Media Mavens 2010

Media Mavens: Stewart Atkinson, Procter & Gamble

Despite Skepticism, Longtime Purchasing Honcho Settles Into Global Brand-Building Role Nicely

By Published on .

BATAVIA, Ohio ( -- Procter & Gamble co. raised a few eyebrows when it put Stewart Atkinson, a career purchasing and general-management executive, in charge of a key part of its global media organization -- and as many would see it the most important part: buying media for the world's biggest media buyer.

Stewart Atkinson
Stewart Atkinson
A little more than a year later, Mr. Atkinson, 53, is settling into the job. And fears of a purchasing guy slicing and dicing his way to glory have abated, largely because it didn't happen. P&G hiked global media spending 13% during Mr. Atkinson's first full year as VP-global brand-building purchases, to $8.6 billion, essentially restoring the spending cuts made the prior year in the depths of the Great Recession.

At the same time, P&G raised its reported consumer media impressions 20%, delivering the sort of bang for the buck purchasing folks are supposed to deliver.

"We're getting more and more efficient and effective with the spending," Mr. Atkinson said. "We feel very bullish about the work we've done and the opportunities we have ahead."

At the same time, he acknowledges the media and marketing-services buying task he's taken on is "even more complex than I thought it was going in."

Yes, he did once head up buying industrial chemicals for P&G's laundry business. And, yes, he does know there's a difference in buying media. That hasn't stopped him from shaking up P&G's media organization some, putting some media managers in new roles, shifting some managers from developing markets to developed ones and vice versa.

He acknowledges there's a learning curve for managers as a result, but said: "We're shifting from a short-term view in how we manage this area to something much longer term, connected to the vision and purpose of the company stretching out to 2015 and even longer." That is, if you haven't heard this one before, touching and improving more lives more often in more places.

Mr. Atkinson said he's also focused on improving relationships with outside partners. "By putting the right people in the right places," he said, "and then connecting them, we're getting better ideas."

"Stew is on a constant quest to innovate," said Laura Desmond, CEO of Starcom MediaVest Group, P&G's largest media shop globally. "He embraces change fearlessly because he sees it as an opportunity to challenge the status quo and reinvent."

Among those efforts Mr. Atkinson has worked on, which is improving P&G's global clout, are global media initiatives, such as the multi-brand "Proud Sponsor of Moms" program launched during the Vancouver Winter Olympics, which has in turn led to efforts around Mother's Day in the U.S. and been expanded recently to China. P&G also has expanded the scope of its increasingly common sports-marketing deals with a global sponsorship of the 2012 Summer Games in London.

Such multi-brand and global efforts "are very powerful and provide scale across all the brands that in the past we haven't taken care of very effectively," Mr. Atkinson said. "Now we're really stepping up that effort and trying to put some efficiency behind it."

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