Media Client of the Year: Procter & Gamble

Like their media agency counter-parts, several marketers legitimately could have qualified for Media's 2005 Media Client of the Year. Some, like fast food giant Burger King, were brazenly daring. Others, like retailer Target or athletic apparel marketer Adidas, were incredibly creative and innovative in their use of media, developing new formats that got our attention and inspired rivals to follow suit.

But after we applied our main criteria -- strategy, innovation, and perhaps most important, industry leadership -- the selection became pretty obvious to us and our panel of advisors. Our biggest dilemma was deciding why we should select Procter & Gamble specifically for 2005, the first year we are bestowing a Client of the Year award. P&G is a perennial industry leader, one that some have dubbed the "alpha" marketer because it tends to lead the pack. Another challenge was that many of the leadership initiatives P&G undertook last year actually began in 2004, when it unveiled multiple efforts that not only signified changes in the way marketers use media, but actually reengineered the practice of media planning and buying. But not all of the initiatives were wholly new.

P&G's marketing team has always been a good study, and it isn't embarrassed to embrace new thinking, even when someone else thinks of it first. That was apparent during the Association of National Advertisers' Marketing Accountability Forum in New York earlier this year, where a P&G executive demonstrated how the packaged goods marketer is applying a Six Sigma approach to marketing and media planning. Six Sigma, of course, is the business management system popularized by General Electric Co. (which ironically made its own case for abandoning Six Sigma at the very same ANA forum). Clearly, P&G isn't afraid to learn. It has no issues with the "not invented here" syndrome, and it's also capable, as the GE example illustrates, of going its own way when it believes it's on the right path.

But it was the quadruple play P&G initiated in 2004, which began to manifest in 2005, that solidified the consumer packaged goods giant as our Media Client of the Year. 1) It shifted to communications planning from media planning, 2) it pushed to develop a broadband video upfront marketplace, 3) it supported Arbitron and VNU's ambitious Project Apollo initiative, and 4) It maintained a consistent focus on media creativity.

The shift toward communications planning was as much an industry effort as it was an internal initiative. It's not that P&G was the first to embrace the concept of a consumer-centric approach to media. It was not. But it did it in such a high-profile fashion that it has galvanized the entire marketing world around the new philosophy.

The effort began with Global Marketing Officer Jim Stengel's now famous rallying cry at the American Association of Advertising Agency's media conference, and was almost immediately backed by an agency review that ultimately consolidated communications planning at two strategic media shops: Publicis' Starcom MediaVest Group (our Media Agency of the Year for three years running), and Aegis Group's Carat (a strong Media Agency of the Year contender for each of the past two years).

While P&G made communications planning news in 2004, it wasn't until 2005 that the effort began to play out. And while P&G hasn't made a lot of noise about changes in its media strategy, it has become public knowledge through the industry grapevine and through submissions and awards such as the American Marketing Association's annual EFFIE competitions.

The shift in strategy is evident from three major campaigns launched in 2005: an expansion of P&G's marketing initiative for feminine products like Always and Tampax; the launch of Pampers' "Feel and Learn" campaign; and the launch of "Tide To Go," a pen-like product that allows consumers to treat stains on the go with Tide detergent.

Each of these programs employed new approaches to communications planning -- Web marketing, public relations, and word-of-mouth -- which would have been seen as heresy by P&G's media planning standards just two years ago.

"It's a very interesting story, in that the consumer understanding is very deep, very upstream from a communications planning point of view," says one agency insider familiar with P&G's strategy. "The number of communications points has been expanded, and the mix has changed dramatically. The message and the medium -- the contact and the content -- are much more fused now than they've ever been before."

To outsiders, these may seem like baby steps, but for a marketer of P&G's size, they are huge strides. Or as one observer puts it: "They're starting to turn the Titanic. They haven't turned the corner, but they're beginning to come around."

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