Rockin' and rolling in it: marketing-mix masters

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After long laboring in one of the more obscure recesses of market research, practitioners of marketing-mix analytics, elevated by marketers' growing obsession with return on investment, are emerging as the new heavily recruited rock stars of marketing services.

Geeky, Mensa-eligible rock stars, perhaps. But rock stars nonetheless, with some reports emerging of bidding wars and job hopping vaguely reminiscent of the dot-com boom.

Take Neil Canter, a leading marketing-mix expert. After being recruited from Information Resources Inc. in early 2004 to bolster the fledgling marketing-mix practice of Accenture, he was recruited away again this summer to Interpublic Group of Cos., starting its Marketing Accountability Partnership.

"We're definitely seeing an increase in interest [and salaries]," Mr. Canter said of his field. "In the early 1990s we were running around trying to explain to people what the concept of marketing mix was. Now, there are a lot more industries doing the work. ... It's no longer the luxury it used to be but an essential part of the planning process."

Marketing-mix analytics, which involves using econometric models to determine the sales impact of media and marketing programs, has been around for two decades. But it was largely confined to pharmaceutical and package-goods marketers, and even then not used routinely to monitor ROI for individual brands.

Kraft Foods was the first package-goods company to roll out use of marketing-mix modeling broadly in the 1990s. Procter & Gamble Co. has significantly stepped up use of marketing mix, too, in recent years, making its use commonplace for brands in the U.S. and expanding marketing-mix analytics overseas as well.

More providers are emerging to compete for the business, too. Such boutique shops as Aegis' MMA and Hudson River Group, along with major syndicated research firms such as VNU's ACNielsen and IRI remain the mainstays. But in recent years, major management consulting firms, such as Accenture, Bain and McKinsey & Co., have stepped up their interest or hiring in the area.

So have agency holding companies and media shops, said Mike Hess, director of global research and communication insights at Omnicom Group's OMD Worldwide.

`Flavor of the month'

"It's the flavor of the month," said one package-goods industry analyst, who noted that two top marketing-mix experts and three or four junior analysts from IRI have been recruited away in just the past year. Rival ACNielsen also recently lost a 20-year marketing-mix veteran to SAB Miller, said Linda Burtch, general manager of the Midwest practice of recruiting firm Smith Hanley Associates, who sees hiring by marketers for in-house analysts also fueling demand. "You're starting to hear about bidding wars," said Gregg Ambach, VP-analytic services of ImmediateFx, a boutique marketing-mix shop. Ms. Burtch hasn't yet, but notes that McKinsey recently entered the market for marketing-mix talent. "Now that's a company that will bid salaries up," she said.

The trouble is it's a highly specialized field requiring at least a master's degree in statistics or a related field, along with experience with marketing, media and retail measurement data and a knack for communicating findings of an abstruse science to uninitiated marketers.

Ms. Burtch estimates the U.S. has only about 400 marketing-mix specialists, "far more at the junior end than the senior." Searches are taking as long as nine months, she said, adding that more marketers are relying on contractors or sponsoring visas for analysts from overseas to fill the gap.

"The real scarcity of talent," Mr. Canter said, "is finding the people who understand the technical part well enough to manage technical people and the business part well enough to write credible presentations."

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