Golden Tickets And Pink Slips

By Tom Branna, VP/Editorial Director | March 2, 2012

The email subject line read, “Exclusive Invitation.” But after 23 years in this industry, I’ve been to enough “exclusive” events to know that these invites usually mean getting jammed into some cramped New York City loft at 5:30pm, a glass of cheap champagne in-hand, waiting for the VP of-something-or-other to show up at 6:30pm to make a smarmy comment about the spokesmodel on his arm and a joke or two at the expense of the “journalists” in the room, before launching into a 15-minute spiel about the revolutionary new eye, face or body cream that will ultimately be forgotten by the media, the masses and the company itself 10 months down the road.

But this invitation, this one, was different. It came from Procter & Gamble and was a chance to get a peak inside one of its 52 innovation centers with just a handful of other media types. And like Charlie Bucket, I jumped at the opportunity.

The tour didn’t disappoint. P&G is No. 1 in so many categories because it understands consumer wants and needs better than any other consumer products company on the planet. To launch Tide Pods (see p. 82 in this issue), P&G received input from 6,000 consumers—no wonder why the company spends $500 million a year on consumer testing.

Unfortunately, in today’s cost-conscious environment, outspending the competition by such a wide margin can come back to bite you. Little more than a week after that tour, P&G announced a retooling that will cost about 10% of its non-manufacturing employees their jobs. As I was getting my golden ticket that granted entrée to a bit of P&G’s behind-the-scenes magic, about 5,700 employees were getting their pink slips. It’s a story that’s become all too common in the global household and personal products industry. As companies get more efficient, leaner and at times, a bit meaner, somebody’s going to be let go to improve the bottom line. The lesson? Don’t get complacent, don’t stop learning and do make yourself indispensable. Remember, when you’re getting chased by a bear, you don’t have to outrun the bear—just one of your coworkers.

We hope you enjoy this edition of Happi. As always, we welcome your comments and suggestions.