Editors' Choice 2010: P&G

With a new CEO and global head of external relations, along with a renewed commitment to integrated marketing and digital, P&G's influence on the industry will grow in 2010.

With a new CEO and global head of external relations, along with a renewed commitment to integrated marketing and digital, P&G's influence on the industry will grow in 2010.

Leading the pack
The past year and a half has seen change across a number of major corporations. Procter & Gamble, the world's largest consumer goods company, has been no different. In June, company CEO A.G. Lafley transitioned into the chairman role, one he later announced he would leave in February. He was replaced by COO Bob McDonald, who will serve as chairman and CEO. Later that month, Christopher Hassall was named global external relations officer following the retirement of Charlotte Otto, a P&G veteran who had held that position since 2000.

Despite these changes and the economic despair that accompanied 2009, the company has maintained a steadfast approach to its marketing and external relations, instilling plans for a greater integration across disciplines, an increased focus on digital, and continued opportunity for its PR agency partners. These factors all contribute to the decision to name P&G as PRWeek's Editors' Choice for 2010.

For P&G's external relations (ER) team, 2010 is an important year. A decade ago, the company created the ER function, combining corporate communications, government relations, regulatory and technical communications, brand PR, and consumer relations. Hassall was part of the original team that launched the function. A decade later, as a 26-year veteran of P&G, he was a likely choice to step into the global ER officer role. In fact, he was heavily involved in the communications surrounding the transition from Lafley to McDonald, something he says was representative of P&G's overall communications approach, which he calls “strategic, very integrated, and very deliberate.”

P&G has a companywide communications team, of which even McDonald is a member, as well as other executives and other function heads from across the company. The team meets regularly to discuss major communications across the company.

Eye on integration
Hassall's role within P&G is unique and it's indicative of the continued importance P&G places on communications. Although he reports directly to McDonald in his global ER officer capacity, it is his role with the Brand Building Organization (BBO), formed in June 2009 and led by global brand building officer Marc Pritchard, that speaks to the company's commitment to both integration and investment in its brands. BBO brings together design, consumer market knowledge, brand PR, and marketing to help improve integration.

“The reason that we are more closely connecting these four different functions is to enable us to be more effective at building our brands,” explains Hassall.

“We're taking an even more holistic view at how we engage our consumers.”

Across the BBO, the company uses share, household penetration, trial, value, equity, and dollars spent per capita as metrics. By using its proprietary measurement system, it is able to evaluate brand PR's contribution.

“We typically find that brand PR is the top or among the top ways that we can effectively connect with consumers,” he says. “We've continued to invest more in that.”

This concept of integration also applies to the company's philosophy for managing agencies. Introduced nearly three years ago, its Brand Agency Leader (BAL) approach assigns a specific executive and agency to be in charge of a brand's entire marketing plan across all disciplines. By the end of the fiscal year in June 2010, the company expects 70% of its sales to be under BAL. Some of the brands currently operating under BAL are the oral-care category, Gillette, Swiffer, and Pringles.

“We've found it's very helpful,” says Hassall. “We're able to provide a much more coordinated approach across all the different capabilities we're bringing to bear in our brand building and communications with consumers.”

Though currently none of the BALs are PR agencies, Hassall sees opportunity in the future as the company fine-tunes the approach.

“As we build capability and understanding of how to most effectively coordinate across these various touchpoints, certainly there's every reason that an agency which is focused on PR could take on a BAL position,” he says. “I look forward to the day when that will happen, because I think it will.”

For Hassall, the two key things an agency should bring to the table are “the big ideas” and “generating advocacy.”

Looking ahead
Hassall believes the ER function built over the past decade has provided a solid foundation.

“The thing I look at now as we head into the next decade is preserving the strength and the core of what's working,” he adds. “There has been real value in connecting across those different disciplines.”

But given the opportunity his new role affords him, Hassall wants to take things further. The company is now twice the size it was when the ER function was created, he notes. One of the areas that he's especially concerned about addressing is digital.

In 2009, the company unveiled a number of innovative digital campaigns, from an online “soap opera” to support its Cheer brand to a Web series for expectant and new parents for Pampers. Hassall has made it his mission – both professionally and personally – to increase the ER function's knowledge of digital. It is called out specifically in the 2010 global plan for ER; engaging influencers within the digital space is identified as a core skill for all those in the ER function in 2010. In addition, within the BBO, Hassall is the sponsor of the “Win in Digital” initiative that is one of group's four priority areas (“Win with Big Ideas,” “Win with Optimized Portfolios,” and “Win from the Store Back” are the others).

Hassall has taken this on personally, as well. He has tried to immerse himself in digital and calls his Flip camcorder his “new technology best friend.” He's posted videos to the company's internal blog and considers video communications something the company should be using more of – both internally and externally.

“I look to focus on continuing and building on the foundation,” Hassall says, “but looking for ways we can adapt to the world that is rapidly changing around us.”

Indeed, it is P&G's constant evolution that makes it a leader – for 2010 and beyond.

Runner-up: GM

In the midst of an unprecedented crisis, the automaker has continued to communicate thoroughly and successfully.

Although a number of corporate communications staffs' abilities and perseverance were tested during the economic crises of the past year, not many handled as formidable a task as General Motors' PR team. In the past year, GM has ejected two CEOs, attempted to shed four brands, and entered and re-emerged from bankruptcy protection. It received more than $50 billion in federal aid, giving the government a 61% stake in the company, in order to keep the automaker alive. In December 2008, PRWeek labeled GM a “brand that hit the skids” in the Book of Lists.

Some companies might have put their heads in the sand and clammed up in face of such scrutiny – and indeed many of the financial services firms facing similar issues did just that. GM did not. It put its CEOs everywhere – from CNBC to Twitter chats – to reach a broad audience, including investors, regulators, dealerships, and customers. Instead of simply playing defense, GM went on the offense, with communications serving a core function to make sure that story was told widely and accurately. The coordination of a global bankruptcy story – the second largest industrial bankruptcy in history, according to The Wall Street Journal – would have been enough of a job. The team needed to educate reporters on the restructuring and that it did not mean the company was going out of business. It also had to explain to staff, dealers, and other stakeholders what it all meant. If you look at the June headlines, you'll see that the story quickly went from a sob story to a turnaround.

But as soon as the company's bankruptcy restructuring story was out there, it turned around and began a “GMReinvention” campaign. It included a microsite to showcase the “new” GM, and served as a thought- leadership platform for its executives. Before he was ousted, CEO Fritz Henderson hosted an “Ask Fritz” message board within the site. This was a multidisciplinary initiative, and communications played a huge role in ensuring that media was hearing about it and believing it.

After being criticized for not listening and acting on consumers' evolving tastes fast enough (such as the desire for more fuel-efficient autos), the manufacturer launched The Lab, a place for consumers to provide feedback on vehicle designs. It was spawned by interns in its social media division, which bodes well for new talent at the “new” GM. The automaker also revamped its media site, and is transforming it into a place to produce real editorial content that media and consumers can access. Throughout the process, GM used the power of social media to further its communications, from Twitter to its stable of blogs.

Story still to be told
Going forward, GM still has a huge corporate story to tell, from management changes to paying back its government loan to an impending IPO. It will also focus on internal culture and getting back to being a desirable place to work. Though the complete communications style of GM chairman and acting CEO Ed Whitacre are not yet known, he has shown an understanding of the PR function and a personal willingness to go out and meet both the media and employees. For example, he hosted a Web chat the day after additional management shake-ups in December, allowing reporters to ask direct questions. He also righted the reporting order of the communications function, so that GM's VP of corporate communications, Chris Preuss, reports directly to him. (This traditional reporting structure at GM had been on brief hiatus during the transition where communications was reporting to then-CMO Bob Lutz.)

If you listen to GM executives and communications pros, there is a clear message: Give us a second look. The company is expecting that this message, along with a streamlined and more focused product line, will bring customers and trust back. While other carmakers, like Ford, might have received better headlines in the past year, none have managed to garner so many good ones on such bad news. GM's communications team deserves a heap of credit for that.

Last year's picks:

Ogilvy PR Worldwide
Reason: Global presence, digital expertise, and government contracts would help it sustain momentum during 2009.

What happened: Won several government accounts worth millions; digital practice remains strong; shepherds in new CEO

Reason: Long-term clients and recent acquisitions would help it weather another tough year for the industry.

What happened: Has still maintained long-term clients; announced a merger with Pleon over the summer, bolstering its European offering

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