As P&G's roster agencies engage in a feverish pitch for one of the biggest prizes in advertising history-P&G's $1.2 billion U.S. TV buying and planning account-they're competing for a piece of business over which brand managers once held sway. "In my day, brand manager was one of the greatest jobs in the world," said Mr. Van Cleave, former VP-media and programming worldwide for P&G and now a semi-retired media consultant. "It was an opportunity to have a lot more input than your years really warranted. I suspect it isn't quite that way anymore."
REDEFINED OR DIMINISHED?
The loss of media planning responsibility is only one of several steps in recent years that have redefined-some say diminished-the role of the approximately 80 brand managers at P&G, the largest U.S. advertiser with a total annual expenditure of $2.6 billion.
Brand managers still have responsibility for the positioning of brands based on consumer needs, and for developing broad media strategy-deciding, for example, what media mix is the best way to reach target consumers. But a host of internal and external forces have loosened brand managers' grips on such areas as advertising copy, new-product development, media planning and promotions.
In the late 1980s, the rise of category management took away some of the brand managers' power. Before that new level of managers stepped in to coordinate marketing strategies across entire categories, managers of laundry detergent or soap brands competed fiercely against other P&G brands in those categories, even refusing to share sales data.
Today, global strategic teams made up of brand and category managers worldwide identify "global success models" in areas such as ad copy and product development. Customer business teams, made up of sales, finance, logistics and, in some cases, brand management staff, now work with major retail accounts to develop promotion strategy.
SOUP TO NUTS
"The brand manager had always been positioned from soup to nuts running the brand," said Mike Mondello, a former P&G brand manager who's now president of SeaBear, a Seattle-based marketer of smoked salmon and other specialty foods.
"Today, on one side, they are much more tactical and get more involved in street fighting, account-by-account, store-by-store marketing," Mr. Mondello said. "On the other side, they can spend more time on the real sharpening of positioning of a brand. What's been taken off their plate is the stuff between those poles."
The changes aren't confined to P&G, the marketing bellwether among consumer products companies and the one credited with originating brand management. The same forces-category management, global brand platforms and stronger retail partners-are shaping package-goods marketing overall, resulting in similar drains on brand managers' responsibility.
In fact, the changes may be a bit less severe at P&G than at other package-goods companies because, a consultant said, the Cincinnati-based marketer has historically given its brand managers more leeway than peer companies.
FROM CREATIVE TO PRACTICAL
Although P&G watchers maintain change is good-Mr. Van Cleave recalled struggling with brand managers who handed him 10 pages of specifications for measly $5 million media budgets-the shifting of media responsibility away from brand managers is one more indication to some that the job is devolving from creative to practical functions.
The brand manager is now rewarded more for "flawless execution as opposed to coming up with a great idea," Mr. Van Cleave said.
P&G sees things otherwise, arguing that media planning was always a small part of a brand manager's role and that the more sweeping task of developing media strategy and audience targets remains firmly under the control of brand management. The marketer also denied its global strategy has made creativity a less-prized trait among brand managers.
ROLE IS 'MORE IMPORTANT'
"If anything, the role of brand manager is becoming more, not less, important," said Robert Wehling, senior-VP advertising and market research at P&G. "What we need from our brand managers today-and in the future-is increasingly greater marketing creativity that, along with superior products, will help drive our volume higher."
Media planning and strategy, and even ad copy, are issues Mr. Wehling plays down as largely "tactical." What brand managers are in charge of ultimately, he said, is far more important.
"The brand manager is charged with managing and further developing the brand equity," he said. "Their role is to use an arsenal of tools to deliver better advertising and to continue to develop and entrench the equity of the brand in the minds of consumers."
Brand managers are still strong, but they do have to share more power with more people than in the past, said Alison Chaltas, a former P&G category manager.
"The brand manager today is no longer the final decisionmaker," said Ms. Chaltas, a senior consultant with Meridian Consulting. "But they need to be brand champions. They still have to do the same work related to advertising, related to the retail customer, related to all the components of the marketing plan that they used to do."
Rather than making decisions, brand managers have become team captains, Ms. Chaltas said: "What brand managers need to do, and the ones who are doing well and being effective are doing, is shift from that advertising copy focus to asking, 'How do I become a multifunctional team leader?'*"
Reducing media planning responsibility actually allows P&G brand managers to focus more closely on strategy, said Gary Stibel, a principal with the New England Consulting Group and a P&G alum.
"Frankly, brand managers shouldn't be selecting media," he said. "That's a poor use of their time."
Removing the media burden, and placing more decisions with global and category teams, keeps brand managers from being stretched too thin and lets them focus on identifying the brand's core consumers and how to reach them, said Burt Flickinger, a consultant with Reach Marketing.
Still, some former brand managers do see controlling where their ads run as an important part of a brand manager's job.
"I would fight [losing] that," said one former brand manager. "The brand manager should be the strategic leader. That's what they pay us to do."
If nothing else, losing media responsibility could reduce a brand manager's marketability to a smaller company down the road. P&G traditionally gave its brand managers the best media training in the business, and that wasn't lost on subsequent employers, the former brand manager said.
Some maintain control actually rested much higher. Another former brand manager said he and peers working on large brands rarely had much power on media decisions-or ad copy or positioning decisions, for that matter.
"At the time, John Smale, a former Crest brand manager, was CEO, and John Pepper, a former Tide brand manager, was president," this former brand manager said. "And we joked that everyone knew who the real brand managers of Tide and Crest were."
"Twenty years ago, there was no brand manager making a decision," Mr. Stibel agreed. "All the decisions were being made on the [executive] floor. Today, there are fewer people between the brand manager and the [executive] floor. Therefore the brand manager gets more involved in strategic decisions."
DIFFERENCES IN PERSPECTIVE
Part of the difference in perception may stem from differences in perspective. Several former brand managers and consultants agreed that managers of smaller or troubled P&G brands have long had more leeway than those on bigger brands-and still do.
Though P&G is looking to turn strong ad copy and product innovations into "global success models," those models do have to start somewhere, Mr. Van Cleave said, noting the opportunity for big payoffs for brand managers whose ideas become global.
Once the model is in place, however, brand managers may have little authority to alter it. For instance, the tag "Makes hair so healthy it shines" has become a staple of global advertising for Pantene Pro-V. So has the swoosh-swoosh of the model's hair in TV ads.
Some limits on P&G brand managers come not from policy but from the changing marketplace.
The growing power of the retail trade has prompted package-goods companies to simplify operations through smaller product assortments and more efficient promotions funded through a single customer business development fund for each retail account.
In years past, brand managers would sometimes meticulously plan up to 12 annual promotions for key brands such as Tide. Now promotions are less frequent, financed through a single fund for each account and developed by the customer business team-which may include a brand manager-working with retail executives.
That has resulted in "fewer day-to-day changes for brand managers," said Ms. Chaltas. The mind-numbing details of promotion planning are something no brand manager misses, Mr. Van Cleave said, adding that many of the assistants who handled such details are largely gone, too, thanks to restructurings.
So while those still toiling in brand management may be executing plans developed elsewhere, they are at least executing more important plans, he said.
"Now when you hit the ground you're going to be doing something pretty meaningful," said Mr. Van Cleave. "It may not be your idea, but at least it's a