Damon Jones hit the headlines last year when he reviewed Gillette’s $4m PR agency relationship, eventually deciding to drop 20-year incumbent Porter-Novelli in favour of Ketchum. The 36-year-old has spent almost three years as global communications director at Gillette, after occupying numerous PR roles during his 14-year career at Procter & Gamble.
In the interview below, Jones explains his decision to switch agencies and says the PR industry still struggles with the crucial challenge of becoming "brand strategists".
We often hear about the benefits of lengthy relationships between client and agency. So after 20 years, why change from Porter-Novelli?
I do think we fully value relationships. At the end of the day, this change was a point about the future and continuing to make sure we had the sharpest, strongest strategies and plans in place. I think we got to a point where we felt we needed to step change some of the things we were doing, and the agency was part of that. As a brand we’ve been the market leader as long as anyone can remember, but we’re not content - we need to innovate in everything we do.
What appealed to you about Ketchum’s pitch?
Their vision for how they saw the role of communications on the brand was very interesting and attractive and forward-looking. Both as an independent brand-building vehicle, but also their vision for the role of communications as part of an integrated function. How they staffed the account, their combination of different skills and capabilities, we also thought was very attractive.
Was there something you wanted to change in terms of how the communications discipline operates at Gillette?
I view my role as part brand strategist and part conversation leader. If you think about traditional PR it gets into how many impressions, and that can be a somewhat narrow way to look at the world. The brand strategist role goes to a deep partnership with the business leaders, and what is the innovation we are trying to create. Consumers will judge us not just on our advertising but on their product experience and customer experience. Our job is as much brand strategist as it is communications and conversations leader. That’s what we were looking for from our agency as well. That’s been an evolution. It requires us, as an internal team, to have new capabilities to do that. It requires our marketers to think differently and it requires different things from our ad agency.
Do you think the PR discipline is making that change? Can the discipline lead brand marketing?
We’re not consistent in developing good brand strategy, nor in delivering it. If we want marketers and ad agencies to think differently about us, we have to think differently about ourselves. We’ve earned the seat at the table. Now, what are we going to do with it? I don’t think we’re consistently providing high-level brand strategy at the level we need to.
On the one hand, men are shaving less. On the other they are spending more on wet shaving products. How difficult is it for you to forecast and plan for trends like these?
Incredibly difficult. We have seen a decline in the number of men for whom the clean shaven look is their ideal look. The trend is for more customization, more styling. It’s too simple to look at it as guys who shave and guys who don’t shave. I think you have guys who are very deliberate in the look they want to achieve. The challenge for us is to understand what are all of the drivers - whether someone wants to be clean shaven but is going to take 15 minutes in the morning to shave - those are guys attracted to the Art of Shaving. Then you have a lot of guys who look at their facial hairstyle as a reflection of their personality. Our challenge is how do we respond to the need for customisation, versus the trend for more facial hair or less facial hair.
You worked in a comms role on President Obama’s 2008 campaign. Are there any lessons from that experience that have proved particularly valuable in your current position?
The first one is that in the corporate world, we traditionally prize our ability to plan and predict the way things are going to happen. In a political role it’s a ready assumption that you can’t plan and predict. There’s a lot of emphasis put on the ability to be agile and not be afraid to consistently re-evaluate strategy. That’s something corporations can learn from. On a campaign, you would never plan out a full day of meetings. But, constantly people in the corporate world will plan out their day in back-to-back meetings, which limits their ability to react.
The other thing is making sure we are really clear in how we are differentiated to our competitors. When I was trained in PR, it was about how many times can you repeat your key message. Yes frequency is important, but its about how is your product different from the next product, and not being afraid to draw some of those sharp contrasts versus your competition, in a respectful way. We’ve really got to adjust our messaging based on what people are saying about us every day.