Digerati Converge on Cincinnati for Private P&G Conference

Signal Event, Now in Fifth Year, Draws Facebook Google, Alibaba, Twitter and More

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The biggest digital-marketing event you probably never heard of and can't attend is under way Wednesday, as Procter & Gamble Co. holds the annual Signal conference at its Cincinnati headquarters with top executives from Facebook, Google, Alibaba, Twitter, NBC Universal and BuzzFeed, along with top marketers from Under Armour, Lego and Verizon.

Now in its fifth year, Signal has morphed from a one-day conference for P&G marketers to a multiday event for everyone in the company who's interested, which includes senior management. Chairman-CEO David Taylor will speak at and attend Wednesday's full-day session. A series of breakout sessions and workshops on digital media and marketing came on Tuesday in the basement conference rooms beneath the auditorium at P&G's twin towers where the main event will be held.

Signal is expected to draw 600 P&G employees to the auditorium and surrounding conference room, with another 2,500 watching remotely. It's not open to the media or general public, but is to P&G partners, including agencies and local tech startups. And P&G expects to post some video excerpts of the conference this year, and others involved to post to social media using the #SignalPG hashtag.

The event has grown from a series of presentations by digital media executives to help train P&Gers on all things digital into something of a business-building event too, said Chairman-CEO Marc Pritchard, who said deals with such players as Snapchat and Buzzfeed grew out of last year's event.

Executives from P&G operations around the world come in for the event. And one reason Alibaba is on the agenda this year is to help add more of a global flavor, and in recognition of the growing importance of e-commerce, particularly in China. "The China market is just so advanced, and Alibaba is so pervasive," Mr. Pritchard said, adding that Alibaba is "really disrupting media, logistics, commerce and payments."

P&G's e-commerce business has tripled in the five years since Signal began in 2012, with a representative from Amazon among other companies. And Mr. Pritchard believes the event has helped fuel at least some of that growth.

The high-profile lineup is lured by P&G executives and conference organizer and moderator John Battelle, who began putting the event together while at Federated Media and continues to do so as CEO of NewCo, which holds local conferences showcasing startups and other emerging businesses around the country. The P&G gig dovetails with NewCo, which holds one of its local events featuring Cincinnati companies starting Wednesday evening.

P&G launched Signal because of the growing importance of digital and because "we wanted to bring the outside in," said Mr. Pritchard. "We really wanted to recruit the best players in the industry to help educate, inspire and actually start doing things."

Now the focus has shifted to the latter, Mr. Pritchard said. "We like thought leadership. But we think 'do' leadership is even better." So the focus is on applying what's talked about at Signal, including the aforementioned deals with Snapchat and Buzzfeed last year. Getting input about what non-competing marketers at Lego, Under Armour and Verizon are doing is also part of that emphasis, he said.

Speakers at Signal 2016 include:

Daniel Zhang, director and CEO, The Alibaba Group

Carolyn Everson, VP-global marketing solutions, Facebook

Tim Westergren, founder and CEO, Pandora

Adam Bain, chief operating officer, Twitter

Robert Kyncl, chief business officer, Youtube

Mark Penn, managing partner & president, The Stagwell Group

Steve Burke, CEO, NBC Universal

Julia Goldin, exec VP-global chief marketing officer, Lego

Henrik Werdelin, co-founder, Bark & Co.

Jonah Peretti, founder & CEO, BuzzFeed

Benedict Evans, Partner, Andreessen Horowitz

Jonah Goodhart, CEO, Moat

Diego Scotti, CMO, Verizon

Adrienne Lofton, senior VP-global brand marketing, Under Armour

David Taylor, Chairman-CEO, P&G