P&G at 175

Tracking P&G's Digital Diaspora

For a Company All About Soap and Consumer Products, P&G Has Had an Outsize Influence on All Things Digital

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For a company that 's not a digital player, Procter & Gamble has had a huge amount of influence on the space -- not the least of which is its digital diaspora. Many P&G alums populate digital-media players or hold top digital posts at other marketers.

Among them are digital- or social-media marketing executives at Nike , Nestlé, Dannon and Kellogg Co., key sales executives of Yahoo, Google and Facebook and the top executive assigned by Nielsen to figure outhow to measure digital and social media in ways comparable to other channels. That creates a sort of circle -- be it virtuous or incestuous -- of P&G alums selling to P&G alums, and measuring the deal in currencies being developed by P&G alums.

P&G Global Brand-Building Officer Marc Pritchard has a pretty simple explanation for why so many P&G people end up at key positions in the digital industry. "It's because the digital industry has become so prominent," Mr. Pritchard said. "We hire really smart people who are really driven and want to find a better way. Then they get skilled at digital, and it's a pretty good place for them to go."

One such P&G-trained marketer noted how many other P&G alums were across the table in a recent meeting with Facebook in Europe. "For some reason, the big platform players see golden agency types and CPG -- P&G especially—as validators of their ad/marketing models," the executive said. "And the alums talk our language in the sales pitch. The buzzwords flow more effortlessly. ... I'm not entirely convinced they all truly "get it,' but pedigree sometimes sways perception."

P&G may not be a digital player, but its impact on digital media still has been profound in some ways, said John Burbank, president of Nielsen Strategic Initiatives, which is in charge essentially of developing new ways to adapt measurement to the digital and e-commerce space.

Love it or hate it, the pay-per-click model had its genesis at P&G in the mid 1990s, when digital-media executive Buddy Tucker began telling digital-media vendors that P&G would only pay for clicks, Mr. Burbank recalled. Mr. Tucker, now director of media and production for developing markets at SC Johnson, confirmed this, as did another former P&G executive who worked on the digital team then.

And, of course, former P&G Chairman-CEO Ed Artzt is given credit for awakening the industry to the coming digital-media world with a speech to the American Association of Advertising Agencies in 1994 -- before the onset of the web browser. 

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