Ethnographer Studies Top Dogs

As a graduate student studying cultural research at Brunel University in London, Emma Gilding found post-Communist Poland one of her most fascinating case studies. The Poles, she found as she filmed them, were confounded by capitalism; many had been recently evicted and were stymied by their homelessness.

“I’d say, ‘Why don’t you pay the rent?’ and they’d say, ‘Doesn’t the government pay the rent?’ They wanted to be free, but they didn’t know how,” Gilding recalls.

Now, after more than 15 years as an ethnographer and marketing researcher, Gilding, 37, is working at Omnicom Group’s Doremus as executive director of cultural research, studying C-level executives and institutional investors. Hired to create a cultural anthropology offering for the business-to-business ad shop, she said she will interview and trail nearly 25 executive chiefs to uncover their “secret handshakes,” “old boys’ networks” and to find out what motivates them.

“Through conventional research, you’re able to find out what people say they do, but through Emma’s cultural anthropology, you’re able to find out what they really do,” said Carl Anderson, president and CEO of Doremus. With clients that sell complex technologies and industrial products to decision makers, Anderson said the research will help the agency create more dynamic work.

Prior to joining Doremus, Gilding was senior partner, executive director worldwide of Ogilvy & Mather’s Discovery Group, managing a department of five, as well as a freelance staff of about 40. During her six years on the job, she worked with agency clients such as IBM, the American Red Cross and GlaxoSmithKline. She helmed her own ethnographic research company, BCR, from 1994 to 1999.

She began at Doremus two weeks ago, said Anderson. Her time will be split between Doremus’ clients and Omnicom’s diversified agencies, for which she will be managing director of a new cultural research group, he said.