Gracias, Jim Stengel

You Set the Bar High for U.S. Hispanic Marketing

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Rochelle Newman-Carrasco Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
This story takes place in Cincinnati, about 20 years ago. An overworked account person stumbles off a red-eye from L.A., and after a quick shower at the Cincinnatian Hotel, arrives at her client's office at One P&G Plaza. The client speaks to her with the utmost respect, sensitivity and compassion. He gently broaches the subject of an upcoming annual agency evaluation. The gist of what he says is "Heads up. It's not going to be glowing. It's going to address some very specific client concerns."

He is aware that the agency is understaffed. He is also aware that she has been working valiantly to make it appear as if this was not the case at all. The client concludes that he needs to send a clear message to the agency ownership. It is time for the agency to step up and add the required staff and skill sets. The account person bursts into tears.

This unanticipated reaction catches both of them by surprise. She feels the way a criminal on the run might feel when she's finally caught. At last, she can stop running. The "good guys" know and now all the lies and pretense can stop. The tears are an expression of relief and gratitude. They're almost joyous.

The client looks somewhat perplexed. It's not every day that a P&G brand manager finds himself face-to-face with a sobbing account person. This undoubtedly was not covered in any training manuals. What's a brand manager to do? The account person tries to compose herself but to no avail. The brand manager feels the moment growing more awkward. He looks around the room and spots a roll of Bounty paper towels on his windowsill. This particular roll may be a packaging prototype or some such product development sample. Whatever the roll's role, it is certainly not sitting there in the event a crying account person just happens to wander by.

The brand manager looks at the paper towels and then at the tears rolling down the young woman's face. He thrusts the entire roll at her with a look that says, "I'm really not sure what to do right now but maybe this will help?" It does. The sobs turn to smiles. It's hard to replace a couple of Kleenex with an entire roll of unopened paper towels and keep from laughing just a little.

That is a moment in my career I will never forget. Once I gathered my composure, I had a heart-to-heart with my Crisco and Jif Peanut Butter client. That client just happened to be brand manager Jim Stengel. It was clear to me, even then, that I was working with someone very special. He was holding that paper-towel roll out to me with empathy, not pity or judgment. More importantly, he was holding our agency accountable out of a true belief in our potential -- out of respect.

He asked from his Hispanic agency what he asked from any agency: that they be committed to excellence. He also gave to our agency what he gave to everyone he worked with: his complete and undivided attention, the full extent of his wisdom and knowledge, and his passion for creativity, innovation and collaboration. And yes, he also gave us a respectable and continually increasing budget -- which he expected the agency to justify with accurate metrics that would satisfy a growing hunger for measurable ROI.

Under Jim's stewardship, two Spanish-language-programming firsts went on air: "Cocina Crisco," the first branded cooking show, and "Hablando," the first morning talk-show format rooted in product integration. Additionally, it was under his watch that P&G's first bilingual (Spanish/English) packaging in the U.S. was developed.

Kathryn Martinez, with whom I was happily reunited just a few months ago, reminded me of this. Kathryn was the assistant brand manager on the Crisco business. Today, she is a business strategist and a member of the leadership team at Alternative and Innovative Marketing, a fast-growing multicultural integrated marketing firm headquartered on the West Coast. The other brand manager working for Jim was Ted Woehrle, who rose to the position of VP-marketing for North America at P&G before leaving for a top marketing post at Rubbermaid.

For historical context, around 1987 P&G sent out a mandate to all their general market agencies requiring them to have Hispanic marketing capabilities, via either mergers or acquisitions. Real capabilities. Not just a freelancer or staffer with a "z" in his last name. This was the moment in advertising history when, for better or worse, the general market/Hispanic market partnerships were truly triggered. It paired pioneering Hispanic agencies like Conill with Saatchi & Saatchi and Font & Vaamonde (now WingLatino) with Grey. It was a moment in time that changed the face and the pace of U.S. Hispanic advertising forever.

I haven't been part of a P&G agency for a while now, so I have no post-millennium tales or recent hard data regarding Jim's role as a champion of Hispanic marketing excellence. However, in speaking with agency colleagues and members of the P&G team, I do know that he has continued to encourage P&G brand management and other agency and client-side stakeholders to make their Hispanic marketing efforts rich in strategic thinking, creativity and consumer connection.

I have attended ANA Masters of Marketing Conferences, where Jim has consistently been one of the few executives that organically references and highlights Hispanic consumers and Hispanic marketing in his speeches and presentations, even though it's not the "Multicultural Conference." Jim doesn't need an excuse to talk about Hispanics. He's a global guy from Cincinnati. He gets it. He always has.

I also know that P&G has consistently been winning creative awards in virtually every creative competition that includes work developed by U.S. Hispanic or Latin American agencies around the world. The Cannes recognition is reflected in U.S. Hispanic market work as well. Jim's "exit" from P&G is surrounded by "exito" (success) past, present and future.

I don't know if Jim will include a chapter about U.S. Hispanic marketing in the book he plans to work on as he transitions to his new post-P&G life. The fact is, everything Jim has done at P&G -- targeted specifically to Latinos or not -- has had an impact on shaping our industry and, in a sense, our consumer. After all, the U.S. Hispanic market does not exist in a vacuum. No doubt, on his new journey he will continue to influence and mentor young marketers -- including Latino marketers and agency talent -- both in the U.S. and abroad.

So maybe, just maybe, if you're as lucky as I was, you will get to work with Jim Stengel and he will help you raise whatever bar needs raising. My advice? Listen to and learn from his every word. And try not to cry.
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