ARF Names New CEO Amid Growing Industry Conflict

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The Advertising Research Foundation has named Scott McDonald, a longtime researcher with Conde Nast and Time Inc., to fill its vacant CEO post as the industry's foremost research organization navigates growing conflicts over measurement and media deals.

Scott McDonald, CEO, Advertising Research Foundation
Scott McDonald, CEO, Advertising Research Foundation Credit: Advertising Research Foundation

Mr. McDonald joins the ARF at what he acknowledges is a contentious time. The group's parents – the Association of National Advertisers and 4A's, which came together to establish the ARF in 1936 -- have been fighting for two years now over the issue of how transparent media agencies are in handling marketers' money. And the ARF's work is at the heart of another contentious industry issue – the demand by Procter & Gamble Co. that leading digital platforms such as Google and Facebook have their audience metrics verified by third-party research firms accredited by the Media Rating Council.

"I think of the ARF as the Switzerland of the industry," or one of the few neutral places, Mr. McDonald said. Sources of information about media and marketing have become far more varied and complex in recent years, he said. "We've had a crisis of confidence because of that. It's the perfect time for research to be done to make our industry more fact based."

To that end, he's considering taking some common pieces of digital video advertising inventory and having multiple third-party vendors analyze them, then analyzing their findings. "You look at how different they may be, and how that may be interpreted," he said, comparing the effort to a similar project the ARF launched last decade to validate work of vendors in neuromarketing.

Mr. McDonald, who since 2014 has led media research consultancy Nomos Research, spent more than a decade heading research at Conde Nast, much of that time focused on digital audience metrics.

"When it came down to it, it was an easy decision," despite several "great candidates," said Jed Meyer, chair of the ARF board and exec VP-corporate research at Univision Communications, who led the search effort. "It was a unanimous selection because of his experience and work."

Gayle Fuguitt, a longtime General Mills researcher, left the ARF CEO post in October after four years, after leading completion of an extensive "How Advertising Works Today" look at how ad spending and practices deliver return on investment. In December, she became head of customer insights and innovation at Foursquare.