Global marketing research firms are growing, but largely in size over collective revenue as acquisitions continue to accelerate, reports the American Marketing Association (AMA). The global trend seems to reflect what happens in the Hispanic and Latin American market research industries, where national or multinational research companies have acquired smaller competitors.

Still, the world's 25 largest marketing research firms racked up total revenues of $18.7 billion in 2011 — 4.1% higher than the previous year, according to the Honomichl Global Top 25 Report. Adjusted for inflation, the gain was 1.4%.)

"That, I submit, is good news given the dire economic conditions in many countries," says Jack Honomichl, founder of the newsletter "Inside Research," who compiles the annual Honomichl ranking with colleague Larry Gold.

Not all of the Global Top 25 ended the year on a high note, however. Nine of the research firms saw revenues decline in 2011 or not grow enough to cover the estimated 2.7% inflation rate, while others stayed stagnant.

Overall, the increased size and strength of the highest earners are the report's biggest takeaway.

"For the most part, the 25 behemoths of our industry have come to be so via amalgamation, the end result of hundreds of acquisitions made over many years in many countries," says Honomichl. "In 2011 alone, Top 25 firms bought 24 research firms around the world. … The concentration of power in our industry continues unabated."

He points to the example of Paris-based Ipsos, which was No. 5 on last year's list. After acquiring Synovate (No. 6 last year), Ipsos moved up to No. 3 this year, with $2.5 billion in revenue. Ahead of that were Nielsen, at No. 1 with $5.4 billion, and Kantar, at No. 2 with $3.3 billion.

Increasingly Global

The world's leading marketing research firms are also increasingly global: 55% of their collective revenue came from operations outside of their home countries. Five have subsidiaries or operations in at least 68 countries, including Nielsen, which operates in 100 countries. Only three of the Top 25 have no revenue from outside their home countries.

The 25 leading firms accounted for approximately 58% of global spending on marketing, advertising and public opinion research services in 2011. Ten are publicly listed, four are subsidiaries of larger public companies, three are subsidiaries of non-public corporations and eight are privately held.

As for employment, the overall payroll at the Global Top 25 marketing research firms jumped 6.9% — from 103,136 full-time people in 2010 to 110,235 in 2011. For the first time in the 16 years that this report has been published, one of the firms is headed by a woman: Jane Shirley, 45, is CEO of London-based Cello Research & Consulting.

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