Mr. Van Cleave, who like General Motors Corp.'s Phil Guarascio is considered one of the most powerful media executives in the ad business, declined to comment on his departure when reached last week.
"I'm not going to confirm or deny that," he said. "We don't comment on any personnel changes before they happen."
A P&G spokeswoman also refused comment. However, associates close to Mr. Van Cleave said he will leave within the next few weeks.
Why Mr. Van Cleave is leaving isn't entirely clear. Some associates believe he may simply be electing to take advantage of P&G's lucrative early retirement package before striking out on his own consultancy venture.
But some observers say P&G's corporate media function has changed considerably in the past several years. Many of the duties traditionally performed in-house, such as network TV negotiations and program development and production, have been outsourced to D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles' TeleVest unit in New York.
Media industry executives say Mr. Van Cleave will be succeeded by Daryl Simms, a veteran P&G media executive who has been overseeing media operations in Europe.
While Mr. Van Cleave's future plans aren't clear, he's rumored to be a candidate for the vacant presidency of the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau. A CAB search committee member said Mr. Van Cleave hasn't been approached but noted, "that's the caliber of the person we are looking for."
Mr. Van Cleave, 57, began his P&G career in 1958 as a staff assistant on Dreft Liquid detergent immediately after graduating from Washington & Lee University.
He became director of media in 1984 and in 1991 was named VP-media and programming.
Though he has maintained a low profile, Mr. Van Cleave has occasionally been an outspoken advocate of P&G's media agenda.
A couple of years ago, he sent a shock wave when he announced P&G would no longer participate in the traditional network TV upfront buying season. P&G has since been an active upfront player.