P&G chief marketing officer Marc Pritchard says the company's new dedicated agency – which will break ground by bringing talent from competing holding groups together under one roof – will improve not just the company's bottom line but also its creative output.
The 'People First' agency will operate from P&G’s New York office, led by Andrea Diquez, chief executive of Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi. It will combine Publicis talent with that of WPP and Omnicom to work on P&G's North American fabric care brands including Ariel, Tide and Gain.
Speaking to The Drum in the wake of the shock announcement, Pritchard reveals how the model came to be – and how he anticipates it will function. "What we are now doing is reinventing the agency models so we can get the absolute best creativity and do it in a way that will grow our brands and the business of our agencies as well," he says. "We see this as a joint value creation opportunity."
The People First approach, as Pritchard calls it, was first piloted by P&G to create work for Super Bowl 2018. It "brought together creativity at the speed of the market," he says.
It was tried and tested during the year’s biggest ad event on one of P&G’s biggest brands in Tide. This unconventional endeavour birthed four well-received ads led by Stranger Things and Hellboy actor David Harbour. Pritchard branded the work as “brilliant” and each ad amassed an average of 1.6m views on YouTube.
The quirk was that P&G utilised talent from multiple rival agencies, and most of these contributors have made it onto the new – unlikely – team of Publicis's Saatchi & Saatchi, WPP's Grey and Omnicom's Marina Maher Communications and Hearts & Science. “Now we will have them all together at the one time, all the time,” says the man who controls the world's biggest chunk advertising spend.
In Pritchard's opinion, this small team offered up agile creative that was “not only incredibly effective in talking about how superior Tide is to rivals… but it also reflected pop culture that makes that brand much more relevant in today's world”.
Asking rival agencies to pool their forces together in service of one shared client is a call that could spark friction among the holding groups. But as the world’s largest advertiser, P&G arguably holds more leverage than most brands. Pritchard's proclamations have already been shown to have the power to encourage change at even the biggest networks – like Sir Martin Sorrell's WPP.
Pritchard dismisses the suggestions that P&G's move to cherry-pick its best supplier talent will cause any tension among agency partners or pitching agencies. He states to the contrary that partners are “excited” to feature in the new model, enticed by the possibility of delivering “faster and more agile creative”. He adds that participants will also be able to contribute work across the entire creative value chain, operating in a new framework that will be “a lot more creative and fun”.
Multiple agencies involved in the scheme, when asked about the benefits they derive from the partnership, referred The Drum to P&G for comment. Judging by this level of coordination, they are singing off the same hymn sheet so far.
P&G has recently cut the number of agencies it works with from 6,000 to 2,500 partners, and Pritchard thinks that could decrease by another 50%, which goes some way to explaining why agencies in line for the chopping block may be keen to go along with Pritchard's new models for the time being. The FMCG giant's cuts so far have "allowed us to get more efficiency in both agencies fees and productions costs to the tune of $750m over the past three years," Pritchard says. "We see another $400m going forward."
Leading up the as yet-unnamed shop will be Saatchi & Saatchi's Diquez, who Pritchard stressed will remain chief executive of her own agency while serving the same role at the new entity. This will go for the other staff, too. “They are still connected to their holding companies but they are then focused on and dedicated to our Fabric Care businesses to deliver the breakthrough creativity that we are looking for."
While it is very early days for People First, other brands and holding groups will be watching what happens at P&G with great interest. Pritchard admits that they would “possibly” want to emulate the model but adds a note of caution himself: “We are going to see how this one goes."
The other big developments at P&G include the introduction of a 'Fixed and Flow' model that puts new spend restrictions on agencies of record to leave a flexible pot for other ad hoc projects, and an acceleration of Pritchard's plan to bring more media buying, especially digital, in-house as a means of exerting greater control over brand safety.
He concludes: “This is all about taking our game to the next level and we are pretty excited about it.”