P&G alum grabs online feedback

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Take one part consumer activist, one part Procter & Gamble Co. brand manager and one very big part publicist and you have the makings of Pete Blackshaw and his dot-com start-up PlanetFeedback.com.

Aimed at providing free online utilities for consumers to vent their gripes and pass along their compliments, PlanetFeedback is selling data generated by consumers to marketers for use in research. PlanetFeedback reports a fourfold increase in daily letter volume from consumers to 2,000 since TV ads from DDB Worldwide, New York, broke Oct. 2. The company's blend of consumer affairs and marketing matches Mr. Blackshaw's background.

PlanetFeedback is a considerably revved-up version of Mr. Blackshaw's first interactive project in California where, as a legislative aide in the early 1990s, he set up the state's first consumer-advocacy bulletin board system. He later decided on a marketing career and entered Harvard Business School in 1993.

P&G Chairman-CEO Ed Artzt's 1994 speech to the American Association of Advertising Agencies on the future of interactive advertising helped sway him to come to P&G, where he began as assistant brand manager on Bounty. He worked his way, project by project, into a new job as the company's first interactive brand manager.

`IDEA HAMSTER'

Mr. Blackshaw, 36, found a champion in former P&G VP-Global Marketing Denis Beausejour and the two co-chaired the Future of Advertising Stakeholders Summit, a 1998 event that, besides launching dialogue on interactive marketing, helped brand P&G as a leader in the field. He left P&G last year to start PlanetFeedback.

"I think Pete is just a wonderful talent," says Mark Schar, VP-iVentures for P&G, who plans to use PlanetFeedback to help develop user communities for research and marketing. "He's an idea hamster: He's on that little wheel and the ideas are coming out as fast as it's turning around."

For example, take Mr. Blackshaw's first branding experience during college, when he led a mid-1980s campaign for the University of California at Santa Cruz to adopt the banana slug as its mascot. Then he founded Oxford West Slugwear to sell quirky slug-licensed merchandise.

In 1995, Mr. Blackshaw, who still owns the business, took Slugwear online via Slugweb.com. Customers have included "Pulp Fiction" director Quentin Tarantino, who had John Travolta wear a slug shirt in the film.

THE DIGITAL RHINE

With sales of 20,000 T-shirts a year, Slugwear paid for Mr. Blackshaw's last two years of college plus a backpacking summer in Europe.

"For all I know," he says, "the folks at the [Harvard Business School] admissions office probably figured, `If he can sell the slug, he can sell the Brooklyn Bridge.' "

A knack for making unlikely sales runs in Mr. Blackshaw's family. His brother, John Fox Blackshaw, managed Paul Wellstone's upset victory in the 1992 U.S. Senate race in Minnesota. Now he is president of Northwoods Advertising, the Minneapolis shop that made ads for Mr. Wellstone and Gov. Jesse Ventura.

Rather than return to California, Mr. Blackshaw also chose the Midwest. He located PlanetFeedback in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine -- an impoverished but architecturally rich neighborhood once separated from downtown by a canal that 19th century locals dubbed "the Rhine" because it ran red with blood from German-staffed hog slaughterhouses.

PlanetFeedback sits in a fiber optic-wired corridor Mr. Blackshaw has branded the Digital Rhine, which now has about 70 Internet start-ups, a host of office rehab projects and steeply rising rents.

"The one thing we probably got laughed at for the most when we started, which is locating in Cincinnati, was probably the smartest decision we made," says Mr. Blackshaw, who has drawn largely on fellow P&G alums and Cincinnati's bevy of market research companies for his staff of 50. "You get high loyalty rates because you don't have a hundred other dot-coms poaching, and you've got great marketing talent."