Media Headliner: Ambitious De Groose has 'new vision' for Carat

Tracy De Groose is planning a top-secret positioning for Carat, the agency's new managing director tells Katherine Levy.

Tracy De Groose, just five hours into her new role as the managing director of Carat when Campaign meets her, is not responsible for the dartboard in the agency's Parker Tower HQ. The room in which it hangs is usually inhabited by Rob Horler, the man she is replacing. "We're getting mine together down the hall," De Groose explains.

Even though her office isn't yet ready, it's apparent that De Groose is fired up for the task at hand. She comes across as professional with a composed energy and is clearly no wallflower when it comes to negotiating a career move. With reference to her appointment by the Aegis Media chief executive, Nigel Sharrocks, De Groose says frankly: "He knew my ambition."

De Groose, who has also worked under her maiden name "Darwen", has quietly ascended to the top UK job at Carat after a year working below the radar as a consultant. Talking to former colleagues, it soon becomes apparent that she commands respect.

"Tracy is imaginative - a real talent," Pete Edwards, a director at Starcom Motive during De Groose's time there, enthuses. "She has a staggering breadth of experience," Jim Marshall, the former executive director of Starcom MediaVest Group, who is now the chief client officer at Aegis Media, says. "She's collaborative and extremely determined," Philip Almond, the former UK marketing director of Diageo, adds.

Launching her career client-side at the brewer Whitbread in 1991, De Groose was the brand director for Stella Artois and worked with its media agency Motive, to which she moved seven years later. There, she worked as the communications director, continuing on the Whitbread account and also on brands such as Levi's and Diageo's Johnnie Walker, which she ran globally.

But this did not satisfy De Groose's wider ambitions. "I still felt there was more I could do in the industry," she admits. She approached the founders of Naked Communications, which led to her joining in "no specific role - I just came in as a senior female".

Within months of joining in 2002, De Groose was made the managing director of Naked UK, a job she held for four years before becoming a managing partner and working on Naked's global positioning. By the time she left Naked in 2008, De Groose had had two children and opted for consultancy work. Her first project was with the Portman Group promoting responsible drinking. The second was leading the COI pitch for Carat, which she was recruited for on a project basis and which led to more work on Carat's recent pitches for brands such as O2.

De Groose's appointment is part of a domino effect at Aegis in the UK. After just 15 months as Carat's managing director, Horler, who previously led Diffiniti (now iProspect), has been promoted to chief operating officer of Aegis Media UK. This followed Sharrocks' promotion, in May, to the job of running Aegis Media across Western Europe. "Rob's coming in to lighten the load off me," Sharrocks explains. "The role of Aegis in all of this is to help fulfil the ambitions that all its brands have."

Horler will still be involved with steering Carat but De Groose says: "He's definitely made it clear that 'it's over to you'." Aegis sources suggest that Horler will prove effective working on the operational, structural side of things and will make a good foil to the genial Sharrocks. One source says: "Tracy might be the better person to be more hands-on with media owners and people in the agency while Rob wanted a bigger job and Nigel needs somebody to help him."

De Groose is Carat's first female boss in the UK after a long line of men (including Ray Kelly, Mark Craze and Neil Jones) and the agency has consistently been seen as one of the more testosterone-driven in London. So does she have any qualms about this? "No," she laughs. "I've worked in the booze industry for 20 years."

But will her experience of running a boutique, strategic agency count in an agency with such an aggressive trading reputation? "Naked is just one part of my history. Carat has a great trading reputation but it's also got strong planning credentials which are not always recognised externally."

De Groose will certainly have a challenge on her hands and she is clear about the biggest task facing the agency. "How to sell ourselves better to new clients," she says. It has found large UK new-business wins hard to come by of late and she knows the pressure will be on to change this.

It is plain that De Groose will attempt to push Sharrocks' desire to introduce a more sophisticated, bespoke approach with clients. De Groose talks a lot about "value for clients", which is not just "good price". Sharrocks agrees: "In the world we're in now, clients need all sorts of different services."

And what of Carat's future? An impending relocation of Carat HQ to Regent's Place, alongside other Aegis Media UK companies, is symbolic. De Groose says there will be no private offices for the bosses who will sit among their teams in open-plan formation, something she champions from her leftfield Naked days as it ignites "collaboration".

Carat has also been working on a top-secret positioning, which will be unveiled by the end of the year and which De Groose describes as her "biggest excitement". She adds: "Creating a new vision is something I've done before and I think I'm good at it."

Age: 42
Lives: Herne Hill, South London
Family: Andy, Silas (four) and Dylan (two)
Can't live without: My family
Always in the fridge: Mr Bump ice pack
Favourite media: Sky+
Interests outside work: Sleep
Motto: Do unto others ...