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TGI's Barbara Cooke retires

Doyenne of South Africa's market research industry, Barbara Cooke, will retire at the end of May 2009 after working 51 years in the research, advertising and media industries.

The highlight of which, she says, was the launch, with Tim Bester, of Target Group Index (TGI) in South Africa in 2002.

"It has been a fun ride and I have enjoyed every minute from the early days at Lever Brothers, the excitement of the liquor business at SFW, learning about the ad business at JWT and Lindsay Smithers, seeing the media side at Nasionale Pers and then, finally, discovering that running one's own business is the most challenging job of them all.

"Passing the TGI baton to Ask Afrika leaves both Tim and I with a good feeling - TGI is in safe hands and will prosper with the resources that will now be available to grow the business. I have been asked to continue to be available for TGI training sessions and workshops, and this I am happy to do."

Bubbling enthusiasm

To say that Cooke is enthusiastic about what she does is putting it mildly. Get her on to any one of her favourite subjects - media research, magazines, the role of language in advertising, freedom of commercial speech, golf handicaps - and she gets on to a high that we mortals could only possibly reach with the help of half of Colombia's cocaine production.

Her enthusiasm hasn't gone unrewarded. In 1994 she became the first woman in the 38-year history of the Association of Marketers' Protea Award to have this honour bestowed on her.

Now, in spite of the fact that it couldn't have been easy for a woman to make it in South Africa male dominated media and marketing industries in the late 1950s, '60s and '70s, Cooke has not become a rampant feminist. On the contrary, she comes across as a person and treats everyone she knows as people. Gender doesn't mean much to this pragmatic person except when it comes to the nitty gritty of media research and magazine readership.

Convent girl

She's come a long way since passing matric at the Holy Rosary Convent in Dundee and getting her BCom at Natal University. But it hasn't all been roses for her.

After 20 years at Unilever and a couple of years at Stellenbosch Famers Winery, she decided to get into advertising and joined J Walter Thompson. That lasted three or fours years and then, in the illustrious company of people such as the doyen of South African media Dick Reed, she was fired.

Of course, now she thinks it's a hoot and suggests that anyone who wants to get anywhere in the world has got to be fired at least once. And if you can do it in the company of others who all end up becoming famous and successful, then all the better.

Ad Alma Mater

Lindsay Smithers, now FCB, that great alma mater to just about everyone who has ever made it in advertising in this country, was quick to grab Cooke but it couldn't hold on to her for more than a couple of years before Nasionale's magazine division grabbed her, tied her leg to her desk and only grudgingly let her go yesterday.

I haven't seen much of Cooke over the past few years. But, when I did, it was more often than not on the golf course, where she took great delight in humiliating people like me and former TML boss Roy Paulsen.

She is a woman of refreshing honesty and wall to wall integrity. Except on the golf course, where she has the audacity to insist with a complete straight face that she is a 17 handicapper.

About Chris Moerdyk

Apart from being a corporate marketing analyst, advisor and media commentator, Chris Moerdyk is a former chairman of Bizcommunity. He was head of strategic planning and public affairs for BMW South Africa and spent 16 years in the creative and client service departments of ad agencies, ending up as resident director of Lindsay Smithers-FCB in KwaZulu-Natal. Email Chris on moc.liamg@ckydreom and follow him on Twitter at @chrismoerdyk.

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