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Sun 2 Apr 2006 04:00 AM

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A trendsetter and marketer worth listening to

Every agency boss wants to have lunch with P&G’s Jim Stengel. Steve Wrelton met one of the world’s most powerful marketers

A trendsetter and marketer worth listening to|~|stengel200.jpg|~|Stengel... ‘We’re not an arrogant company and if we ever get that way I think we’ll have problems’|~|Pinning Jim Stengel down for an interview is no easy task. When Campaign set the wheels in motion for a meeting with Procter & Gamble’s global marketing officer, it was clear we were dealing with a big cheese.

A date and time slot (11.45am to 12.05pm) were agreed, but only after the editor received a call from a concerned PR asking if this reporter was up to the job.

Several phone calls later, the interview got the green light, and we were given our 20-minute slot with Stengel at the IAA World Congress in Dubai. Now, it’s always nice to have a bit of company for a meeting, but conducting an interview when you have eight P&G bosses and PR reps looking on can be slightly distracting.

Still, an audience with Stengel is an opportunity not to be missed.

He does, after all, represent a company that vies with General Motors to be the world’s top advertising spender and is among the top five spenders in the Middle East. Last year it laid out an estimated US$4-6 billion on advertising brands such as Clairol, Olay, Duracell, Head & Shoulders and Crest worldwide.

The speech Stengel delivered at the IAA Congress was entitled ‘Marketing unleashed — empowering people to drive innovation and results’. It urged advertising and marketing organisations to unleash the ‘passion’ of their employees to help them do a better job of customising the brands they promote. It was also a speech from the heart, imploring advertisers to connect with consumers on a deeper level; to help them lead better lives.

“You have to act on it,” he says, “If it’s just a slogan then it’s very hollow. We’re not going to change the world, but with a total combined effort I think we can make a difference. If we make a detergent that’s better at fighting stains but milder on fabrics — obviously that does improve life in a small way, but we’ve always done that. We’ve always innovated in products.

“What I think maybe we have new energy for now is that in all of our marketing, that should also touch a life and make a life better.”

Stengel says that if a company is engaged in marketing that excites people, that makes them smile and choose a brand, it is doing a good job. “That’s our benchmark,” he says. “I think that when you do that then your approach to marketing is not just ‘I’m going to sell her something’ it’s ‘I’m going to build a relationship, I’m going to make her life a bit better because she’s experienced our marketing or our brand experience’. To me we’re always evolving on that.”

This is the first time that Stengel, 50, has been to Dubai and his next destination is Egypt, which will also be a first-time visit for the committed family man from Cincinnati, Ohio.

So what’s his take on the Middle East market and what does he think about standards of creativity in the region?

“The region’s very diversified — there’s not one template or model that works everywhere,” he says, “It’s a whole range of very developed, wealthy, sophisticated consumers and of consumers who are really struggling to make ends meet every day.

“It’s a region that’s rich with innovation, it’s rich with change and, as far as the consumer goes, the importance of family here is very, very strong, as well as the importance of value — obviously in markets where consumers don’t have so much disposable income, but even in markets where there is disposable income. It’s also a very quality-sensitive consumer and a consumer that values design.”

P&G works with several large ad agencies in the Middle East, including Leo Burnett, Saatchi & Saatchi and Grey Worldwide.

And on creativity, Stengel offers a view that is refreshingly different from some of the other global bosses who have graced the pages of Campaign recently.

He says that the region holds its own on the creative front and that criticism from outsiders is a ‘bad rap’. “We have very high shares here in many of our brands and that would not happen without very strong innovation locally.”

Transparency is something that the company seeks in all of its business dealings and the Middle East, he says, rates highly.

“We don’t really have any issues and if we did have any then we’d be all over them,” he says.

Media measurement is more of an issue for Stengel, though this is not a problem that is unique to the Middle East. “I don’t think the measurement industry has innovated fast enough. What we really need is a better way to measure the total impact of a holistic marketing programme, and we’re not very far on that. I think it’s a problem in all of the markets we deal with, even in the ones that we’ve been in the longest and are the most advanced, like the UK or the US. We have to rely on market share, which is wonderful, it’s what we’re all about, but sometimes it’s a bit of a blunt instrument for some of the things we’re looking at.”

Stengel is every bit the archetypal company man. He has worked for the firm for the last 23 years, rising up through the ranks from a brand assistant on Duncan Hines Cookies to global marketing officer of P&G, the job he has been in for the last five years.

He is held in high regard by his peers and is recognised as being one of the marketing world’s true innovators. Advertising Age has twice named him number one “Power Player” and last year he was crowned “Grand Marketer of the Year” by Brandweek magazine.

Does he believe the hype? Not if his reaction to the question is anything to go by.

“The worst thing to do is to read your headlines,” he says, laughing. “No, I have a wonderful job, I’m very inspired and energised by it, I work with fantastic people, I feel very privileged to do what I am doing. I realise we’re a large spender and we set a lot of trends, people watch us and obviously it’s important that I understand that and do speeches like I did today, because when we speak, people do listen.”

Stengel is aware that sometimes the multi-billion dollar company is tarred as being arrogant and he wants to set the record straight.

“We’re not an arrogant company and if we ever get that way I think we’ll have problems. I think we’ve gotten that rap in the past because we’re a very principled company, we sometimes don’t budge from our principles.”

What does Stengel actually enjoy about the job? What makes one of the world’s most powerful marketers in the world get out of bed?

“What gives me a buzz is what our people do every day, I love seeing what our people are doing —that always lifts me up and I hope I can inspire them a little bit as well by sharing some ideas,” he says.

“My role really is to ensure this company is the best brand building company it can be. A lot of it is ensuring that we have the right organisation, the right training, the right capability, that we pick the areas we want to be best at, that we’re picking the right partners.

“But at the end of the day, if we’re not building great brand equities that consumers love and we’re not hiring and retaining great talent, then I’m not doing my job.” ||**||

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