by John Trybus, Managing Director

For social strategist Merill Shugoll, work is all in the family.


After multiple positions within the research industry, Merrill came to work for a woman who would change her life forever (not to mention become her mother-in-law).

Joan Shugoll, who founded Shugoll Research in 1957, is that woman. Considered by many a pioneer in the research industry, Joan was one of the first practitioners to offer a full range of field interviewing services and a one-way mirror for focus groups.

“I was contemplating going out on my own and my mother-in-law made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” Merrill, now the president of Shugoll Research, explained during our interview on site at the company’s Bethesda, Maryland headquarters. “So we decided to go into business together and it’s been wonderful.”

And what a business it has become. Today Shugoll Research is a full service data collection and consulting firm regarded as one of the top 100 research companies in the country, according to Advertising Age.

But why is this social strategist so passionate about research, you ask?


“This is definitely a true love affair,” Merrill says enthusiastically about her work. “Other than meeting my husband and having my children, it was the luckiest day of my life because I just fell in love with it from day one.”

In the interview that follows Merrill answers a number of questions about the role of research in communications planning. Here’s a preview of some of those questions we discuss in-depth:

  • Do communicators understand the role of research and its benefits as well as limitations? 
  • How does one determine which research tools to use on a project for maximum effectiveness? 
  • Is there a difference between using research for non-profits versus for-profits? 

We also speak about the Gen M Obesity Study, funded by Shugoll Research which offered new insights into the raging epidemic of childhood obesity.

To Merrill, research is not about information but rather intelligence.

“We live in an information world,” she explains. “I can’t even imagine what it’s like for any executive today in terms of the amount of information that they have to manage so when push comes to shove, what these executives need is to turn that information into intelligence.”

She adds: “It’s the intelligence that’s going to help them make better decisions.”

Listen to my interview with social strategist Merrill Shugoll to learn more about research as intelligence and how that can lead to better decision making for nonprofits and for-profits alike.