P&G Squeezes Marketing Harder As Currency Woes Mount

World's Biggest Spender Cuts Agency Costs, Hikes Digital To Save Money

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Procter & Gamble expects to cut marketing spending this year as it uses savings to offset effects of foreign currency devaluations on its bottom line, Chief Financial Officer Jon Moeller said on the company's earnings conference call today.

Jon Moeller
Jon Moeller

Savings are coming from efficiency gains both inside the company and outside, such as increased use of digital media and less spending on agency fees, Mr. Moeller said, returning to themes he's discussed repeatedly in recent years. But today's spending forecast marks a shift from his prior projections of P&G increasing marketing spending slower than sales to now cutting it in absolute terms.

What's different now? Major currency devaluations in Venezuela, Russia, Ukraine, Japan and Turkey are weighing on the company's sales and earnings, which were flat at $20.6 billion and up 2% to $2.6 billion respectively for the fiscal third quarter ended March 31. Excluding currency effects, P&G's organic sales were up 3% and core earnings per share were up 17% to $1.04, which beat consensus estimates by 2 cents.

That beat, however, came thanks to a reduction in P&G's sales, administrative and general expenses to 31.6% of sales from 33.3% a year ago, driven largely by the more efficient marketing spending, Mr. Moeller said. P&G, the biggest ad spender in the U.S. and globally, won't disclose the precise advertising or marketing share of those costs until it reports fiscal year-end earnings in August.

"We continue to drive marketing effectiveness and productivity through an optimized media mix with more digital, mobile, search and social presence, improved message clarity and greater non-advertising marketing efficiency. We expect marketing spending to come in below prior-year levels due to productivity movements in marketing and advertising costs," Mr. Moeller said.

"You may ask yourself where have all the savings gone? This year a disproportionate number have gone to offset [currency effects]" he added.

P&G competitors so far haven't talked about cutting marketing to compensate for currency impacts, but Mr. Moeller said P&G has leading positions in some of the most affected countries, such as Russia and Turkey. P&G is also having to offset wage inflation in developing markets, he said, but has yet to fully implement price increases to compensate.

A significant portion of those marketing efficiencies were in so-called "non-working dollars" last quarter, he said, which is an industry term for agency creative, research and other non-paid-media costs. Mr. Moeller described them as "tighter operations, if you will, in the design and creation of marketing programs."

P&G hasn't seen a reduction in the number of consumers it's reaching or the "quality of the interaction," which is growing, he said. "We're at a point where simply looking at dollars is not representative of the strength of a marketing program and a rapidly changing marketing landscape."

P&G's streamlined global business units and merged its four marketing functions – design, research, communications/public relations and marketing -- into one brand-building group, which is also saving money, he said. So is removal of overlapping duties among those groups and P&G's newly reconfigured sales and marketing organizations. He said those changes are just now taking hold and will lead to further headcount reductions in the next fiscal year.

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