Agencies welcome new outlook

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If there was a turning point in Procter & Gamble Co.'s agency relationships, it was the 2003 International Advertising Festival.

Publicis Groupe's Tim Love, who heads the P&G account for the agency holding company, said the trip to Cannes helped change P&G's creative outlook for the better. "I think they are less formulaic, more visually driven," he said, adding even the company's copy-driven approach has altered. "They use a lot more sound and music" in commercials, he observed.

Part of the reason for the change, Mr. Love believes, is P&G's rising confidence. The package-goods giant suffered something of an identity crisis during the go-go `90s when it came under attack for being an "old economy" business.

"They have a much more healthy outlook on advertising," said Mr. Love, who holds the titles of vice chairman-international at Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide and relationship manager for P&G at Publicis Groupe.

Around the globe, P&G works with two main holding companies-Publicis and Grey Global Group, which split its $4 billion-plus in ad spending about 80%/20%, respectively. Among P&G's main creative shops are Publicis' Saatchi & Saatchi, Publicis Worldwide, Leo Burnett Co. and Kaplan Thaler Group, as well as Grey's Grey Worldwide.

Frank Bele, creative director at New York-based Kaplan Thaler, works on P&G's Swiffer account. He talked about how much more flexible P&G is now and said the Super Bowl was another high point for the roster agencies. For P&G's first-ever ad appearance in the Super Bowl this year, the company asked its shops to compete for the airtime-Publicis, New York, won with work for Charmin.

more emotion

"They let us bend the rules," Mr. Bele said. "When it came to budgets, for instance, if they liked the idea, they found the money." P&G is more open to emotional connections with the consumer, he said, instead of simply having ads heavy on product demonstration.

And the attitude is global. When P&G Global Marketing Officer James Stengel planned a visit to China, Saatchi executives in Hong Kong put out a call to creatives at 18 offices to come up with their wildest ideas for P&G brands. The 900 entries were whittled to 20 and are expected to find their way into upcoming advertising in Asia.

"Good creative is now getting recognition from P&G on the business side," said Craig Davis, Saatchi regional creative director-Asia/Pacific.

P&G has been a client of Grey since 1956-longevity is the main hallmark of its agency relations. The close relationships with the agencies also provide P&G the kind of outside spark the marketer might lack given that its senior executives almost always come from within.

"When I look at the last 12 months, it has really been more fun than my first 37 years. They are really walking the walk," said Neil Kreisberg, who heads P&G work as group executive managing director at Grey Global Group.

On the new-business front, P&G tends to hand assignments to its roster agencies. There's rarely a pitch. But when it comes to nontraditional marketing, P&G now talks to numerous enterprises. Partners include public relations giant Edelman, WPP Group branding outfit Landor Associates and a whole host of independent enterprises that now have growing operations in P&G's hometown of Cincinnati.

Both Publicis Groupe and Grey are looking to pick up more of a share of the new business. Media agency Starcom MediaVest Group, part of Publicis, and promotion shop Publicis Dialog are currently undertaking a direct-response TV project for P&G. "We have to be better than what they currently have," Mr. Love said of P&G's interest in working outside the holding companies.

contributing: jack neff, lisa sanders, normandy madden

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