BACK at the start of her career, Sonya Dixon, director of Gateshead market research agency Bluegrass had what she called her dream job, working in Sydney for the Nestle confectionery brand.

Since those heady days she has continued to blaze a trail working for regional and national companies to ensure they squeeze as much as possible from their marketing in particular, to the very best effect.

Her business, run with fellow directors Linda Landles and Lynsey Clark, specialises in delivering market research which enables clients to understand their audiences and customers better so they can make sound decisions.

However, Sonya’s career started in a very different field, when she studied French at Liverpool University which gave her an early chance to test her mettle with a year as a teaching assistant in a Grenoble secondary school.

She said: “I was only 20 and some of the pupils were only a couple of years younger. When I arrived, I was invited to see the Headteacher and noticed a sign on the door which was a plaque in memory of a previous head who had been stabbed to death in the school. The whole experience made me grow up very fast!

“After graduating I got a job in London for a global market research company which was an excellent training ground for learning how to analyse market data and draw insight from it . This was followed by three fantastic years in Sydney and for part of that, working for Nestle . Not only was it a brilliant city to work in, I have found it so helpful to have that grounding on the client-side of market research. It helped me understand the internal pressures of commissioning and using research within an organisationand the need for the agency not just to produce data, but more importantly to deliver insight and knowledge.

“This experience has really shaped how I tackle my work. I am always on a mission to make my clients’ lives easier in terms of them being able to make good decisions based on the understanding we give them.

After leaving Australia Sonya spent time working in Dublin and Leeds, racking up some impressive national brand experience with companies such as Coca Cola, Guinness, Barclays and Asda.

She moved back to her native Newcastle to join market research company Wood Holmes and then in 2008 set up her own business with two former colleagues Linda Landles and Lynsey Clark.

Her decision to start a new business was driven by a desire to become the best marketing and social research business possible and help clients understand their audiences and customers better.

She said: “We have grown to seven members of staff now. Our business operates over a range of sectors but our specialisms are the visitor economy, transport and health marketing research.”

The Bluegrass client list covers the length and breadth of the country and includes prestigious names such as the CBI, the Great North Run, Bletchley Park as well as transport operators across the country.

One long-standing client, Balance, which encourages people to reduce their alcohol consumption – and reduce the impact that alcohol is having on our region - has been with the business since it was launched. Part of the research work for this organisation is to help evaluate its communications campaigns and work out what messaging makes the biggest impact.

She said: “To summarise Bluegrass, whilst we of course have financial targets for the business, our goals are as qualitative as they are quantitative We have no desire to be the next MORI but we do want to be excellent and profitable, delivering a healthy and enjoyable working environment for employees, while doing the very best we can for our clients.”


Favourite North-East building?

I love the Cumberland Arms in Ouseburn. I’d actually love to live in it, the location is great and it holds many lovely memories for me.

What was your first job and how much did you get paid?

It was a Saturday job in Habitat and so long ago I can’t remember how much I got paid.

What is the worst job you’ve had?

I once worked in a cafeteria for the national gas company in Australia and didn’t know about any of the food on sale, so that was tricky.

What would you cook for me if I came around for dinner?

As it’s winter, something heart-warming and a dessert from Ottolenghi’s book “Sweet”, my six year old son Archie and I are currently working our way through it.

Name four people, dead or alive, who would be at your perfect dinner party?

Tom Robbins, the author for his imagination. Alastair Campbell, Irish musician Christy Moore and Marie my Australian best mate as I don’t see enough of her.

Who is the best person to follow on Twitter?

Daniel Dale, the Washington correspondent for the Toronto Star. His life is following Donald Trump. I love that he keeps track of how often Trump lies and investigates these falsehoods with experts in particular fields to de-bunk them.

Favourite book?

On Sudden Hill by Benji Davies which is a brilliant depiction of how to embrace new people to a group, aimed at children.

What is your greatest achievement?

Having my son

What was the last band you saw live?

American folk artist Iris DeMent

Describe your perfect night in?

A night with my partner Richard, a curry and beer

In another life I would be...

A psychologist