Gilbert Gross, founder of Carat and godfather of media buying, dies at 87

Colourful figure was also poker champion and helicopter pilot.

Gilbert Gross, founder of Carat and godfather of media buying, dies at 87

Gilbert Gross, the French founder of Carat and one of the godfathers of media buying, has died at the age of 87.

Gross, a colourful figure who was also a world poker champion, a helicopter pilot and investor, set up the advertising agency group that would become Carat in 1969.

Aided by his brother Francis, Gross had advertising in his blood because they were cousins of the most powerful man in French advertising, Publicis Groupe founder Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet.

Gross and his brother expanded their business in the 1970s and 1980s by focusing on buying scale to leverage better prices for clients – a disruptive strategy at a time when ad agencies managed creative and media services together.

"They operated the original, undisclosed model [in terms of buying ad space and then reselling it at a profit]," one industry figure recalls. "But what the Gross brothers did that was super-smart was they shared the booty with the clients.

"The clients knew what a good price was. The Gross brothers gave them a better price and pocketed the difference – and the difference was substantial."

Carat expanded in other high-value services such as research and planning, and went on to become an international network operating in 140 countries.

Gross is widely credited as being the pioneer of media buying, paving the way for other media agencies such as The Media Business (which became part of MediaCom), CIA (which later became MEC) and Zenith, which was spun out of Saatchi & Saatchi, in the 1970s and 1980s.

Britain's WCRS bought a 50% stake in Carat’s holding company in 1988 – the same year that Gross became the first Frenchman to be named world poker champion in Las Vegas.

Carat later expanded its reach, buying into HMS in Germany and TMD in the UK, but it came under pressure in France in 1993 when a tough new law, Loi Sapin, outlawed media broking – effectively halting the practice of being both a buyer and seller that could arbitrage advertising space.

Gross and his fellow French shareholders ceded control of Carat to their UK partner, which rebranded as Aegis. Dentsu went on to buy Aegis in 2012 and Carat remains the biggest media agency in Dentsu Aegis Network.

Christine Removille, global president of Carat, said: "Gilbert’s passion and belief in the power of media led to a revolution in our industry – first in France and then around the globe.

"There are over 10,000 people in the Carat family that owe him a great debt and his legacy is a huge source of inspiration as we look towards the continued transformation of media and our business."

Gross, who was an Officer of the Légion d’Honneur, one of the highest awards in French society, died on 27 March.

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