P&G to Bring More Media Agency Work In-House as Agency Fee Cuts Continue

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P&G headquarters. The company says it's found a way to increase reach more quickly than spending.
P&G headquarters. The company says it's found a way to increase reach more quickly than spending. Credit: Courtesy P&G

The world's biggest ad spender, Procter & Gamble Co., likes what it's gotten from agency- and production-fee cuts so much that it wants more: It's now moving more media planning and buying in-house, Chief Financial Officer Jon Moeller said Tuesday as the company released its latest financial results.

The company beat analyst forecasts for second-quarter sales growth and earnings per share last quarter, with organic sales growth of more than 2 percent, as it increased media spending but slashed agency and ad-production costs.

Speaking on a media call, Moeller cited efforts to ensure digital ad viewability and reduce bot fraud among factors behind a 10 percent increase in reach on a 2 percent overall increase in ad spending—all of it on media. The company reported $7.1 billion in advertising spending last year.

Also on the earnings call, Moeller said P&G already has cut agency and production costs by $750 million annually in recent years, and looks to cut another $400 million in the future.

"We'll automate more media planning, production and distribution, bringing more of it in-house," Moeller said. Those moves are likely to affect North American media shops: Omnicom's Hearts & Science and Dentsu Aegis Network's Carat.

Cost-cutting steps also will include more "open sourcing of creative talent and production capability," he said.

Efforts to increase media transparency have worked, Moeller said, "but there is more room to eliminate waste within and across channels, eliminating non-viewable ads, and stopping ads served to bots or adjacent to inappropriate content." He projects "more private marketplace deals with media companies [and] precision buying fueled by data and digital technology."

To date, agency efficiency moves have reduced the number of entities P&G works with to 2,500 from 6,000 while improving cash flow by $400 million by extending payment terms to 75 days from 30.

Despite beating Wall Street forecasts on the top and bottom lines, and gaining market share at least slightly in a U.S. market growing only 1 percent last quarter, P&G is still losing market share globally, Moeller said.

P&G Chief Financial Officer Jon Moeller.
P&G Chief Financial Officer Jon Moeller. Credit: Procter & Gamble Co.

The company's shares were down nearly 3 percent in early trading, despite an increase in profit guidance for the full fiscal year ended 30 percent, as investors were concerned about a decline in margins driven by rising commodity costs and lower prices, the latter driven by a big price cut for Gillette razors.

Among other key marketing takeaways from the call:

1. Beauty, for years a laggard at P&G, was the star last quarter, with organic sales growth up 9 percent on strength in the SK-II and Olay brands in China and the U.S., and growth for all of the company's hair-care brands, including long-struggling Pantene. P&G is winning, at least for now, in a corner of packaged goods most affected by growth of small start-up brands.

2. Pampers, the company's biggest brand, and the diaper business, long one of the best performers, were a drag on sales, down "mid-single digits" in sales on more competition from private label and reductions in retailer inventories.

3. P&G is betting on stepped-up product launches in diapers and elsewhere to increase sales growth rates over this and next quarter.

4. While the company has talked in the recent past about taking marketing efficiency savings to the bottom line, Moeller talked more about spending increases. That may reflect some early influence for growth-focused activist investor Nelson Peltz, who joins the board in March.

5. Despite negative market reaction to P&G's margins, last quarter the company at least modestly beat Wall Street's top- and bottom-line expectations. The last top-line disappointment came the prior quarter, which raises the question of whether the management distraction and marketing outlay aimed at the ultimately unsuccessful effort to keep Peltz off the board played a role.

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