Day-Three Report From Our Embedded Reporter


Top Agency Execs' Assessment: Professional but Boring Work

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CANNES ( -- Cannes is known for the surreal quality that only thousands of global agency creatives descending on a small village on the Riviera for's Jack Neff is embedded with P&G forces in Cannes.
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a week of indulgence, preening, posturing and peer review can produce.

Quite the surreal
But perhaps none of this has quite the surreal professional kinkiness of what the seemingly staunchly conservative Procter & Gamble Co. did Thursday in its quest for creativity.

In the annals of advertising history, countless companies have invited, or at least tacitly encouraged, non-roster agencies to critique their current advertising and tell how they might do better. This, of course, frequently leads to the age-old saga of the review and agency change. Perhaps never, however, has the client invited top executives from its roster shops and a reporter to watch, or asked the non-roster agencies to critique the client's own organization, not the agency.

All parties pulled it off with nary a tear shed or harsh word spoken. Kevin Roberts, CEO of Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, sat quietly beside Cheryl Berman, chief creative officer of sibling Leo Burnett Co. Nearby, Pierre Berville, president of Grey Global Group's Callegari Berville Grey, Paris did the same.

Not up for review
Putting any speculation to rest, Global Marketing Officer Jim Stengel said at the outset: "We're not putting our account up for review. That's why our roster agencies are all here."

Critiquing P&G's creativity were Jean Marie Dru, president of Omnicom Group's TBWA Boulogne Billancourte, Paris; Peter-John Mahrenholz of Jung von Matt, Hamburg; and Linda Kaplan Thaler,

Photo: Jack Neff
Criticizing P&G's advertising operations are Jean Marie Dru, president of Omnicom's TBWA Boulogne Billancourte, Paris, and Linda Kaplan Thaler, CEO of Publicis' Kaplan Thaler Group.
CEO of Publicis' Kaplan Thaler Group.

"She's now on the roster, but not on any of the top 15 brands," explained Stephen Squire, P&G advertising development director. "She competed with us for several years and created a campaign [the Totally Organic Experience for Herbal Essences] people said we never would have bought -- but we did."

One-hour reel
The three "outside" creatives reviewed a one-hour reel for P&G's 15 biggest brands from its 10 biggest countries. "We wanted to show them what was on air," said Lynne Boles, manager of global advertising development of P&G, who put things frankly, in the style of her T-shirt which read "Sarcasm is one of the many services I offer." There were no ringers on the reel from smaller brands. "I think the sad part is our best work isn't on this reel," said Ms. Boles. "It's on the small brands."

"It's not a great reel, but it's a good reel," said Mr. Dru, echoing sentiments of the others. Surprisingly, what he found most lacking were some of the selling lines and memorable campaigns for which P&G has been known through history. "There are four or five," he said. "But there should be seven or nine. ... What's missing is campaigns that are allowed to live over time."

'Think like a pauper'
"You have a lot of money," Ms. Kaplan Thaler said. "Sometimes

Photo: Jack Neff
P&G's manager of global advertising development, Lynne Boles (left), discusses the critique with P&G design director Elizabeth Olson.
that's great, but it also can be too easy." To encourage creativity, she often advises clients to "think like a pauper, don't imagine you have a big budget."

"You have assaulted my brain," said Mr. Jung, who was the harshest of the three. "The work is very professional, but it's not very stimulating. ... You probably are the best marketing experts in the world. But in a way, you should forget about this. The consumer is king. And the consumer is the one who rates your ads. They're very demanding. They say don't bore me."

Mr. Stengel said he loves TBWA's work for Apple and asked what P&G could do to be more like Apple. Perhaps the most provocative response came from Ms. Kaplan Thaler, who said the CEO of AFLAC had been the champion of the long-running "AFLAC duck" campaign when most of his subordinates hated it.

"P&G has a lot of empowerment of very junior people, and maybe they should be waiting and watching," she said, instead of making decisions on ads. "There's nothing on this reel you can't like, but maybe that's what the problem is. Great ideas are polarizing."

Need to take risks
Senior leaders need to make big advertising decisions because lower-level managers are afraid to take big risks. But she said that problem is common to many clients -- and humanity as a whole. "They guy in the cave who raised his hand when they said 'Who wants to go kill the wooly mammoth

Photo: Jack Neff
Outside, Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts expounds about creative marketing concepts as a P&G TV crew records the packaged goods giant's first Cannes trip.
in heat?' wasn't around very long," she said.

Ms. Kaplan Thaler also cited P&G's reliance on focus groups and copy testing, which tend to weed out hyperbole and outrageousness in ads. "If focus groups reviewed giving birth, we'd be a big rotating empty parking lot because nobody would do it," she said. "Not even guys. ... I don't think you can get to the next level without changing the way you test [copy.]"

Ultimately, Mr. Stengel said P&G has heard most of the same things from its own agencies, and he hopes his High Performing Marketing Organization program, emphasizing longer tenure in marketing jobs, will give managers at all levels more courage to make tough decisions.

Single decision maker
"We've been looking at whether there should be maybe a single [senior] decision maker and abolishing committees," he said. "If we want to get from good to great, we won't get there without change."

Ms. Berman agreed the messages were much like what P&G has heard from its own agencies before. "It will be interesting," she said, "to see what comes out of this."

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