Cindy Tripp

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Cindy Tripp plays flute, piano and guitar, and almost went into music before the professional musicians in her family helped persuade her to try something more practical.

"If I were 20 years old and starting over, I think I'd be trying out for `American Idol,"' she says. Instead, the associate director-media and marketing who spearheaded Procter & Gamble Co.'s communications planning assignment has "American Idol" and a host of other communications options trying out for her, as it were.

The modest Ms. Tripp, 41, terms herself a "jack of all trades, master of none." But she has developed enough expertise in a 17-year P&G career that has spanned brand management in diapers and paper products, teen and target marketing, and media to do something few marketers ever do-apply for a patent. She's lead inventor on two related applications for a media targeting system that uses in-depth research to define a brand's target consumers and the best communications vehicles to reach them.

Applying for the patent wasn't her idea, Ms. Tripp says, but the process was viewed by people in P&G's innovation group as unique enough to warrant a try at the burgeoning area of business-method patents. The marketing system patents, filed in 2002 and 2003, are still pending.

It wouldn't be the only time she blazed a trail for P&G. Two years after her patent filing, Ms. Tripp headed development of the 2004 North American communications planning assignment that's slowly reshaping how P&G spends.

Broad planning work traditionally had been done by P&G's global creative agencies, though Publicis Groupe's Starcom MediaVest Group had formed a separate planning unit in 2003. But agency assignments sometimes got in the way of the planning that needed to be done, Ms. Tripp says.

"We were competing as a North American business, and we needed our agencies to line up across North America," she says.The new system had to go beyond media to include the full range of communications options, including in-store, promotion and emerging channels.

This all meant significant shakeups. Beauty, health, laundry and homecare planning consolidated at SMG. A new entrant to the P&G roster, Aegis Group's Carat, was brought on to handle baby care, tissue-towel, petcare and snacks and beverages.

The fiscal year that started July 1 marks the first time marketing plans were developed under the system, but it's too soon to see the full impact, Ms. Tripp says. "Communications planning fundamentally roots itself in consumer understanding, and that doesn't happen in a budget season," she says. She predicts more concrete changes in two or three years.

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