The world's largest agency liked the style of Kiwi boutique business.
Often small New Zealand businesses are snapped up by giant global networks and gobbled up, never to be seen again, the staff decimated and the spirit of the company lost forever.
Jason Shoebridge and David Thomas were running the small boutique research company Conversa Globalin 2007 when TNS Global, the world's largest research agency, owned ultimately by the WPP Group, expressed interest. TNS had a New Zealand presence, but liked the style of the Conversa business.
When Conversa, with a staff of 15 people, merged with TNS NZ, Shoebridge and Thomas were kept on as the directors and their staff stayed. The senior management of TNS NZ left but many of their staff moved over, giving the merged company today a total of 35 people.
"It was very much a reverse takeover. What TNS Global wanted to capture was the Conversa way of working," says Shoebridge.
"The important thing for us and the reason it's succeeded, is that we maintained the culture, the expertise and kept the people," says Shoebridge.
The managing director claims the culture of Conversa has remained. "We are part of this global engine but we are very much New Zealand focused," says Shoebridge.
Director David Thomas says "It's the best of both worlds. A small, entrepreneurial culture works very well for us.
"We have a very informal, intense working style. TNS Global brings contacts, clever ideas and clever products and we leverage this."
TNS NZ is now New Zealand's largest research based business consultancy, it claims, with 25 per cent of the market and a $20 million turnover. Its 32 consultants solve customer problems using market research as a tool. It also has NZ's largest online consumer panel called Smile City, with more than 200,000 members.
"We bring a better range of skills than a traditional research agency. We have people who are strong in statistics and marketing, we also have a treasury analyst and management consultants," says Shoebridge, an accountant with a commerce degree and an MBA. He is also a director of the government agency Niwa.
TNS NZ's clients include Telecom, Air New Zealand, Fonterra, Tourism NZ and NZ Post. The consultancy will always put an opinion forward just as companies such as McKinsey & Company and Boston Consulting Group do.
One of its roles is helping New Zealand companies find export markets. "We recently completed work for a large exporter in NZ, investigating entering five new markets," says Shoebridge.
Meanwhile, thanks to being part of an international group, TNS NZ is doing a growing number of projects for offshore clients, leveraging its connection with the TNS network. The NZ business has for instance, worked with its colleagues in Nigeria to advise a major mobile network operator about the prospects for mobile market growth in its 37 regions.
"We provided our TNS Nigeria colleagues with guidance on the framing of a market survey and then combined this survey data with demographic and macro-economic data to build a detailed econometric model at both a national and regional level," says Shoebridge.
TNS NZ is looking at exporting its services regularly. It is currently doing work for a Vietnamese cement company, and potentially with a Thai plastics manufacturer.