P&G is offsetting 2018's agency cuts by creating innovation 'startups' internally

Pritchard has been nominated as WFA's Global Marketer of the Year

Marc Pritchard, Procter & Gamble’s chief brand officer, has resolved to reinvent media and marketing for mass reach in 2019. His primary inspiration is the "hands-on-the keyboard" mentality of lean startups, and is assimilating their habits and launching his own internal set-ups for purposes of innovation.

Pritchard, who has ascended through the ranks of P&G for the best part of 40 years, said he has been taking advice from Silicon Valley's modern gurus, such as Eric Ries, in order to adopt the concept of “lean innovation”.

As a consequence, P&G now has “literally 130 startups”, according to Pritchard, who describes the operations as “teams of three or four people” who “[fall] in love with [a consumer] problem and make things happen”. He did not expand on which areas of the business these teams are based in, or what happens to them when the problem gets solved, however, he noted their brief is to form a “constant connection with consumers”.

This system runs alongside a wider assimilation of the startup mindset, whereby P&G marketers are encouraged to get their “hands on the keyboard”. Pritchard said this translates to cutting the amount of work that’s being outsourced to “suppliers or agencies” and forging a more direct relationship with consumers “to sell products again, a lot like a startup does”.

“That’s happening not only on the small businesses but also on the big businesses and that's pretty exciting,” he said.

"The people at P&G really started putting things together and making things happen [in 2018], so we have a lot more of our brands growing, a lot more creativity in a lot of different places, and people just stepped up – and I'm really proud of that."

This client-centric approach – which Pritchard describes as a “people-first model” – crept into P&G’s agency relations last year, when it memorably handpicked talent from a raft of rival holding companies to run its North American fabric business as a standalone agency.

The set-up is yet to prove its creative worth as a standalone entity (although P&G stated ‘It’s a Tide Ad’ was a testing ground for the multi-agency format in April, the campaign picked up multiple gongs at Cannes last year under the banner of Saatchi & Saatchi New York). Now, Pritchard believes the shop is “starting to create some really awesome work".

He has also continued to experiment with what he dubs the “fixed and flow” agency model. This means a P&G brand can select a “fixed” agency on retainer but “flow” other agencies in and out of the account where necessary.

“So [there could be] four or five agencies that they [brands] can use to create different types of work,” he explained... “That created a real explosion of creativity in terms of the kind of work that we're getting.”

Pritchard added in-housing efforts are still continuing, particularly in the data and media space – two areas that are by no means unrelated.

“[Analytics] gives us much more control over what our media plans look like,” he said. “So, it's a pretty big shift that's happening in the ecosystem, and we are working together with agencies to make it happen.”

For agencies, this will feel like the same story retold: P&G dealt its roster substantial cuts across last year, and if the fabric care shop verifies the success of the hybrid model – itself a cost-cutting exercise – it’s likely the conglomerate will replicate the format onto other areas of the business.

Yet for Pritchard, a streamlined roster is a smaller piece in his plot to reinvent and transform mass marketing.

"Advertising is moving into influencer [marketing] more and more than it ever has and it's moving into different kinds of content models,” he said. “[We’re] reinventing agency partnerships to where we get our hands on the keyboard, and also reinventing citizenship.

“Brands for many years have been all about ‘me’. ‘I'm a brand - let me tell you all about me.’ What we want to do is shift that to brands who are all about ‘you’, and all about the world, that are about being a force for good and a force for growth. That is exciting and that is I think the future of what we'll see in 2019.”

Marc Pritchard has been nominated for the World Federation of Advertisers' Global Marketer of the Year award. You can vote for him, and the other finalists, on the WFA website.

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