participant explained:
‘I was working on a big proposal recently where we’re doing intensive stakeholder
work, and we’d want to be able to inform our client about how people in [various]
sectors might view them. We would aim never to divulge information that could
easily identify who’d participated, but then when you quote verbatim and little
stories and so on, it can get tricky.’
This situation seems to be both an ethical and technical issue related to reporting of
results and ability to maintain respondents’ anonymity. Although names that would allow
identication of people or organisations are not included in the research ndings, due to
the small size of specic sectors and markets, there is the concern that deductions about
who might have said what may be drawn by clients. This concern asks for closer attention
from practitioners when using different styles and ways of handling the research ndings.
Another issue in the area of anonymity and condentiality described by participants in
the interviews is particularly in relation to qualitative research that involves focus groups
and video recordings – i.e. assuring and maintaining participants’ anonymity when
clients are there to observe these sessions. In these cases, clients are often asked to sign
a condentiality agreement that binds them to treat any information about participants’
condentially.
Issues relating to the reporting of research results were the second most frequently occurring
ethical issue that became apparent from the interview data. The MRSNZ code has clear
guidelines on reporting and publishing of research ndings. It emphasises the need for the
ndings of the marketing research project not to be misleading and that the client should
consult and obtain the researcher’s consent prior to publication of research ndings; in
addition, they specify measures to be taken by the researcher in the eventuality that these
principles are not adhered to by the client (i.e. refusing permission for the researcher’s name
to be used in connection with the published ndings, publishing the appropriate technical
details of the project, correcting any misleading aspects of the published ndings). Despite
all these guidelines, participants referred in the interviews to situations when a client puts
pressure on the marketing research practitioner to edit the research ndings according to
their views and agenda and / or to alter the research results.
Compared to corporate clients, it was suggested that clients from the public and government
sector (i.e. government agencies) are more concerned about the way research outcomes
come across and are more likely to want to monitor closely and control the process of
editing research ndings as they are much more risk averse. This nding has not been
reported in the literature from other studies.
As suggested by Murphy and Laczniak (1992), another ethical issue related to research
ndings is clients conducting research solely to support a priori conclusions. One
VOLUME 12, NUMBER 1, 2014 43
participant described this situation as a case where the client wanted to engage them in
conducting research in order to conrm their views on an issue:
‘Basically they wanted us to do some research to conrm a theory they had… they
had an agenda which they wanted to follow through and we basically said well the
agenda you want to follow through is not what the reality is.’
The marketing research practitioner’s duty is to convey objective and accurate research
results (Akaah, 1990; Kelley et al., 1990; Malhotra & Peterson, 2001). One participant
explained:
‘…[clients] like to hear that everybody loves their product but I think my ethical
obligation to them is to tell them the truth as I know it and to the extent that I can
understand it from the data…’
There were also instances relating to the ownership and access to data: the ethical issues
participants referred to in this area comprise situations when clients request ownership
rights on data collection tools, such as questionnaires, and / or solicit the right to have
access to data collected (i.e. interview transcripts; focus group data and videos).
Also there were ethical concerns about situations when clients use a questionnaire
designed for them by the marketing research organisation/practitioner for internal research
purposes. The MRSNZ code includes clear guidelines about what type of documents
remain the property of the client (i.e. marketing research briefs, research data and ndings)
and those that remain in the researcher’s property (i.e. research techniques and methods
used in the marketing research project, marketing research proposals, discussion papers
and quotations unless these have been paid for by the client, and the contents of a report in
the case of syndicated or multi-client projects).
Researchers also highlighted the clients’ responsibility to the researcher to treat them
fairly (Murphy & Laczniak, 1992.) This is the situation of tenders for research proposals
when marketing research organisations feel that the tender process has not been entirely
transparent and there was an imbalance between their effort put into the preparation of the
proposal and the outcome of the tender:
‘I think that ethically, they could be more responsible in their approach to actually
brieng research companies and going through a more rigorous selection process
before they ask people to tender.’
This highlights the complex and dynamic nature of the researcher-client relationship.
A similar issue was signalled in previous research by Malhotra and Peterson (2001) as
a situation in which the client was behaving unethically by not describing clearly the
parameters of the research needed and in which the researcher will operate.
Table 1 summarises the ethical issues New Zealand marketing practitioners identied in
their client relationships, the corresponding ethical guidelines within the MRSNZ code,
and the ethical issues identied earlier in the literature review. The results highlight that,
although the issues faced by marketing researchers in New Zealand are broadly similar to
those identied in the wider literature, there are also New Zealand industry specic issues.
The implications of this will be explored in the conclusion.
NEW ZEALAND JOURNAL OF APPLIED BUSINESS RESEARCH
44
Table 1: Ethical issues in client relationships: Literature vs. actual data and
corresponding MRSNZ code guidelines
PREVIOUS RESEARCH
STUDIES
ACTUAL ETHICAL
ISSUES IDENTIFIED
IN THIS STUDY
NEW ZEALAND
INDUSTRY SPECIFIC
ISSUES
MRSNZ CODE’S
GUIDELINES
Research design
Malhotra & Peterson
(2001)
Murphy & Laczniak
(1992)
Research design:
Client’s interference
in the survey design
process
Use of appropriate scientic
principles so that truthful and
reliable results are generated
and presented in the research
ndings
The researcher’s responsibility to the client
Akaah (1990), Boggs
(2003)
Hunt, Chonko & Wilcox
(1984)
Kelley, Ferrell & Skinner
(1990)
Malhotra & Peterson
(2001)
Michaelides & Gibbs
(2006)
Reporting of research
results: Integrity of
research results
Ethical and technical
issues related to
reporting of results
and ability to maintain
respondents’ anonymity
in small markets and
sectors;
Clients from the public
and government sectors
are more likely to
monitor closely and
control the process of
editing research ndings
Both the client and the
researcher have a responsibility
to ensure that published results
are not misleading; the client
should consult and obtain the
researcher’s consent prior to
publication of ndings
Hunt, Chonko & Wilcox
(1984)
Murphy & Laczniak
(1992)
Client condentiality The case of off-limits
clients/conicts of
interests due to the small
size of the New Zealand
market sectors and
organisations
The client’s name and any
other information about
them are to be maintained
condential by the researcher
The client’s responsibility to the researcher
Hunt, Chonko & Wilcox
(1984)
Kelley, Ferrell & Skinner
(1990)
Identication of
respondents (clients
asking to know
respondents’ identity)
Difculty in maintaining
condentiality in small
size sectors in which
research is conducted
with implications on
the reporting of results
and ability to maintain
respondents’ anonymity
Identication of respondents
is not allowed unless prior
permission to do so is sought
from respondents
Murphy & Laczniak
(1992)
Hunt, Chonko & Wilcox
(1984)
Release of information
to third parties
The client may not disclose
the ndings to any third party
other than in direct connection
with their own business
Murphy & Laczniak
(1992)
Phillips (2010)
Ownership and access
to data, misuse of
research data
The code includes clear
ownership principles relating
to documents, data, methods
and ndings
Hunt, Chonko & Wilcox
(1984)
Malhotra & Peterson
(2001)
Murphy & Laczniak
(1992)
Other issues: fair
treatment of marketing
researchers by clients,
e.g. fair and transparent
tender process, clear
description of research
parameters
Market research shall be
conducted with professional
responsibility and conform
to the principles of fair
competition
VOLUME 12, NUMBER 1, 2014 45
CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS
This study set out to examine the ethical issues in marketing research between practitioners
and their clients from the perspective of the marketing researcher. The researcher client
relationship and the perspective of the researcher in particular have both been under-
examined in the literature. This paper has added to the eld by providing the rst
empiricalevidence from New Zealand. The previous literature has so far failed to produce
strong conclusions, suggesting that more qualitative research is needed to understand the
dynamics involved and more needed to be understood about the specics of the ethical
issues involved. The results of the study found that the two most frequent ethical issues
noted by marketing researchers in the practitioner-client relationship are both issues of
the client’s responsibility to the researcher. These were the identication of respondents
where clients require the respondents’ names and contact details and for the reporting of
research results, in cases when clients call for editing or altering of research results to
suit pre-determined organisational objectives or agendas. The results showed that these
issues are worth further research from both academics and practitioners, as they are being
experienced by participants from rms of all sizes and both members and non-members of
the MRSNZ. The study also found that other issues of the client’s responsibilities related
to the release of information to third parties, ownership and access to data, and research
design situations when clients interfered in the research design process, making unrealistic
and unethical requests for use of intrusive and biased questions. Rich qualitative data was
reported that examines the complex client-researcher relationships. Whilst one limitation
of this paper is that these issues were only reported from the under-researched marketing
researcher’s perspective, this does suggest that the client perspective should be the focus
of future research.
As the majority of previous empirical studies have been based on data from the United
States this paper also contributes by offering a comparative study making the ndings
relevant to both New Zealand academics and researchers interested in ethics, and
practitioners in general. The ndings of this New Zealand study show that regardless of
the marketing research organisation’s size, it appears that clients pose similar challenges
to practitioners as no signicant differences between large, medium and small marketing
research organisations were identied with regard to ethical issues faced in client relations.
As New Zealand practitioners face the same ethical issues as those identied in overseas
studies this conrms with an empirical case the theoretical assumption that these ethical
issues may be expected in the industry in different national settings. As a country sharing
many Anglo-Saxon cultural characteristics with the United States, further studies could
be undertaken in the industry in different national cultural settings, as local cultures and
institutions may emphasise particular issues or create new ones. Within the limited context
of the current paper, for example, some issues were especially prominent, such as the
increased risk around condentiality due to the small size and nature of the New Zealand
market. This nding could also be relevant to relationships in close-knit industries, as well
as to other small nation contexts. The nding that public sector clients are more likely
to attempt to become involved in the research interpretation process is one that could
be persued in other countries, and the causes for this explored, as this may have policy
implications. Future comparative studies could examine these issues further.
For industry actors in New Zealand and more broadly this paper highlights the importance
of improving practitioners’ and clients’ awareness and understanding of ethical issues
NEW ZEALAND JOURNAL OF APPLIED BUSINESS RESEARCH
46
throughout the industry. This research shows that an industry code, such as the MRSNZ
code, is important and that continuous efforts and resources need to be put aside by
marketing research organisations to create a greater moral awareness among marketing
research practitioners to maintain high ethical standards to avoid conicts of interests.
Ethical issues between marketing research practitioners and their clients can be dealt with
and, in many cases, can be avoided, by making sure that marketing research practitioners
are fully aware of the existence of the MRSNZ professional code of ethics and its content
or a local comparable code. As the MRSNZ code is based on the predominant international
code this suggests that in other countries the presence of the code is not in itself sufcient
to prevent ethical issues arising. Both professional and industry bodies (such as MRSNZ)
and New Zealand marketing research organisations should endeavour to create higher
awareness around ethical codes through regular training and workshops focused on
potential ethical issues in marketing research and use of ethical codes. At the same time,
as stipulated in the MRSNZ code, marketing research practitioners have the obligation to
ensure clients are fully aware of the existence of the MRSNZ code and that they comply
with the code’s requirements. Many of the ethical issues identied by the participants
in this study may be resolved in future by educating the clients with regard to ethical
principles and regulations in the marketing research industry. Also, the inclusion in the
current MRSNZ code of clearer and more detailed guidelines regarding specic ethical
issues, particularly following the emerging online technologies and research methods,
such as netnography, the ‘gamication’ of research, and new ethical challenges posed by
big data sets, may assist marketing research practitioners in making ethical decisions.
The present study has also highlighted the role of trust in relationships between marketing
researchers and clients, with the example of cases where ethical conicts are created around
the research design. The literature suggests that close trust-based partnerships could help
to resolve such ethical issues as ethical issues become less of a concern when trust is
present within these relationships (Malhotra & Peterson, 2001.) These conclusions can
be broadened to include industries and business relationships with similar characteristics.
VOLUME 12, NUMBER 1, 2014 47
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... Previous literature suggests that the main ethical issues that arise in the relationship with clients are: the integrity of research, data reliability and accuracy, deception and abuse, ethical issues in the research design, methodology and presentation of research findings (Hunt et al. 1984;Akaah 1990;Kelley et al. 1990;Robson 1991;Murphy & Laczniak 1992;Malhotra & Peterson 2001;Boggs 2003;Michaelides & Gibbs 2006). A recent New Zealand study revealed that the two ethical issues most frequently noted by marketing researchers in the practitioner-client relationship are the identification of respondents, where clients require respondents' names and contact details, and the reporting of research results, in cases when clients call for editing or altering of research results in order to suit predetermined organisational objectives or agendas (Yallop & Mowatt 2014). The study also found that other issues were related to the release of information to third parties, ownership and access to data, and research design situations when clients interfered in the research design process, making unrealistic and unethical requests for use of intrusive and biased questions (Yallop & Mowatt 2014). ...
... A recent New Zealand study revealed that the two ethical issues most frequently noted by marketing researchers in the practitioner-client relationship are the identification of respondents, where clients require respondents' names and contact details, and the reporting of research results, in cases when clients call for editing or altering of research results in order to suit predetermined organisational objectives or agendas (Yallop & Mowatt 2014). The study also found that other issues were related to the release of information to third parties, ownership and access to data, and research design situations when clients interfered in the research design process, making unrealistic and unethical requests for use of intrusive and biased questions (Yallop & Mowatt 2014). However, there is limited research attempting to understand the tools (such as ethical codes) that practitioners use in ethical decision-making in client relationships. ...
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