Burke Bolts Carat, Second Research Diva To Resign After Winning P&G
When she announced her departure, Vincent, a native of Australia, told MDN she wanted to take a "walkabout," an aboriginal term for a soul-searching travel. Burke did not return MDN's call, but people familiar with her decision said she is leaving the business for similar reasons.
Burke's departure also represents an inflection point for Carat, which has emerged as one of the top media services brands in the U.S. and worldwide, largely on the strength of its superior research tools and practices. Burke was actually the first hire U.K.-based parent Aegis made of an indigenous U.S. media executive when it was looking to launch Carat USA, preceding both Carat USA president Charlie Rutman, and Carat North America CEO David Verklin. The timing was intentional in the sense that Aegis wanted to send a signal about its commitment to research and strategic planning vs. the buying-oriented focus of most U.S. media agencies of that time.
Burke joined Carat in the summer of 1997 from the top media research post at FCB, where she established a reputation as global research guru with extremely high standards. That move, coupled with Carat's acquisition of sophisticated research businesses such as MMA, a leading marketing mix modeling firm, sent a signal to Madison Avenue that Carat had emerged as a serious player and that it was positioning itself on the basis of research, tools and consumer insights, driving many agencies to reinvest in those areas. Ultimately, Starcom MediaVest Group may have outmaneuvered Carat on those terms, but both shops have been in a race for innovation and differentiation, and have set a mark for the rest of the industry to follow. Not surprisingly, research, planning, tools and systems played a big factor in P&G's decision to give those agencies its business.
But Burke's retirement as executive vice president and managing director of Carat Insight, the media research division of Carat, means there now are two top research positions to fill on Madison Avenue, Carat's and MediaVest's, at a time when such talents are in high demand and candidates are few.
In fact, the whole practice of media research is undergoing radical change as the ad industry is pulled into two seemingly diametrical directions: the soft science of consumer context planning; and the harder science of econometrics, or mathematically derived results measures for the return on advertising investments.
P&G epitomizes that struggle, pushing its agencies over the past year in both directions by conducting its communications planning review, and by also backing the development of Project Apollo, Arbitron's and VNU's single-source measurement system that directly correlates advertising and media exposures to consumer purchases.
Carat insiders said no decision has been made on a succession scenario to replace Burke, but noted that over the past seven years she helped build a deep talent pool with an extremely capable team to draw on, both in the U.S. and through Carat's global network. However, the company is expected to consider outside candidates, as well, and may "zero-base" the entire organization, according to one senior executive.
The changes come at a decisive time for Carat, and the industry at large, especially given the acute focus Carat is under to perform and demonstrate results for P&G's communications planning business, an account that is still somewhat formative, and partly theoretical.
In fact, in recent months, Burke's main client responsibility became P&G and she was said to have been spending a disproportionate amount of her time traveling to the client's headquarters in Cincinnati for planning meetings.
While not all of Carat's clients have been informed about Burke's departure, P&G is believed to have signed off on it.