Media Headliner: Cranmer takes his tough approach to research

Far from throwing in the towel, Mark Cranmer is moving onward and upward with Research International.

Not so very long ago, there was something of a tradition in the advertising business that if the management offered to add either "international" or "research" to your job title, you pretty much knew the game was up.

Your desk was about to be moved, metaphorically at least, out into the corridor - a well-appointed corridor, no doubt, but a corridor nonetheless.

This, at least, is what industry wags were pointing out last week when they heard the news that Mark Cranmer, the outgoing chief executive of Starcom MediaVest EMEA, is to become the worldwide chief executive of one of WPP's research companies, Research International. Could Cranmer be so close to retirement?

Well, of course he isn't - although, at 47, he won't be making many more major career shifts. At this stage, he's unlikely to repeat the promiscuity that saw him hop from Lowe Howard-Spink (assistant managing director) to BBDO (managing director) to CDP (deputy managing director) to Bartle Bogle Hegarty (strategic development director) in the space of five hectic years in the early 90s.

In short, Research International is no interim gig taken up at the behest of desperate headhunters. Nor is it a tired second-best. And the witticisms actually miss the point by a wide margin. They assume, from the safety of the ad industry bubble, that his Starcom job was a bigger deal. It wasn't.

True, Research International is only one of 20-odd companies in WPP's Kantar group (which is headed by its chief executive, Eric Salama, to whom Cranmer will now report). However, it boasts greater revenues than Starcom EMEA, and Cranmer's new role is a global position, not merely a European one.

Research International may sound like an extremely dull generic, but it does all sorts of intricate and interesting stuff - if it blew its own horn, for instance, we'd all know it in the UK as the company that runs the Retail Price Index. It undertakes a whole range of research, from brand-centric activity that people in the advertising industry are familiar with, to more general business performance monitoring and econometric modelling. It has more than 2,500 employees spread across 50 countries.

Cranmer was in his usual ebullient mood last week as he talked about the challenges that lie ahead. At least, we assume he sounded chipper - the quality of the phone line to Argentina admittedly was not the best.

He was already indulging in a piece of ad hoc international research - out on the lash in Buenos Aires on a week-long break with three longstanding mates: Graham Duff, David Pattison and David Mansfield, some of whom haven't had a proper holiday since January.

These four Gauchos have a penchant for the sorts of exotic excursions that still serve to betray their South-East England roots. According to industry legend (and we'd hate to be seen spoiling a good story with mere facts), they followed a recent Lions tour around New Zealand in a camper van.

This time around, there's some serious football on the agenda (Racing Club and Boca Juniors matches) plus a Four Go Mad on the Pampas trip into the interior.

So, yes, Cranmer is in fine form, but he does admit that he will be intrigued to see how news of his new career direction is received in London. After all (though he's far too modest to talk about this himself), he's been an almost iconic figure in the evolution of the UK's media agency marketplace over the past two decades.

But the time had come, he says, for him to move on: "I've had 30 years in media and advertising and I suppose I wanted something more intriguing - the questions that a company such as Research International gets asked are a lot more interesting than the kinds of questions that media agencies get asked these days.

"And yet it's not that different. It's still a people business. It's still about the creation of intelligent solutions for clients from an analysis of data."

The move also lays to rest speculation that Cranmer was just plain tired.

Back in the summer, it was widely assumed that he handed in his notice at Starcom after reassessing his life priorities, not least because one of his sons was seriously ill.

It has since emerged, however, that Cranmer had resigned (though the announcement was withheld) long before his son's health problems began - and that his beef was with Starcom and Publicis Groupe, rather than with the industry as a whole.

According to sources close to Cranmer, he'd done five years of the EMEA job and had come to the conclusion that it was the media agency equivalent of painting the Forth Bridge.

One observer explains: "I think he felt he wasn't getting the right support and strategic direction from those above - he wasn't adequately empowered to make a real difference."

So, granted, this move is good news for Cranmer and Kantar - but how should the employees (presumably flowers of a more delicate disposition than you'll find in your averagely clever media agency) of Research International react? Do they know what's in store? Has anybody told them about Cranmer's notoriously robust management style?

Actually, Salama says, it will be welcomed: "The culture will value someone who is direct and prepared to cut right to it."

Salama can also reveal that this is unlikely to be a career cul-de-sac for Cranmer. He concludes: "I am not going to be in this job forever. There are a number of strong internal candidates for my role and, assuming he is as successful as I think he will be, Mark would certainly be one of them. And beyond Kantar, WPP does a good job of finding suitable career moves for talented individuals."

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