P&G yanks some cooks out of kitchen

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Trying to pin responsibility for any particular marketing decision on a particular person at Procter & Gamble Co. always has been tricky.

P&Gers describe their process as collaborative, consensus-building, etc. Some agency executives might privately be tempted to use another c-word, a compound one starting with "cluster."

"It's crazy," said one agency executive of the hordes of brand managers and assistant brand managers eager to put their imprints on marketing. P&G may be leaner than competitors overall, but that's certainly not true in marketing, particularly in the U.S.

Now, in an effort to emulate newly acquired Gillette Co., things may be about to change. P&G is officially enamored with the decision-making style of the company it just bought.

"They have a more centralized decision-making process, more streamlined than ours in some ways," said P&G Global Marketing Officer Jim Stengel in an interview late last year. "So we're not going into this with arrogance. We're trying to figure out what we can learn from them and vice versa."

Gillette does appear to have marketing responsibilities spelled out more in advance rather than subject to the vagaries of individual business units and functions. Final decisions on ads, for instance, tend to rest with general managers, according to insiders.

Doing things that way at P&G may sound innocent enough. But in reality, in a company built around the legend of the brand manager more as brand sovereign than brand advocate or team leader, it's fraught with political peril. When the idea of giving general managers official responsibility for ad decisions came up among P&Gers at Cannes in 2003 , it was quietly designated for indefinite future consideration.

In reality, P&G general managers often do call the shots already. Sometimes they delegate. Sometimes they delegate until something happens they don't like or a politically prudent underling involves them. Sometimes the decision goes all the way to Chairman-CEO A.G. Lafley.

But the reality is that for the big ads on the big brands, Gillette Chairman-CEO Jim Kilts, now P&G vice chairman, got involved, too.

Creating problems?

Indeed, there are some big questions about whether P&G adopting Gillette's ways would really work.

And if the idea is to get better creative, count all the major creative awards won by Gillette in recent years (zero). It positively makes P&G look like Nike.

Just like P&G messing with success at Gillette would be a bad idea, so, too might be adopting Gillette ways at P&G. It could be a solution looking for a problem. Vagueness, inconsistency and collaboration sometimes are just the slippery stuff that keeps the machine from grinding to a halt.

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