Commentary by Jonah Bloom

Procter & Gamble Embraces Channel Planning, Putting Media Agencies in Lead

Unilever, Nestle, Kraft Also Putting Media Upstream

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You! Yes you, with the cursory glance at the headline and the mouse finger poised. Hold on. I know you've already scanned countless Web stories on the subject of Procter & Gamble's
Jonah Bloom, editor of Advertising Age.
communications-planning review and you weren't entirely sure you cared when you started -- after all, you're selling sports sedans, not shampoo -- but stick with it because this is era-defining stuff. A bona fide marketing watershed.

When Starcom MediaVest, one of the two winning agencies, was pitching the Cincinnati giant, it paraded a chart that said: "What P&G did to transform brand management in the 20th century it will do to transform communication planning in the 21st." Truth is that "transform" is not quite the word ("popularize" would have been my choice but I'm no pitchman), but you get the gist.

Reaching the consumer
While P&G publicly insists that this is not about process, it is, in effect, putting media, channel or communications planning (take your pick of monikers) at the front end of its campaign creation. In fact, Starcom MediaVest titled its pitch presentation "Right to Lead." P&G is recognizing that the first step in any marketing program is to understand who the consumer is, and how they might be reached, rather than what might be said to them.

Sure, we all know that in an ideal world the marketing problem would be solved in one big, holistic, organic swoop of an idea that would simultaneously address message, delivery mechanism and measurement of their

combined impact. But while the best of the best might achieve such lofty goals regularly by dint of innate understanding of brand and audience, many others rely on a process -- and in today's media world, plotting how to reach the consumer has to be stage one in that process.

Cornerstone of campaign creation
P&G is not, by any means, the first organization to take this approach. A number of the world's leading marketers (including P&G's archrival Unilever) have for some years made channel planning a cornerstone of campaign creation. Dominic Proctor, CEO of Unilever's global media agency, MindShare, says, "We're being involved earlier. Unilever, Nestle, Kraft, Diageo, they're all bringing us to the table. From our point of view it doesn't matter whether it's institutionalized, or codified, as long as it's happening."

It doesn't. But P&G is a hugely influential marketing organization, and when the institution institutionalizes a new practice, it establishes a de facto model for the majority. (There are still thousands of marketers tinkering unnecessarily with storyboards or firing their message masters, who would be better served by refocusing on how to reach their consumers.)

In a world driven by channel planning, holding-company success will be increasingly dependent on the strength and creativity of their media agencies and how well those companies are able to work with their sibling ad and marketing-services shops.

Alternatives to the 30-second spot
Traditional media owners, meanwhile, will find ever more pressure to prove their value in the marketing mix. P&G is hoping that the communications-planning approach will be a catalyst in its quest for 30-second spot alternatives. Other companies that have shifted to a channel-planning approach have tended to trim traditional TV ad budgets and up spending on other marketing activities.

P&G is not pioneering channel planning, but in adopting it so publicly it is once again changing the marketing landscape.

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