Burke, Inc.

Type: Private Company
Address: 805 Central Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio, 45202-1997, U.S.A.
Telephone: (513) 241-5663
Toll Free: (800) 806-0183
Fax: (513) 684-7500
Web: http://www.burke.com
Employees: 202
Sales: $44.1 million (2005 est.)
Founded: 1931 as Ohio Valley Market Research
NAIC: 541910 Marketing Research and Public Opinion Polling
SIC: 8732 Commercial Nonphysical Research

An employee-owned company based in Cincinnati, Ohio, Burke, Inc., is a full-service, custom marketing research company serving a wide range of industries, including agriculture, chemical, computer hardware and software, consulting, consumer foods, consumer goods and services, entertainment, insurance and financial, pharmaceutical and healthcare, and telecommunications. Among its many services, Burke helps clients to measure and manage brand equity, assess the image of a company and its brand, test the viability of proposed new products, analyze the purchase decision process, determine what customers want from particular industries, provide useful pricing strategy information, and conduct product sampling. The company also offers employee engagement and retention management services, using employee surveys, employee exit interviews, and other sources of information to recruit and retain key employees, and to improve performance. Through The Burke Institute joint venture, the company provides public and in-house training seminars to market research professionals. Burke maintains offices in about a dozen cities in the United States and also operates around the world.

Company Origins: 1931

Burke, Inc., was founded in Cincinnati in 1931 by Alberta Hauss Burke. Born in 1904 in California, Kentucky, some 20 miles southeast of Cincinnati, Burke attended the University of Cincinnati, but dropped out after a few classes. She found work in the media department at a Cincinnati advertising agency, Procter-Collier Advertising Company, which was one of the first companies to maintain its own marketing research department, where Burke learned her trade. Soon she married George Burke, an aspiring architect, and they began to raise a family.

The Great Depression of the 1930s hindered George's ability to go to school and he had to settle for a career as a draftsman. Hard times also forced Procter-Collier to close its marketing research department, and Alberta sought employment at Procter & Gamble Company, a pioneer in conducting marketing research for consumer products. Procter & Gamble was cofounded by Percy Procter, who had left to start Procter-Collier. A former colleague and close friend, Margaret Downing, who had gone to work for Procter & Gamble, recommended Alberta to the company's market research manager, Doc Smelser. Although he was interested in hiring her to supervise his interviewing staff, the conditions of the times dictated that companies not hire married women whose husbands were employed. Instead, Smelser hired her as a private contractor, calling on her to provide supplemental field staff as the need arose. Thus, in 1931, Alberta Burke, at the age of 27, launched her own business to support the market research efforts of Procter & Gamble. She called it Ohio Valley Market Research, and she recruited her women friends and trained them to be interviewers. She then billed Procter & Gamble for their time and expenses and charged a fee for managing them.

Burke made certain that her "girls" looked professional according to the standards of the day. Even during one of the early jobs, when they traveled to Hazard, Kentucky, and had to climb rope ladders to reach some mountainside homes, they wore white gloves and hats. They then chatted about the kind of flour and cornmeal the housewives preferred. Essentially, the company interviewed a sampling of housewives to gather marketing information, or performed product testing by leaving test products for a housewife to use. The researchers returned later to pose a series of questions about the product's performance.

Burke proved adept at hiring good researchers and earned a reputation for hard work, integrity, and a dedication to producing quality work. As a result, she won contracts with companies other than Procter & Gamble, and by the 1940s had enough business to bring in her husband. At a time when women executives were exceedingly rare, George Burke became the company's front man, although his wife owned a larger share of the business and in reality remained the senior partner.

Revenues approached $200,000 in 1946. A year later, the company was incorporated under the name Burke Marketing Research. Officially George Burke was the president and Alberta Burke the secretary and treasurer, but she owned 150 shares to his 100. He was no mere figurehead, however. He took charge of the important General Mills account, and he also made major improvements to the way the company conducted its business, implementing controls to keep tabs on the activities of its researchers and establishing production goals for them. Moreover, he refined the way the company tabulated the work of the researchers and how it was reported to clients.

George Burke Dies: 1951

After her husband died in 1951, Alberta Burke took a more prominent public role in running the company. Because she was also raising a niece and a nephew at the time, she was unable to devote as much attention to the business as she once had. Revenues dipped below $150,000 in 1951. Early in 1952 she was approached by Donald L. Miller, director of market research for Crosley Broadcasting, owners of WLW radio and television in Cincinnati. He expressed an interest in coming to work for Burke Marketing and perhaps buying the company from her. The two had met in 1947 when he went to work for Crosley and as a matter of course joined the local chapter of the American Marketing Association, of which George Burke was then president. Miller became his successor. He also hired Burke Marketing to do a project for Crosley and became even better acquainted with Alberta and George Burke.

Initially, Alberta responded to Miller's overture with silence, but over the course of several weeks she took steps to make sure he was a suitable partner. Miller had to pass muster with Smelser and one of Alberta's closest friends, Mildred Montani, a long-time field supervisor whose judgment on personnel matters was impeccable. Next, Alberta and Miller negotiated a buyout arrangement. While he was eager to buy the company as quickly as possible, she preferred a long, gradual transition. In the end they settled on 12 years, with Miller agreeing to pay 5 percent of the company's book value at the time of purchase (little more than $18,000), each year for nine years. In 1963 the balance was due.

Miller began work at Burke Marketing in May 1952, a few weeks before the contract was signed. It was still a very small company--although it was able to cover the United States through branch offices in Chicago, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, and Dayton--operating in a field that was still overlooked. Large advertisers assumed that their ad agencies took care of their market research needs, but the agencies were not especially approachable. "Without research," Miller once told Marketing News, "advertising agencies could claim their ads were effective and correct, and very often, research would demonstrate that this was not the case. ... The agencies did create research departments, but their function was more to justify and to support what they were already doing." At the time Miller started, Burke Marketing's home office consisted of three small rooms in a downtown Cincinnati office building. He was assigned a corner of Alberta's desk and also had use of a card table at the bottom of a stairwell. There was no place to hold meetings with the field staff. This situation would soon change when Alberta bought a nearby two-family house and rented the first floor to the company. As the business grew, Burke Marketing steadily took over more of the building, which accommodated more than 60 people before the business was relocated 15 years later.

At Burke Marketing, Miller used his radio and television background to develop day-after recall (DAR) research to determine the effectiveness of television commercials. The firm's services and roster of clients expanded further in the 1960s when market research came of age. Leading the way was Procter & Gamble, which researched every aspect of its consumer products. Because Burke Marketing worked for the company, it was able to add capabilities that could be used with other clients.

Alberta Burke retired in 1964, and Miller led the company into the new era. Under his leadership Burke Marketing became a global concern, opening offices in Mexico City, London, Paris, Milan, Frankfurt, and Tokyo. In addition, it also maintained offices in New York City and San Francisco. In 1975 Miller established The Burke Institute to train marketing research practitioners. Miller headed the firm until his retirement in 1980, the same year that Alberta Burke died.

In 1986 Burke Marketing was acquired by Selling Areas-Marketing Inc. (SAMI), Time Inc.'s market research unit, forming SAMI/Burke, which then established a joint venture with Arbitron Ratings Co. called ScanAmerica to measure television commercial viewing and household product purchases. SAMI/Burke maintained its headquarters in Cincinnati but it would not remain long within the Time family. After Time sold the half-interest in ScanAmerica to Arbitron in September 1987, it then put SAMI/Burke on the block. In January 1988 Minneapolis-based Control Data Corp., Arbitron's owner, bought the company for $80 million in a bid to remain competitive with its chief rival, Dun & Bradstreet Corp., over single-source research services, the ability to merge product-purchase and product-usage information with media, advertising, and promotion data. The old Burke Marketing Research unit was not a core component of Control Data. The SAMI business was incorporated into Arbitron, while Burke Marketing was sold for $7.3 million to its employees in 1989.

Independent once again, Burke Marketing began adding new services. In 1991 it introduced Burke Primer, to help companies optimize their prices and margins, and Burke Equity, a service to extend brand equity. Also in 1991, Burke Marketing revamped its customer satisfaction measurement service, creating a new unit called Burke Customer Satisfaction Associates (BCSA), the primary purpose of which was to help clients listen to the "voice of the customers." In that same year, BCSA established a working relationship with Infratest Burke to offer this service around the world.

Infratest Burke was founded in Germany in 1947 and became involved in radio audience measurement. Two years later it took the name Infratest, and in 1957 began conducting television audience research. In 1980 Infratest acquired Burke Marketing's European companies and took the name Infratest Burke. An affiliate arrangement was also established with Burke International Research, New York, which was half-owned by Burke Marketing and Infratest Burke to conduct business around the world.

Name Shortened: 1995

After posting revenues of $25.5 million in 1991, Burke Marketing continued to expand its service offerings and enjoyed steady growth, topping $31 million in sales in 1995. Because the firm had grown well beyond the custom marketing research business that had been at its core from the beginning, the name was shortened in 1995, becoming Burke, Inc. In addition to the Burke Marketing Research division, which conducted custom marketing research in consumer and business-to-business markets, BCSA, and Infratest Burke International Services, the company had also established a Training & Development Center, offering educational seminars on research techniques, data analysis, and other marketing research subjects.

Sales increased to $36.8 million in 1996. Infratest Burke, in the meantime, recorded revenues of $167.5 million, making it the seventh largest global research company. In 1997 Burke launched a new Boston-based subsidiary, Burke Strategic Consulting Group, to help clients improve their management practices and structures, and business processes. In order to fuel its international growth, later in the year Burke strengthened its ties to Infratest Burke even further by selling a 50 percent stake in the business to its German partner. The other half of the business remained in the hands of Burke employees, and little changed in the way the company operated, even after Infratest Burke was acquired in 1998 by NFO Research, the largest custom market research company in the United States, which was itself acquired by Interpublic Group of Companies. Also in 1998, The Burke Institute was sold to ACNielsen and renamed ACNielsen Burke Institute.

Burke experienced a dip in revenues at the start of the new century, falling to $34.3 million in 2001 as the economy soured. Business improved as the economy revived, reaching $44.1 million in 2005. In the meantime, Burke's Training & Development Center was combined with ACNielsen Burke Institute in 2002 to create a new incarnation of The Burke Institute, which would be based in Cincinnati. In 2004 long-time chief executive officer Ron Tatham retired and was replaced by Michael Baumgardner, who had been with the company since 1979. Later in the year Baumgardner engineered the repurchase of the half-interest in the company held by TNS, Inc., and once again Burke became 100 percent employee owned. An employee stock ownership plan was then implemented to broaden employee ownership throughout the ranks.

Principal Subsidiaries

The Burke Institute (50%).

Principal Competitors

ABT Associates Inc.; Maritz Research Inc.; Market Strategies, Inc.

Further Reading

"Alberta H. Burke," Investigator (Burke Marketing), November 1980.

Barnes, Peter W., and Johnnie L. Roberts, "Control Data Agrees to Buy SAMI/Burke," Wall Street Journal, October 14, 1987, p. 1.

Briones, Maricris G., "Miller: Research Was a Rather Mysterious Thing to Most ...," Marketing News, June 8, 1998, p. H6.

"How It All Began," Burke Report, January 2006.

Miller, Nick, "Burke Hopes Sale Boosts Global Work," Cincinnati Post, October 21, 1997, p. 6B.

"Top 50 U.S. Marketing/Ad/Opinion Research Firms Profiles," Marketing News, June 8, 1992, p. H10.

"Top 50 U.S. Marketing/Ad/Opinion Research Firms Profiles," Marketing News, June 9, 1997, p. H2.

— Ed Dinger


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