Marc Pritchard: metaphorically speaking

Marc Pritchard is the chief brand officer of the world’s biggest advertiser, P&G. He – and his company – need little introduction.

I singled him out in a blog last Friday for the genuine impact he is having in the digital advertising market. If only the PR measurement industry had such a potent force to shake it up.

Pritchard has given two keynote conference speeches in the past six weeks. They have both moved the issue of fraud and viewability in digital advertising from the specialist trade press to the front pages of the world’s news media. The first was at the end of January at the Internet Advertising Bureau’s annual leadership meeting, the second was last week at the U.S. Association of National Advertisers’ media conference.

As well as deploying P&G’s considerable muscle and clout to make himself heard, Pritchard has shown himself to be quite the orator. Reviewing his rhetorical style at these two events, here are three lessons others would do well to absorb and emulate. I’m particularly impressed by number three.

1. He tells it like it is

Describing the digital media ecosystem, Pritchard has not shied away from talking about “crappy advertising … and crappier consumer experience”. This guy is fed up and he’s going to call it as he sees it.

2. He gets on a message and sticks to it

Here is a man on a very singular mission, however complex the media world swirling around his and all other advertiser businesses may be. He knows what he wants, he’s got an action plan – a four- (maybe five-) point action plan – and he’s going to take every available platform to say the same thing. Again and again and again, as change starts to come about.

3. He’s mastered the art of the metaphor

Speaking in metaphors – borrowing analogies from other areas of life beyond one’s own, specialist niche – takes skill and courage. And to pull it off without going OTT takes nerve and judgment. Pritchard has all of these – and then some.

In his latest, ever-so-measured tirade at the ANA event, he used the following choice phrasings.

Encouraging CMOs to get personally involved in sorting out the “murky at best, fraudulent at worst” digital advertising ecosystem, he said: “It’s not a spectator sport … The CMO needs to get into the weeds … follow through and be willing to break some furniture”.

The central message is “Don’t let the fox guard the henhouse”. Having been the social responsibility spokesperson for the international drinks industry in the 1990s at The Portman Group, I know this one all too well. “Don’t let Al Capone onto the Chicago Crime Prevention Panel”, “Don’t let the cat look after the goldfish when you go holiday”, “Don’t leave Dracula in charge of the blood donation service”. I had all those and more flung at me in three, turbulent years. And I know. They stick.

He also talks a lot about “navigating numerous difficult conversations” and marketers having their “head in the sand”, ostrich-like.

The power of Pritchard’s language reflects both his high status and his hair-shirtedness. He’s pissed as they say in the U.S. – add an “off” for British English readers – with the current mess. But he’s honest enough to hold his hands up as the world’s biggest spender to take some of the flack. And in seeking a practical solution, he’s both plain-speaking and encouraging his audience to engage by piling on the metaphors. Metaphors that engage and give colour and encourage a wider-than-usual audience to listen and take him seriously.

Good work, Mr Pritchard. Keep on hammering that message home.

The author has no relationship or connection with either P&G or Mr Pritchard. These are simply observations of his use of language.