Sussex link to PR studies is in the mind, but it lingers

Firm that tests psychological reactions to brands 'not connected' to university. David Matthews writes

July 5, 2012

Credit: Getty
Crossed signals: Mindlab, which uses electroencephalography in its work, is based at the Sussex Innovation Centre

A company that conducts publicity-generating research for marketing campaigns has been promoted as being based at the University of Sussex and repeatedly linked to the institution in the media.

Mindlab International measures psychological reactions to brands or products using a "scientific approach" that "offers PRs an extra way to add a newsworthy element to PR campaigns", founder David Lewis-Hodgson told PR Week in 2006.

Both the firm and the university have made it clear that they are independent of one another and said they try to correct any misunderstandings that appear in the press.

But the firm has been reported as being "at" or "based" at the university several times in national newspapers over the past four years, and Mindlab was promoted as being "at Sussex University" in a recent PR campaign.

Previous research by Mindlab has found that reading is more relaxing than listening to music or going for a walk, in a study commissioned by the maker of Galaxy chocolate as part of a campaign to give away 1 million books.

It has also been reported that a Mindlab survey, commissioned by the maker of Rocky, a chocolate bar, found that an estimated 25 million adults in the UK have been injured during a tea or coffee break.

In April this year a "neurological study by Dulux [the paint company] and the Mindlab International Laboratory at Sussex University" that measured the "physiological arousal" prompted by the imagining of various activities found that "women find a redecorated room just as pleasurable as sex", the Huffington Post reported.

The press release sent to the Huffington Post by Mindlab's promoters, Mischief PR, says the research was done by "Mindlab International Laboratory (at Sussex University)". Remy Le Fevre, a senior account manager at Mischief PR, said he was "not entirely sure" why the reference to Sussex had occurred as it had not appeared in Mischief's original release.

He added that "you would assume that it [Mindlab] is part of Sussex University" from its website. He said he had not been notified by Mindlab of any concerns about the coverage.

Mindlab is based at the Sussex Innovation Centre, a business park owned by the university, and has "University of Sussex" in its address, although it does not otherwise refer to the institution on its website.

Duncan Smith, Mindlab's managing director, said that the firm made clear in its reports that it was not connected with the university and that any association happened without its knowledge. "We try our best to make sure the name [University of Sussex] isn't used," he said.

As with all market research, there was "a danger" that work could be misrepresented because it was difficult to control how research was used, he said. There have been "headlines we've cringed at", he added.

The firm's work was "ethical and the research is sound", he said. The research, which uses electroencephalography - the recording of electrical activity along the scalp - to measure brain signals, used sample sizes of 20 to 30 people that were comparable to academic research.

However, he said, the firm was "trying to move away from PR. It's not the main focus of our business."

Mindlab did not pay any Sussex researchers but would occasionally "meet [them] for coffee" and discuss their new research, he said.

A spokeswoman for Sussex said it "does not provide research facilities or research findings for Mindlab, nor do we provide academic assistance to the company".

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