While there are several options, our experience at Litigation Insights over the past 20 years has identified two main facility venues to choose from when preparing to conduct a mock trial or focus group – a Market Research Facility or a Hotel/Conference Center. Both options have advantages and disadvantages when it comes to logistical preparations for your research. Here’s what to expect when considering your choices.
Features of a Market Research Facility
The distinguishing characteristic of the market research facility venue is the one-way mirror separating the client viewing area from the participant engagement area. Market research facilities have several rooms set up in their office space for real-time viewing of trial presentations and group deliberation discussions. This allows us to watch from behind the glass, as though we were actually in the room with jurors but not influencing the proceedings. These facilities are also designed to have a lobby where participants can complete pre-project questionnaires and where we can conduct our participant orientation away from the “courtroom” where we will lead our selected jurors for presentations. This area also serves as a spot where participants will enjoy breaks and meals while remaining fully separated from the clients in the back room.
Advantages of a Market Research Facility
- Cost Effective. The biggest advantage of conducting research in a market research facility is the cost. Market research facilities tend to be less expensive because the facility is designed to accommodate real-time viewing and recording of facilitated sessions – thus, it cuts down on the amount of audio/visual equipment needed onsite. Additionally, a lot of the miscellaneous costs (e.g., bowls of M&Ms and refrigerators of soda and bottled water) are provided as a part of the market research facility fee.
- Technology. It is a working office with easy access to copiers, large printers and fax machines, which means more efficiency for the trial team because the equipment is faster than what we typically encounter when we travel to hotels.
- Extra Rooms to Control Confidentiality. Often our groups are large enough that while in a market research facility we rent the entire facility. By being the only group onsite, we can have more control over confidentiality as the jurors are not mixed in with other groups – as would be the case in a hotel. Also, an added benefit for renting the facility is the additional space for clients to make private calls or have private meetings in other rooms that we aren’t using during the sessions.
- Personal Preferences. It is easy to accommodate client preferences. For example, if you have a particular brand of yogurt you like in the morning or a specific kind of coffee you prefer over others, the facility can accommodate requests, versus a hotel where they are often unable to bring in outside food and beverage or they are tied to brand contracts (e.g., Coca-Cola products versus Pepsi products).
- Fresh Coffee. Market research facilities often have a Keurig coffee maker, which allows clients to enjoy fresh coffee with a choice of flavors any time of the day – versus having the carafe of coffee at a hotel that’s been sitting on the burner all morning.
- Preferred-Vendor Agreements. Although Litigation Insights conducts research from coast to coast, there are some cities we frequent often enough that we are able to form working relationships and preferred-vendor agreements with market research facilities that provide us cost savings (which we pass along to our clients).
Disadvantages of a Market Research Facility
- Location. Unfortunately, market research facilities are limited to larger cities, so when we are conducting research in rural areas, we are often limited to a hotel set-up. Additionally, market research facilities within large cities may not be located in the part of town from which jurors are coming. For example, a lot of Chicago-area facilities are located downtown on Michigan Avenue, but recruiting jurors from Cook County to commute into downtown Chicago is doable but can be a challenge.
- Room Size Limitations. Market research facility meeting rooms tend to be smaller spaces than hotels, depending upon location, which can make the set-up for the “courtroom” tight and require jurors to fill out project questionnaires on clipboards (versus on a table in front of them).
- Dark Surroundings. The final disadvantage is you must spend your day in the dark because of the mechanics of the one-way mirror. That is, in order for the one-way mirror to work properly, one side of the mirror must be brightly lit (presentation room or deliberation rooms) and the other side dark (viewing room). This allows clients to view from the darkened side but not vice versa, which means all observers in a market research facility tend to spend the entire day in the dark.
Features of a Hotel/Conference Center
Meetings in hotels and conference centers are fairly common; from CLE courses to weddings, these spaces accommodate a wide variety of meeting needs with a variety of rooms and sizes.
Advantages for a Hotel Setup
- Flexible Location. There are lots of advantages to hotel meeting space, but the biggest advantage is we can usually choose the location of the hotel so that it will be easy for all interested parties and mock jurors to reach. Additionally, hotels can be found in any city, so we have flexibility dictating the “part of town” needed to maximize mock jurors’ access and participation. Furthermore, the trial team can also stay at the hotel, which minimizes the need for coordinating ground transportation between a hotel and a meeting room facility.
- Easier Directions. Hotels have large signage that is visible from the road, and most everyone knows where the “such-and-such” hotel is located in town. Market research facilities on the other hand often are located in office parks and can be on the sixth floor of any unmarked building, making it more difficult to find.
- One Central Viewing Room. The clients and other viewers are located in one room and one room only. This makes it particularly nice when it comes time for the multiple juries to deliberate. That is, observers do not need to physically move from one room to another to hear other groups deliberate because each group is presented on large, flat screen TVs within the one room (in a market research facility you can only view the deliberations behind the glass of the room you are observing). To ease the cacophony of sound, the audio/visual team gives listeners headsets so they can float between listening “channels” to observe individual groups.
- Litigation Insights Audio Visual Team. Onsite all day, we have an audio/visual technician who is always there if a problem should arise with AV equipment or if on-the-fly changes are needed. If we are in a market research facility, we are working with audio visual vendors specific to the town we are in, and those vendors are not always onsite and available if the LCD bulb burns out or the laptop cable goes on the fritz mid-presentation.
- Easier for Juror Breaks. Hotels are set up for large meetings and can accommodate large numbers of people needing to take simultaneous breaks. Specifically, they tend to have large restroom facilities, which makes break time between presentations easier and speedier, and they have easier access to designated smoking areas.
Disadvantages of a Hotel Setup
- Confidentiality Concerns. Confidentiality can be harder to control in a hotel versus a market research facility. There are always hotel guests walking through a hotel/meeting space, which isn’t a concern at a market research facility. Because we are working with more vendors and a larger staff, it is important to have all of those people who may be in and out of the meeting (e.g., hotel banquet staff, audio visual vendors, etc.) sign confidentiality agreements. Hotels may also have other events happening on the meeting room floor and attendees of a neighboring event can get confused as to which meeting room was theirs and accidentally pop their head into the wrong meeting.
- More Costly. Hotels tend to be more costly, particularly when it comes to catering, because they charge for each individual item or beverage consumed during the meeting.
At Litigation Insights when it comes to choosing one type of facility over another, we take into consideration where we will be able to get the best participant access (ultimately the most important part of any research project) at the best price. That is, the easier it is to get a representative sample of participants, the better the results of our research will be. If both venue types still fit the bill after we’ve narrowed the location, then we look at which option is more cost efficient and flexible for our clients. While often a market research facility will be less expensive, that is not always the case. As such, our case management team always does its best to negotiate expenses to suit our clients’ budgets.
By: Elizabeth Babbitt, M.A. – Consultant, and Carey Hand – Case Manager
 A hotel set-up could also take place in a convention center, community center, college or other similar location, but the set-up remains the same. Other set-ups are using a law firm’s conference center or community center, etc.
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