Marc Pritchard is the brand chief at the world’s largest advertiser. And he has very personal reasons for using this communications muscle to help drive social change, as Geoffrey Precourt reports.
Marc Pritchard, in addition to his day job as chief brand officer at Procter & Gamble, has been an inspiring advocate for purpose-driven marketing that makes use of brands and services as tools for social change.
P&G’s initiatives include clean water, waste management, ingredient transparency and, perhaps most visibly, its “Thank You, Mom” efforts in support of the Olympics, and its on-going attempts to promote racial equality through powerful storytelling, as exemplified by “The Talk” and “Love over Bias”.
Pritchard chairs the Association of National Advertisers, and used the occasion of the trade body’s 2018 Multicultural Marketing and Diversity Conference to step out of his official role and – in the spirit of “inspiring [the audience] to act” – share some “personal moments of truth” that led him to embrace purpose-driven marketing as a corporate officer and as an individual.
“I was exposed to diversity, inclusion, and equality throughout my life. My dad was a Mexican-American who grew up dirt poor in Denver, Colorado, and was a bit of an activist for migrant Latino farm workers. My mom was of German descent, one of five daughters. The love of my life, my wife Betsy, and I have three daughters. So, I have been surrounded by women pretty much my entire life.”
Many of Pritchad’s extended family are black, he further explained, adding: “I went to middle school in Arkansas, where half the students were black. I attended high school in Indiana, where a third of the students were black. My wife is Jewish. I'm Catholic. My dad started off Catholic and eventually believed in the higher power of Alcoholics Anonymous.
“I have friends of every religious belief and have worked with, and for, colleagues and friends who identify themselves as LGBTQ. So, on the surface it might seem that advocating for diversity and inclusion would come naturally – and you might expect that taking a stand for equality would be a relatively comfortable step.
“Although the conditions may have been present, getting to the conviction of actually stepping up to take a stand has been fueled by a few critical moments of truth.
“The first was 20 years ago, when I was general manager for our CoverGirl business located in Baltimore. During the summer, I was at the spiritual range in Colorado with Betsy and our three young daughters, who all were under the age of ten at the time.
“At the end of the week, the spiritual leader at the ranch pulled me aside and said, ‘I hope you realize the difference you can make, because business will be the greatest force for good in the future. The work you do affects popular culture. Your brands touch people every day. If you choose to do so, you can do a lot of good.’
“It was the proverbial blinding moment of clarity.
“It so happened we just had developed the new, ‘Easy, Breezy, Beautiful’ CoverGirl advertising campaign. But we had a problem. The five new spokespeople in the campaign were too young. Too thin. And too white. They conveyed a somewhat stereotypical standard of beauty. The realization that our advertising affected the perceptions of the standards of beauty really struck me, especially as I looked to my young daughters.
“We changed [the creative] immediately, partnering with powerful women for a more accurate and positive portrayal of beauty, starting with Queen Latifah, who revolutionized the brand in women’s' empowerment. We … brought much more diversity for the brand” working with a diverse talent roster including Pink, Ellen DeGeneres, Sofía Vergara, Janelle Monáe, and others.
“Queen and I recently reunited on our True to the World panel ... Last June, in Cannes, we announced our partnership on the Queen Collective, an effort to build a pipeline of multicultural women directors for film, advertising, and media.
“Another moment of truth that was more difficult: For the last several years, I've served as the executive sponsor for our African-American Ancestry Leadership Pathway, which is the internal community of black employees at P&G.
“At first, I was quite active: I just came from a successful diversity effort on CoverGirl, I thought, ‘I really have this.’ I worked to apply what was successful at promoting diversity at all levels. But, after a few years, my efforts drifted. I took for granted the sustained amount of work needed, and our results started to slip. Representation decreased. Attrition increased. And our brands’ market share among black consumers declined.
“This resulted in a crisis of confidence among the most senior black leaders at P&G, who bravely took it upon themselves to confront me, our chief HR officer, and our CEO at the time. They outlined their concerns and asked for an intervention. As one of the chief advocates of diversity, they didn't believe I was fully committed. They didn't believe that we in leadership were doing enough.
“They were right.
“We had awareness, but we lacked demonstrated conviction. And, most importantly, we lacked sustained action. It was a profound moment and a huge wake-up call. I went through every emotion – most of all the pain and disappointment in myself for letting people down; people I cared deeply about, not just as colleagues, but as friends. It was an important moment of truth: I had to slide out of the way or step up.
“I decided to step up. I personally engaged in deep dialogue with trusted colleagues, friends, and many others to educate me. They shared their feelings, told me what I was missing, and, most of all, suggested actions I could take to do the right thing.
“We formed an external advisory board so we could go deep. And we asked to hear from black employees so we not only could get a genuine understanding of the reality that they faced but also take action, with the kind of rigor we take with any business problem.
“Our chief diversity officer arranged a ‘fish-bowl session’, where senior leaders could actually observe black peers speaking truth from every level of the company – as well as those who’d left P&G – and courageously sharing the reality of what they faced and are still facing.
“Words cannot convey the raw emotion that they expressed and that all of us felt. I was shocked at the bias that still existed. It was painful to hear about the cumulative impact – the comments, dismissals, misunderstandings, exclusions, and, particularly hard to fathom, the fear that exists outside our walls in the community.
“It was clear that we – and I personally – had to step up. We had some cursory awareness and commitment but not enough depth. And certainly not enough action.
“We set goals from the very top of the house to be the best company for African-American employees and [deliver] the best brands for African-American consumers. We worked to engage the entire African-American Ancestry Leadership Network to educate and enroll more champions and develop a multi-year program to trial.
“Externally, [we sponsored] activities to bring people of all races together to learn, gain familiarity with each other, and create allies. Internally, we had a ‘Stepping Up’ event, where we openly shared our progress, problems, and inspiration. And we now more openly celebrate Black History Month, not just with black employees, but with all employees.
“We have major sponsorships with the Essence Festival, Cincinnati Music Festival, BET. We've hosted the NAACP National Urban League Convention, because our voice matters. And, next spring, we’re holding a CEO Summit at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center to further the dialogue on race in our country.”
Two years ago, during Hispanic Heritage Month, Procter & Gamble attacked what Pritchard called “one of the most insidious forms of bias: Labels.
“This is a powerful ad,” he asserted, “and it generated eight million views, 22 million impressions, and a double-digit increase in social conversations in just one month.
“But it also affected me personally, since I'm half-Mexican. Although my father was a Mexican, he was adopted by a man with an English name, Pritchard. Growing up, I could move between Latino and white cultures. But, entering the workforce, I suppressed my Mexican heritage, keeping it hidden, for fear of being labeled.
“I had heard those kinds of degrading terms [featured in the Tide spot] many times in my life and had seen bias ... I remembered that my dear dad had reinforced bias, but all in an effort to protect me, because he loved me. When I applied for a job, there was a place to specify race: ‘Caucasian’, ‘Black’, or ‘Latino’. What should I mark? My dad said, ‘You mark “Caucasian”, otherwise you’ll be judged differently and have trouble getting a good job.’
“There also were situations at work ... Early in my career, I worked for several senior management teams who called me, ‘Young Marc’ ... During a performance review, my boss brought this up, and I said, ‘Well, what would I do about that?’ And he said, ‘Well, there's not a lot you can do, but you might want to avoid getting too dark a tan.’
“It brought back the memory of my dad, who once said the same thing about himself regarding work. He'd often avoid the sun to keep from getting too dark. Now, as I reflected on this point, I realized my own biases, and I had to unlearn many of them.
“I decided to share my personal story. At the 2017 ANA Multicultural Conference, for the first time in 35 years, I stood up, proudly and publicly sharing the fact that I'm Mexican and I'm proud of my Mexican heritage.
“It was quite an emotional moment but made it clear that when leaders step up to talk about tough issues like bias, it gives others the safety to talk, change attitudes, and change behavior.
“All of these moments of truth, and the introspection that followed, led to a deeply passionate commitment to make a difference in diversity and inclusion, notably in racial and gender equality. I'm privileged to work for a company that's the world's largest advertiser. So, we can use our voice in advertising for good, to promote equality. And we found that it's also good for growth.
“My wife actually tells me that the universe will unfold as it should, and that everything happens for a reason. These moments of truth have firmed my conviction that this is the path I'm destined to take, to use whatever influence I have for as long as I have it, to help make the world a better place.
“My advice to you,” he told the ANA audience, “is to make equality personal. Explore your personal journey, recognize the privileges you have, and use your position and influence for good.
“That means asking the tough questions on casting, insisting on accurate and positive portrayals of race, gender, and all cultures; asking, ‘Why not?’ on a promotion; expecting a diverse range of agency partners, commercial directors, producers, and proposers.
“Each of us can make a difference everyday using our voice, and where that goes.
“Step up and take a bold stand, even if it means you take some heat.”