It’s 8pm and I’m basking in the sun at a rooftop beach club in Valencia with a G&T, with Living on a Prayer serenading me from the karaoke stage. No, I’m not on holiday, I’m at the 2018 AQR/QRCA Worldwide Qual conference.

It’s my first industry conference, and I’d assumed it would be like LinkedIn but in real life: everyone in ‘presenting yourself with impact’ mode, diligently recording key take-outs from each talk and doing lots of awkward networking. But once we arrive, those expectations quickly vanish. Co-chairs Peter Totman and Susan Sweet’s perfect combination of British wit and American conviviality establish an informal atmosphere and sense of genuine camaraderie.

In classic post rationalisation, I shouldn’t have expected any different. Us quallies are known as a chatty, open and inquisitive bunch. We are in market research because we’re curious, not the other way around. This is a coming together of people who share an insatiable interest in the world around them, and the people in it. And luckily, it just so happens to pay the bills.

The conference programme embodies this perfectly. Talks range musings, to practical applications of methodologies. We start with an interactive session on change vs stability that has us moving all around the room (Missy Carvin) and ends with a challenge to learn to unicycle (Kendall Nash). Pit stops along the way include Brexit (Andy Dexter and Kevin McLean), toy soldiers (Luigi Toiati), Japanese dancing (Tomoko Yoshida and Dorrie Paynter) and robots (Andrew Konya).


While every talk gave so much food for thought, some of the highlights for me include:

  • Both Roben Allong and Lesley Croskery shaking up our complacency around cultural awareness and BAME inclusivity. We are not where we should be as an industry, and we need to lead the change.
  • Kendall Nash’s reflections on the importance of approaching learning from a place of humility, gratitude and open-mindedness.
  • Sarah Jane Johnson’s look at how people from other disciplines like law and journalism extract information from their clients. I’m now much more aware of the different ways we can shape our communication and language with customers clients.

Elsewhere, the explorations continue, from checking out Valencia’s vegetarian foodie scene, to opting for an hour-long trek home across downtown Valencia. Conversations cover society, culture, politics and ethics,... what brings us together as individuals, not just as market researchers. On the plane on the way home, I can’t help but think, this year’s theme couldn’t have been more appropriate: Stay Curious.