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Legacy Scholar Grant
The Page Center will award grants to support scholars and professionals making important contributions to knowledge, practice or public understanding of ethics and resposibility in public communication or other principles of Arthur W. Page.
Penn State Live
|Oral History with Charlotte Otto|
Interviewer: Well I want to thank you very much for agreeing to share a little bit of your life with us.
Otto: Oh it’s an honor to do it.
Otto: Okay first I have to say I never would have imagined that I would be here 31 years after leaving Purdue University. I joined the company in 1976 and was among the first group of women that were hired in the marketing area. So from that standpoint I was a little bit of a novelty in the company. I was really grateful to have the opportunity to join P & G although I never really intended to stay. When I got my job offer I said you know I really only plan to be here a couple of years so if you want to take the offer back, I can understand that. I don’t want to invest in a short timer and they said well why don’t you let us worry about that. And here I am 31 years later. I’ve had two careers at P & G. The first 13 years in the marketing area and worked on a variety of brands. The Bounty paper towels are my favorite brand in the company. And then in 1989 I had kind of a seminal moment where I really had to think about what I was going to do when I grew up. And I decided I really didn’t want my boss’ job and when you grow up in marketing at P & G you are genetically defective if you do not want to be a general manger and I didn’t want to be a general manager. So my boss asked the obvious question well if you don’t want my job what is it that you do want to do? And honestly not having reflected on that any great depth I said well you know I really love doing corporate work and I really like working outside the company. And I love Proctor & Gamble so I want to stay but I just want to do something different. And about three months later my boss came back and said you know we have this great opportunity for you to move to public affairs. And I thought public affairs. You know have I been derailed or what is this all about? I knew that they did the company Christmas card but beyond that what is this all about? Then I went to my new boss’ office to learn about the new job and right away he said “now you need to understand we’re the garbage can of the company, people have problems they drop them off here.” And I thought oh this is really inspirational. This is what I want to spend the rest of my career doing but I really quickly learned that this was the perfect fit for me. Well I loved what I did in marketing. The work that I had the opportunity to do over the past 18 years has just been a perfect fit. Both in terms of communications but also the opportunity to interact with company stakeholders, to be a face of the company; to develop the organization. It’s just been it’s been a dream job that I didn’t even know existed even 13 after I’d been with the company for 13 years. I didn’t know that this work really existed. Now why have I stayed with Proctor & Gamble for 31 years? This is going to sound trite but I really value the company’s values. They are alive and they are really well aligned with mine so every single day I go to work knowing that there’s a degree of harmony between my values and my purpose in life and what the company does. So that’s just a great environment to work in. The people I work with are people I’d be friends with if I didn’t work with them. Now they are people I really like. You know every single day is interesting and fun and challenging, not that every day is easy. But every day there’s a new kind of challenge that I just love. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.
Otto: Well, at P & G we have what we call the purpose values and principles or PVP is the P & G lingo for this, and the purpose of the company is to improve the lives of consumers around the world. And that whole mission of improving lives is really centering for the whole organization. And our, we have five values that are ownership and leadership, trust, integrity, and a passion for service in winning. We have nine operating principles that range from respect for all individuals to a mutual interdependence and just about everybody in the company can recite the mission verbatim. It’s really deep into the fabric. And I think it’s been critically important for us to have this unifying and centering mission. And people refer to it every day. And this is consistent with our purpose or that’s way out of line with PVP. It’s really very much alive. I think it brings us together as an organization as a family and we have to some extent I think we have an advantage because we promote from within so just about everybody in the company starts at entry level. So you literally grow up with this purpose values and principles as your guiding star for how we do business. And it it simplifies our language. You can go anywhere in the P & G world and have a common language right off the bat because of this purpose, values, and principles so I think it has really enabled us to be a more successful organization a more cohesive organization.
Otto: Well we go at this very purposefully. All new employees on their very first day get the purpose, values, and principles as virtually the first thing that they get as a new employee. In fact, we talk to our recruits about it on their interviews. Then we have a formal on boarding program for every new employee around the world. And the purpose, values, and principles are an important part of that. It’s a yearlong program. And we don’t just pass it out. We really try to bring it to life with examples and case studies and times that things have not been totally consistent with purpose, values, and principles because obviously that provides some important learning as well. So we’re pretty purposeful about training people and that as I said is a part of the daily vocabulary and it’s much more than, it is on all the walls and all the buildings and all the places around the world. But it’s a part of how we do business so you can’t you just have to be blind not to have it touch your work life every day.
Otto: Well, if you go back in history the what they call the public relations division started at Proctor & Gamble in 1949. And in the founding recommendation for our work it talked about the purpose being to ensure that the company acts in ways that will earn the public trust and that the public knows of the company’s actions to earn their trust. And I really liked in that founding recommendation the fact that the first focus was on actions and behaviors that earn trust because that’s really what it has always been about at P & G. Over about 40 years we were largely a reactive public relations and issues management organization. And then in the late 80s and early 90s we really began the practice of brand public relations in a big way. It was still I would say kind of an afterthought. It wasn’t core to the marketing plan and it was topspin. But it was beginning to be taken up by our brands. And at the same time I think the leadership of the company was beginning to appreciate that we had to have more of a public face for the company as things like the environmental issues or animal testing became more important in the early 90s. In 2000 we did a major redesign of how we do our work and brought together all of the externally facing capabilities in the company so not only was this public relations and communications but also the technical external relations that had previously been housed in R & D; some of the legal work that was done particularly in the regulatory area. All of our professional relations consumer relations government relations, were all brought together in one function in what we now call external relations. So it brought together over1200 people around the world that were doing externally facing externally influencing work. And our mission is to develop superior influence relationships to help build and protect the business and reputation of P & G and its brands and that’s really our centering focus and we do that with five disciplines, with brand PR, regulatory and technical relations, corporate reputation, government relations, and consumer relations. So that’s where we are today. And it’s been it’s been a really exciting journey especially over the past 20 years or so. Because we’ve gone from order takers you know people who kind of get called in at the last minute to take some notes on what the press release ought to say to true business partners. And the relationships with influencers that we’re able to bring into the company are the source of what we call commercial innovation, which is marketing big marketing ideas that are then deployed throughout the marketing mix. So it’s not just a PR program. But it can be the center of an entire brand-marketing program. You know an example might be our Dawn Ducks program - use Dawn to help clean animals who have been affected by something like an oil spill. Well that’s not just the PR program. It’s a customer program, a retail customer program with merchandising in stores, advertising on television and in print and radio. So it’s throughout the marketing mix. And that was an external relations idea that we brought in and became the center of a total marketing program. And that’s what we really aspire to do now is to be an edge for the company through influencer relationships. So that we’re not only protecting the company as we always have with issues and crises management; but we’re a real business building force as well. So that’s the journey that we’ve been on and it’s been really exciting to be a part of it.
Otto: I’d have to say yes to that. When I joined the company in 1976, eight percent of the managers were women, and the ranking woman was an associate marketing manager, so that’s kind of a beginning mid-level manager. Today nearly 40 percent of our mangers are women. And we have them at the very highest level of the company. The recently named president of the company is a woman, Susan Arnold, and every level top to bottom there are wonderful women, so I was the first but now certainly not the only woman officer. When I was the first woman to live on our executive floor, and I think it took me a while to both feel entitled to be there and also to have the credibility to earn the trust and respect to get people to essentially take my counsel and do what I suggest that they do, one thing that helped a lot was that I had a powerful male sponsor and for most women in the organization, I think they still need a powerful male sponsor. Mine happened to be the CEO - which had some good points and some bad points. Certainly he was an influential sponsor, at the same time the fact that I was one of his ‘mentees’ and one of his people if you will, sometime created some resentment with some of the folks. Basically the men who had been around for a long time and sort of considered themselves a part of the leadership club if you will. So I had to learn to use that new found sponsorship and power judiciously. Such that I both built allies but at the same time was able to carry out the responsibilities that the CEO had asked me to carry out in terms of giving people advice and making sure we stayed out of trouble, that there weren’t any surprises things like that. And from my own standpoint, when I joined the company in 1976 I was grateful to have this opportunity, and I grew up being grateful. Now that’s not necessarily empowered, and so the transition that I had to make at that point was I had to feel really entitled to be among the leaders of the company and not a grateful little girl looking up to dads saying oh thank you so much for this opportunity. Now I really had to feel like I had a right to play at the table and that took some maturing on my part. I’ll always be grateful to my husband who is my not only my partner in life but my very best career coach who sat me down and tried to help me understand the world of men and that they didn’t say they were sorry a lot. They didn’t spend time explaining how they felt. They got in there. They did it. If there was conflict they stood right up to it. I’ll never forget a time that there was a gentleman who in essence was being side stepped for advancement and I think he was a little embarrassed about it. So he came to me and said I don’t want any coverage of this change in the newspaper. I tried to explain to him that this was not going to be under my control - that indeed it was news that a new person was coming into the role and I fully expected it to be reported. But if it made him feel better we would pull the news release. Well of course the news got out because it was news and it was announced internally. So the next day he came in and he just yelled at me. He was so angry that there had been coverage in the local paper. And I was devastated when I went home and I shared my great regret this had happened with my husband and he said did you tell him to just grow up. Well of course this never occurred to me that perhaps it wasn’t my fault, that was going to happen anyway. And to me that was just a light bulb went on that I don’t have to take responsibility for everybody else’s feelings and I don’t have to apologize and I don’t have to carry the guilt of the world. You know everybody is responsible for themselves. That was big. That was a pretty big breakthrough for me in terms of feeling both entitled and feeling that I had a right to play at the table.
Otto: We’ve always viewed PR agencies as essential partners for our business. As much as we’ve always viewed advertising agencies as essential partners for our business and we couldn’t work without PR agency partners and I think our reliance on our PR agency partners is going to grow substantially. And the key reason is there’s an exploding demand for the work that we do among our brands and our corporate work as well, and we can’t add enough experienced people fast enough to meet that demand. So we’re going to have to rely on our agencies to provide the extra resources that we need to serve our brands in the company. So I think that’s a really healthy thing. Our challenge has been to develop agency capability particularly outside the key developed markets in North America and Europe. We have found that for a number of our agency partners their capability outside those developed markets is uneven, and so we’ve talked to them about the importance of developing capability in Latin America, in eastern Europe, and in Asia because we’re going to be relying on them to be our partners to a much greater degree, so to me that’s the key challenge. I have never thought of this as outsourcing. And we do a lot in a lot of different areas of the company in terms of what might be called outsourcing. But we call it partnering. Because we rely on our external partners to bring capability, to bring innovation, and to help us with cost. But it’s not principally about cost, it’s really about capability and that’s exactly how we view our relationship with our PR agency partners as well.
Otto: They boycotted all our brands.
Interviewer: Now - the media described Proctor & Gamble as the first company to support the political agenda for the homosexual movement. You were right in the heart of all this. Can you describe the different factors that contributed to the corporation’s decision to support the movement?
Otto: Well first let me reframe the issue because while I certainly agree with how you reported it as it was played out in some media - that really isn’t what was going on here. A number of years ago, our city charter was amended to exclude protecting against discrimination based on sexual orientation. And that set in motion, over a period of time, some real economic impacts to the city. Conventions for example refused to come here. We as a community, I think, took on a very Intolerant kind of a reputation and that combined with some other things that had happened in Cincinnati whether it was the Maple Thorpe exhibit or Marge Shot and the Cincinnati Reds, we were beginning to develop a reputation as a community being quite unwelcoming. That simply was not good for anybody. It had an impact in terms of P & G on our ability to recruit people, on the economic vitality of the community - a lot of things that we as a company care about. So we along with the Chamber of commerce and virtually every other business in the community, aligned on the needs to repeal Article 12 and essentially what that did was then return our charter to a neutral position. And it really didn’t take a position on sexual orientation, as a basis for discrimination, so we really got into this based on what we felt was a very important corporate interest in both the reputation and economic vitality of the community. We then got in some political cross winds in Ohio in 2004 - Presidential election year and also a year in which in the protection of marriage amendment was on the state ballot, and I think we became a vehicle for raising the visibility of that particular political issue. I think this had very little to do with P & G’s long standing diversity policy of respect on a lot of different qualities and interests including sexual orientation. To say that this had anything to do with P & G taking up a homosexual agenda is absolutely ridiculous and it was political positioning. It really had nothing in the merits and I think most people would agree with that. To me this whole episode which ended with the American Family Association calling into the boycott because it was ill founded. The real lesson here is that out of a crisis you can develop much stronger relationships and partnerships and this certainly was the case in this situation. We had been in the sites, like most big advertisers, of the American Family Association for many years. They would from time to time write us or protest if we sponsored a particular program or perhaps advertising content that they found objectionable. So we were well known to AFA and we certainly had the door open for them to call us. They chose not to. That was a real signal that we had lost touch with important stakeholder relationships in the Christian community. That led to renewing those relationships. And as an outgrowth of this 2004 episode we created something that we called the Multi-view Resource Network. So we’ve started resource groups for the Christian community, Jewish, Muslim, the gay/lesbian community. When we have an important policy matter, we’ll seek their input. It’s not that they will concur. But they will counsel based on their particular world-view. So for example, we renewed our stem cell research policy, so we convened the Multi-view Network. We asked from their particular world view what perspective could they offer us so that we didn’t unintentionally do something without being aware of how it might be viewed by stakeholders in the community. And it was really, really helpful. When we updated our programming and sponsorship policy we convened the Multiview Network and again got input from these different world views which I think has helped us to renew our policy and have it be even more robust and we did that with an understanding of how it would be viewed in different stakeholder communities. So out of that unfortunate mess that occurred in 2004 I think we got a lot stronger as a company. We have now I would say very strong relationships in the Christian community as one example. And I doubt that something like that would happen again. Because people would call us first and say well help me understand your position on Article 12 as an example. And I think we would be able to have dialogue rather than a need to deal in a crisis environment and through the media. And so I viewed that unbalance as a really good reminder of the importance of being in touch and developing those key stakeholder relationships.
Otto: I don’t think the connection to the community had that much to do with resolving the situation. I mean I think it was a great example of big tree catches the wind. You know, we were the, we were the easiest target for this group. Our brands are well known. We’re a leadership company and we’re actually quite respected for our diversity policy and the way we really live it not just talk about it. So I’m not sure the community piece was so important in the resolution. The community piece was really important in developing a coalition to ultimately defeat and have the repeal of Article 12. That was bad public policy. That was hurting the economic vitality of our city and our region and that needed to go. And P & G was an important part of a broad coalition in the community to get that amendment repealed. So I think we got the right thing done. We took some flack in the process. But I’d make the same decision again. There’s no question in my mind that we made the right policy decision.
Otto: Well the animal I guess goes back to the 80s and again I think it’s an example of the importance of the building partnerships as well as doing the right thing. A fellow named Henry Spira who was he’s passed away. He was one of the original founders of the animal rights movement in the United States and early on he came to Proctor & Gamble and said that I think you can make a difference in this whole area of animal testing by being a leader in the area of developing animal alternatives to animal testing. And we partnered with Henry and over the past more than 25 years, have been leaders in developing animal alternatives, and we’re recognized by just about every organization including folks like PETA as being a leader in that area. At the same time we’ve been a target by PETA, by In Defensive of Animals and others again. I think the big tree catches the wind, we’ve been a target to try to influence a whole industry to make changes. And first of all we’ve been committed to doing the right thing so we have steadily decreased our use of animals. We ended finished product testing. We’ve made industry-leading changes in our pet nutrition area, which became a focus of PETA in the earlier in 2000-2003 after we acquired the Iams Company which is pet food. I think in some cases they challenged us to do better and we have. In some cases they helped us identify some practices of outside labs that frankly were sloppy and in some cases inconsistent with our own policies. So we’ve they’ve pointed out some stuff that has been helpful to us that we needed to fix. At the same time we think probably we have been unfairly targeted sometimes just because the big tree catches the wind. But overall we’ve tried to partner with groups like the Humane Society of the US, even with PETA to do things like joint lobbying to get the EPA to change their regulations requiring animal testing. We don’t think is necessary, or we think there are alternatives available that are actually more reliable, less costly, and reduce the need for animals. So again I think overall we’ve developed partnerships out of this adversity that have been good for animals, good for the company, good for the industry and that’s kind of how we try to go into this kind of thing is we try to look at what the facts are and if we need to clean our house okay we need to get after that. But also how can we build partnerships to advance what’s right. And almost always we can find some kind of common ground. Even with a group like PETA who has been on our tail for a long time.
Otto: Oh I think the first thing would be the creation of external relations at P & G. It really changed the game in terms of the business value that we could bring to the company by bringing together all these externally facing efforts so that there there’s a lot greater scale and coordination and business impact when we join our efforts. So it was an idea that we developed in 2000. A small group of us thought that bringing all these capabilities together might work, maybe not, and through the creativity and the professional mastery of these 1200 people around the world, they brought it to life. Now this wasn’t, I never could have imagined what they’ve been able to do in taking that capability and bringing that to bear on the business, so that has been, that’s probably the thrill of my whole career. I think another thing I’m really proud of is we have begun to build the P & G brand. And we’ll be 170 years old this year. And I’d say for 160+ years we have been a company of product brands and the less said about the P & G brand the better. But of course the world has changed, and consumers and every other stakeholder wants to know about the company behind the brand, so we’ve tried to build the P & G brand just like we build any of our other brands - with discipline and strategy and that’s coming along nicely. And so that’s something that has always been a passion of mine. And I’d say the third thing is the things we’ve been able to do in the Cincinnati community. I’ve been very involved in economic development for the past decade including being involved in the development of a river front master plan which I think we’re just about to bring to fruition and they actually begin digging some dirt down on our river front. I’ve been involved in a lot of downtown development activities and they are coming along well.
Otto: I would say first of all it’s really important to know yourself and to know your values and be very centered in knowing right from wrong. It’s one of those Page Principles of ‘Telling the Truth,’ knowing what your truth is, is really important because having that clear and centered personal set of values then enables one to give better counsel, clearer counsel to not have to struggle with issues in your own mind. So I think that’s really important. I think it’s really important to have a mentality of generosity. There’s room for everybody to be right. Now I’ve never met a person who believes strongly in something and articulates it believing that they are wrong. You know for some reason they believe that their view, their approach, has merit - even if others may not. So I think this mindset of generosity, of having room an abundance mentality. There’s lots of room for lots of different views is really important to building trust and earning the right to be a part of the community. I believe in lift as you climb. I believe we each have a responsibility to do unto others as we have benefited from mentors and coaches and people who have helped lift us up, so I spend a lot of time with women’s organizations and the leader of our corporate Women’s Leadership Task Force because I really believe in that whole notion lift as you climb.
Otto: Well I think I think our role in the company has changed, and will continue to evolve from being communicators to being business leaders - really having a seat at the table. And that requires different experience and skills than when I entered the profession nearly 20 years ago. First of all we really have to understand the business, we have to understand the consumer, the retail customer, the business strategy, the priorities - we can’t get that as hand me down information from the marketing team. We have to be at the table really understanding and shaping the business strategy not just as recipients or reading a piece of paper. But we have to be in there bringing the outside in to influence the business direction. So I think that’s the first thing is really understanding the business. Second we need to be real leaders. We need to at P & G we have this thing called the five E’s of leadership, and it starts with envisioning being able to envision the future redirection and having a clear picture of the desired end result. We need to be able to do that from a business standpoint and clearly we need to be able to do that in terms of how external relations is going to contribute to achieving those business goals. And then I think we need to be ever more creative, innovative, resourceful as the media landscape changes as the role of what we call influencer marketing in the marketing mix - that’s a broader version of brand PR - but as influencer marketing becomes really the source of a lot of marketing innovation for our brands, we really have to turn on the innovation and creativity. We really need to be able to see how to take influencer insights and relationships and turn them into big ideas. That’s a different set of skills than folks had when I started in this business. Now we were much more order takers and we got knowledge about the business on a hand me down basis. I think there’s never been a more exciting and important time to be in our profession and I’m very optimistic about the opportunity we have to build the business and make a contribution.
Interviewer: great well I guess I was just going to finish up by saying that the Page Center at Penn State was created to foster integrity in public communications and the interview that we just had will become part of a permanent and interactive collection of oral histories available to the public at the Page Center and also through its website. So I just want to thank you very much for giving your time and sharing your thoughts for our collection. Thank you.
Otto: It’s been an honor.
Interviewer: We are done.
Otto: Okay wow perfect. Thank you Cinda.
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