Mr. Barocci, 70, will continue with the group as an executive transition specialist through 2013 but will retire as soon as a successor is found. David Poltrack, chief research officer of CBS Corp., is chairing the search committee, with recruiting firm TransitionsGuide of Silver Spring, Md., leading the search.
Mr. Barocci took over as CEO of the ARF in September 2003 amid some controversy: He was a non-researcher brought in to head the largest research-industry association after a career as an advertising agency executive. That included 21 years at Leo Burnett Co., founding and heading his own shop -- McConnaughy Barocci Brown -- and serving as director of Central/East Europe for Young & Rubicam.
His lack of research experience didn't escape notice of some members. "Researchers don't have any difficulty adopting a superior attitude," Mr. Barocci said. "So I had to earn my stripes another way."
That he did, said Gian Fulgoni, ComScore chairman and ARF board member. "I think he rescued the ARF and rebuilt it into a very strong trade organization that 's now in a very healthy financial situation," Mr. Fulgoni said.
"He's not a researcher, but he has a deep respect for research. I think maybe one of the lessons is that even if you're running a not-for-profit, you're not running a money-losing organization, and you have to have some business acumen. And sometimes researchers can't do that ."
Mr. Fulgoni said "my own strong recommendation" is that the group again look to a non-researcher to lead it.
Mr. Barocci said he's worked to give the ARF a much sharper focus on advertisers, "because they're footing the bill for everyone, including researchers and agencies." Among other things, he's added staff with substantial marketer experience including Procter & Gamble Co. alums Ted McConnell and Don Gloeckler as exec VP-digital and exec VP-chief research officer respectively, plus a soon-to-be named Kraft veteran.
He's still not satisfied, Mr. Barocci said. "Should we have done more than we were able to do? Yes. Should we be more global in impact than we are? Yes we should. Those are things the new president-CEO is going to have to think about."
The industry is going through wrenching change brought on by big data, growth of social media and consumer resistance to ever-prevalent online surveys, particularly longer ones, which Mr. Barocci said "might not even be around in five years."
He acknowledged that researchers often resist new methods and that big industry players with decades invested in their databases and norms can have a vested interest in resisting them too. But in a digital-media landscape that changes constantly, he said relying on years-old databases and norms becomes increasingly difficult.