Immelt Wants Control While Lafley Lets Go

'Fortune' Magazine's C-Suite Interviews: The View From GE and P&G

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- General Electric Co. Chairman-CEO Jeffrey Immelt last night said NBC's careful digital strategy means forgoing -- for now -- the power suddenly being wielded by sites such as YouTube.
Jeff Immelt, A.G. Lafley and Andy Serwer
Jeff Immelt, A.G. Lafley and Andy Serwer

What's best for NBC
But that's OK, he said, because it's more important and effective for NBC to build out digital properties, such as recently acquired iVillage, that it can control, predict and monetize. "Are we going to miss a rocketship?" Mr. Immelt asked, apparently unperturbed. "Probably."

Mr. Immelt appeared with A.G. Lafley, president-CEO and chairman of Proctor & Gamble Co., as part of Fortune magazine's C-Suite Interview series. The event was kicked off by Andy Serwer, the longtime Fortune writer who was named managing editor the day before, taking over for an abruptly kicked-upstairs Eric Pooley. "I'm the managing editor of Fortune magazine," Mr. Serwer said, "and have been about 30 hours."

Mr. Lafley, who doesn't have a media empire to protect, reiterated an argument he's put forth in several venues this year, that marketers need to accept new levels of consumer control. "We're going to have to learn to let go," he said.

'The world we're in'
"Letting go" means getting used to watching others influence the P&G image, no small feat for a company that has traditionally done everything possible to manage the way consumers perceive its brands. So if YouTube posts a video that's positive about a P&G brand, Mr. Lafley said, the company hopes a lot of people watch it. If the video is critical, the company can only hope very few people see it. "That's the world that we're in," he said.

The big aim for both companies is finding better ways to gauge what's going on in the new mediascape. Users have a huge degree of control on P&G sites such as BeingGirl.com, Mr. Lafley said. "What's important for us to be able to do is measure it," he said.

Perhaps needless to say, that remains a work in progress.
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