Q&A: Stengel Says Private Labels, Digital Change Game

NEW YORK Although it’s been nearly six months since he left his post, these days, Jim Stengel, the 53-year-old former global marketing officer at Procter & Gamble, is as busy as ever.
Stengel is working on a book, Packaged Good, due out next year, and is a marketing consultant to clients in the healthcare, retail and food industries. (Stengel didn’t name names, but since he signed a three-year noncompete agreement with his former employer, they don’t conflict with P&G.)
On top of that, he recently joined the advisory board of marketing analytics firm MarketShare Partners and has access to more than 350 designers at his office (within LPK) in Cincinnati. Now a free agent, Stengel was able to speak freely on P&G’s competitors, other brands he admires and the state of the industry.
Brandweek: Give us a snapshot of what a typical “Day in the Life of Jim Stengel” is like if there is such a thing?
Jim Stengel: I’m wearing jeans a lot more. I’m dressing much more casually. I’m investigating new ideas even more. I’m meeting a lot of new people. I’m spending time in a lot of diverse locations and so, I’d say, a typical day could be, get up in the morning, work out/exercise, take a few calls from home, do a video conference, work a little on the book, call a few people, work with a few of my consulting clients on e-mail and so on. It’s just much more flexible, much more of my own kind of pace and design. I think I’m as busy as I was at P&G. It’s just different things that are keeping me occupied.
Life post-P&G: Do you miss it? Are there days where you wake up thinking you could still be revolutionizing marketing at the world’s most powerful packaged-goods institution? Or, are you finding you are making an even bigger impact on your own with this think tank consultancy you’ve started?
I think I had a big impact at P&G. I was there seven years [as global marketing officer]. I did everything I wanted to do. I think I now have a big impact on my own in touching a lot of different people and companies in a different way than I could at P&G. But P&G will always be special to me. I won’t consult with companies that compete with P&G. (I won’t do that.) At this point in my life, through the book, through teaching, through networks, through consulting, I can get ideas out there in a way I couldn’t at P&G. And you know, I love the people at P&G, I love the purpose of the company, I think they continue to live that and I’m very proud of what I did for the company, but I’m really enjoying what I’m doing now. There is a time for everything.
How is Packaged Good going?
I’m really excited that work has begun on a global study that will be the foundation of the book. The study will look at brands around the world that have created tremendous financial value over a long period of time and it will look at how they do marketing differently and derive principles from that. These principles will form the backbone of a rethinking of marketing that I will bring to life in the book. We will talk to a large number of people in five countries to see if they understand what those brands are projecting, to ensure that their brand ideals and values are relevant and meaningful to consumers.
I’m also excited about how my academic work is intersecting with the book. I’m working with graduate students at UCLA to help develop a marketing plan for the book so it has maximum social impact. These students are participating in a case competition and I’m going to be at UCLA. Twenty-two teams tried out for the competition, eight were chosen. They will give me a recommendation on the positioning and marketing plan of the book. I’m part of a panel judging it, which includes [UCLA marketing professor] Sanjay Sood, Laurie Coots [CMO at TBWA\Chiat\Day] and Cassie Hughes [co-founder of Grow Marketing, a nontraditional marketing and publicity agency]. It’s great experience for the students and it will give me all these ideas. And I give the students a cash reward. (I also will take the winning team out to dinner.) It gets them involved in the ideas of the book. I like to think I’m working with a community of people. That way, I’ll get the best ideas and the maximum impact with the book. This idea of collaborating with young people, I really like.

What bugs you about the ad industry nowadays?
I find there are a lot of people out there screaming about how bad things are in marketing. A lot of people . . . are telling great stories. [But] I think what’s missing is a deep understanding of the brands that are setting the pace for growth. An understanding of the kinds of things they are doing that can help others be better marketers, insights that can help you immediately if you are leading an organization; this is really why I am [writing] a book. I want to make this learning inspirational, but also very practical, very relevant, but very up-to-date for anyone leading a commercial organization.