Q&A: P&G’s Stengel

CHICAGO Procter & Gamble last week consolidated marketing on its Oral-B product line with units of French holding company Publicis Groupe. Jim Stengel, P&G’s global CMO, sat down with Adweek senior reporter Aaron Baar to discuss that development and other issues facing the giant packaged-goods company.

Q: How do you envision this working?
A: We’re really, really excited about it. We very much see it as one team working with a leader on our side. There will be a leader of the team on the Publicis side, so you have a senior person for both the holding company and P&G paired up on this. We see the team working without boundaries, without seams and very fluidly. We see them as working off one set of priorities. We see them as equal partners. It’s a far better way to work. What we have seen in the process to date [is that the] the chemistry on the team is electric. We’re very, very hopeful on this for Oral-B, and frankly for other brands for P&G in the future.

Were the agencies on your brands not providing these services before?
We’ve seen agencies have great chemistry and do great work. But it’s a little bit more up to the individuals right now and the leadership both on the P&G side and at the agencies. What we’re trying to do through this approach is structure it in a way that is sustainable, more systemic and more reflective of the way we work. The way most companies work now is that on the client side, we’ve become the integrators with multiple relationships and multiple agencies, multiple planners, multiple account teams, and we think it’s just too heavy and too slow for our needs today.

So this does indicate how you want to operate in the future?
Well, it’s a test. It’s a pilot. We stepped into this with the Wieden + Kennedy relationship. This is a broader one because there are more disciplines represented here, and we’re very excited by what we’ve seen so far. But it’s in the early days. We think it makes sense that this is a better way to work, it’s a simpler way to work, it’s a more effective way to work. But we’re going to learn our way through it. There are a lot of questions we still have that aren’t answered yet. We’re going to run water through the pipes on this one. But we expect the best and we will get it. But we wouldn’t roll this out to another 40 or 50 brands until we’ve learned a little bit more.

How did the Wieden + Kennedy relationship precede this arrangement?
We gave them advertising and communication planning responsibilities on Old Spice. That was putting two disciplines together. This just puts a lot more; this puts five or six together. That was already progress, believe me. This is a lot more. Wieden + Kennedy, we put our toe in. This is just deeper and broader.

Wieden + Kennedy is an independent company and doesn’t have the resources of a global holding company. Are they at some disadvantage if this model takes hold?
I don’t think that at all. This is more convenient when you have it within a holding company. But we [believe that] in the future it [will be] about getting the best team for each of our businesses, no matter where they come from. We’re blessed with holding companies that are deep and broad and have a lot of resources. But we could very much see that someone at Wieden could become the team leader and we could have four or five other agencies that are on that team. Wieden would be the leader, they would be paired up with someone on our side and everyone would be compensated against the same principles, working against the same goals and priorities and very streamlined.

But it’s easier with a holding company?
I think theoretically it is. But I think we can make it work either way. We have teams right now that have agencies from multiple holding companies that work really, really well. It certainly can be done. We want the best talent on our business, no matter where they come from.

Why this approach on this particular brand?
Well, we could have done this on a lot of different pieces of business. This was one where the management was very interested in trying a different approach, I was very interested in trying a different approach. It’s a big enough brand for us. It’s a global brand that’s in developing and developed markets. It fit the criteria for a test and a pilot, not the least of which was a management team that’s ready to do something different.

What other advantages are there?
It’s the kind of brand that represents a lot of our different businesses. If this works well, we’ll get some scale pretty quickly, we’ll get some results pretty quickly. It’s a good test or pilot for a lot of businesses because it’s a billion dollar brand, it’s global, we have multiple partners working on it. So it has a lot of characteristics and attributes of a lot of our brands.

Where does this leave BBDO—has its standing changed?
No, they’re in great standing. They’re a great agency. They were part of the presentation. They did a great job. We had two holding companies that gave us great ideas. It was a very tough call. They’re doing great work for us on Braun, on blades and razors, on Venus. The holding company itself has a lot of business in different areas. They’re in very good standing for us, and I hope and expect them to be a long-term partner.

What is the one thing that your agencies could be doing better?
Even before this pitch, I would say the one thing we want them to do is make a difference in consumers’ lives. It’s a little bit of a platitude, but we do mean that. And we think the way we have structured this Oral-B thing will make it easier to do that. Because it puts everyone at the table at the same time, working together on the biggest and best ideas for the business. That doesn’t always happen.

But what could they be doing better in making a difference in consumers’ lives?
They can be collaborating and integrating their ideas and thoughts and working seamlessly and collaboratively against one purpose and one mission for the business. The way we set this up will enable that to happen in a way that will be more effective, simple and faster than we do it today.

Is there a bigger rationale for moving Oral-B into the same holding company that works for Crest?
We like that, but it wasn’t one of the top criteria for this. We could have worked this either way. If Omnicom had won this, we would have made that work as well. Having Crest and Oral-B within the Publicis Groupe, we do hope the communication and synergy will be better.