Since I’ve spent the last month writing, writing, writing for no money, this week I jumped at the chance to talk for money… in a focus group. For years I’ve been in the database of a local market research company but I don’t often get called — remember, anyone over fifty-five belongs to an undesirable demographic. The telephone interviewer wanted me so badly (day before the session and she had slots to fill) that she hinted at the right answers to her questions. “On a scale of one to ten, rate your enthusiasm for talking in a group of strangers.” When I gave it an optimistic seven she asked, “Are you sure you’re just a seven? ” I bumped it up to an eight and she pronounced me qualified. Why bother, you ask, to cheat on something like this? The smell of two hundred fifty dollars six weeks before Christmas. As it turned out, I told the truth. I talked a lot.
My first foray into paid opinion research offered a different kind of aroma. The baking yeast company that sponsored it wanted a lot more for its money than to hear a group of women talk. Buy two kinds of yeast, choose two recipes among those provided for breads, pizza dough, and coffee cakes and bake one using each product. Then note in a journal characteristics of each baked item once it’s out of the oven. Finally, talk about your favorite yeast in an hour and a half focus group and accept $150 in small, unmarked bills as you exit the building. I got the cash and my husband enjoyed the baked goods.
This week all I had to do was sit for two hours with an amiable group of men and women ranging in age from forty to seventy, read four corporate mission statements, answer questions and comment on each one, then vote for my favorite. By the time the third statement was in our hands, it was clear that a bank was paying for our time. “I hope this isn’t Bank of America,” one participant said. “I used to do business with them, but I never really liked them.” I enjoyed the mental image of a group of B of A public relations executives cringing then glaring at her through the one-way mirror. Later we learned the name of the bank; it wasn’t one I knew.
In truth, our mission was a little more complex than this, but in two hours we finished. No expectation of a final recommendation, no accountability, just share opinions and agree or disagree with others in the group or the client on the other side of the mirror. Earn more than twice my hourly rate as a full-time employee. Nice work if you can get it. I hope to get more.