Team Shirley Takes the Field at P&G

Ed Shirley, Procter & Gamble’s new vice chair for beauty and grooming, unveils his game plan for reigniting growth.

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Beauty Inc issue 05/08/2009

Shirley’s grooming regimen evolved as he got to know each of P&G’s categories more intimately while serving as group president of North America. He’s also taken to heart P&G’s commitment to consumer research. “The way P&G goes to market is to get inside consumer’s homes and not just hear what they say they do but to actually see what they do,” he says, noting he’s made home visits in India, Brazil, China, Russia, Poland and Ukraine thus far. “It’s an externally focused way of thinking and is liberating because it forces you to get outside of the trap of internal focus.”

Conversely, though, Shirley says Gillette had the edge when it comes to retail execution, a  capability he’s trying to bring to P&G. “I’ve got a passion for retail,” says Shirley, an avid shopper who cites Nordstrom as his favorite store. The goal is to combine in-store theater and impeccable execution that literally stops the consumer in his or her tracks. As an example, Shirley cites the recent launch of Olay Professional Pro-X, whose price points of $40 to $60 broke barriers both for the brand and for mass market skin care. Custommade shelf displays included merchandising the line’s three core products behind glass to differentiate them from the rest of Olay and emphasize their premium positioning.

“We call it deselection and selection,” he says. “If you can create a way in store to help the consumer naturally deselect everything else because they’re drawn to this new item or new way of presenting an item or a category, it allows you to communicate your own message. Otherwise you get lost. And where categories don’t do well is when it’s just a sea of the same. One of the things that Gillette brought to the company was an incredible focus on execution and making launches really big.” Thus far, the strategy seems to be working, as evidenced by the success of Pro-X, which the company says has exceeded expectations and has a nearly 5 percent value share after two months on the market.

Gillette also excelled at populating the frontend of stores with high-impulse items to stimulate incremental sales, a strategy that is currently being implemented in the beauty category. And Shirley is working with his brand teams to help clarify the in-store offering for the consumer. “Sometimes you can get carried away with sku proliferation and fragmenting categories and brands,” he says. “In slicing it too thinly, you can confuse the consumer and we’ve seen that in some of our categories.”

He cites Olay as an example. “I was standing in front of the shelf and couldn’t tell the difference
between Total Effects and Regenerist and Definity,” he says, referring to different franchises within the brand. His brand management team explained the unique selling proposition of each to him, and that became the basis for a new merchandising and communications approach. “I was confused, and if I’m confused, the consumer is probably confused, so we’ve upgraded.”

Trading up, be it in merchandising or product proposition, is the backbone of Shirley’s game plan. “We are going to gain share because we’ve got better innovation, and at the same time, trade consumers up through better performing, higher-value products.”

Although the success of Pro-X has demonstrated to Shirley that a trading up strategy is valid despite the recession, even a company the size of P&G isn’t immune to the effects of the global  economic crisis. Its strategy has been to implement a value reframing program for key franchises. For example, an ad campaign for Gillette Fusion, whose blades retail for about $20 for eight, proclaims, “Did you know for about $1 a week you can experience the best shave imaginable,” going on to note a cup of premium coffee often costs about $3. Another, for Olay Regenerist Microsculpting Cream, which sells for about $30, touts clinical results that prove its efficacy compared with creams that cost hundreds of dollars more in a bid to capture the attention of shoppers trading down.

“What we don’t want to do is destroy category value by taking prices down,” says Shirley. “What we can do is make sure we have the right portfolio, which allows consumers to stay in the family if they are in the position of having to trade down. Or they can rethink their purchase relative to other purchases they make. We’ve been successful on both fronts.”

Though his time is tight, Shirley is still a keen sportsman. An avid baseball and basketball player in his high school and college days, today his preferred pastime is golf. He has a handicap of 16 and often travels with his clubs — but it’s clear that the main game he’s focused on winning these days is the beauty and grooming one. When asked how he thinks Wall Street views him, Shirley’s answer is immediate. “We’re very careful not to overpromise, but as we deliver and start to grow at a faster rate,” he says, “and can attribute it to the fact that we’re showing up more as P&G Beauty and Grooming as opposed to individual games, leveraging brands like Gillette and growing the guy’s business, growing more in emerging markets and continuing to drive innovation, then I think they’ll say, ‘This is a great play.’”


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