How Pivotal Moments Have Helped Marc Pritchard Lean Into His Inspiring Story

The P&G marketing chief’s heritage plays a key role

Marc Pritchard tells his story at Adcolor. - Credit by Adcolor
Headshot of Doug Zanger

As one of the most influential marketers in the world, P&G CMO Marc Pritchard has long advocated for diversity and inclusion, both externally in the brand’s output and internally at its Cincinnati headquarters and beyond. What’s interesting, however, is that over the past few years, Pritchard has been more open about his own heritage and personal experiences. It’s a refreshing and authentic approach that helps better explain the reasons why he and P&G’s brands are so focused on being as accessible to as many people as possible.

In an energetic and inspiring keynote at last month’s Adcolor conference, he shared what was likely the most crucial moment in his life—and one that happened before he was born. His father, with the last name Gonzales, was adopted by a man with the last name Pritchard. Because of that, Pritchard said that it became easy to move “between Latino and white culture.”

“I recognize the privilege of being viewed as white,” he said. “It’s not lost on me what that meant.”

Playing off of the conference’s theme, “Moment of Truth,” Pritchard also mentioned his wife and three daughters (“I’ve been surrounded by women my whole life,” he said as the crowd laughed), his African-American uncle and cousin, friends of every religious stripe and those who identify as LGBTQ.

“On the surface, it might seem that advocating for diversity and inclusion would come naturally,” he said. But it was more complicated that, especially as he started his career.

When entering the workforce, Pritchard said that he “suppressed (his) Mexican heritage, keeping it hidden for fear of being labeled.” Additionally, Pritchard said that his father reinforced bias to protect him. When applying for jobs, for example, he was told to mark “Caucasian.” Even while working, Pritchard’s early bosses suggested that he avoid getting tan or “too dark,” something his father did to avoid judgment.

Another moment that moved Pritchard to speak up was when he was respectfully confronted by the internal community of black employees at P&G, where he served as the executive sponsor for the brand’s African leadership network for several years. His efforts were strong at the beginning of his tenure but began to wane.

“I took for granted the sustained amount of work that we needed to keep (the work) going,” he said. “Representation decreased (and) attrition increased. We started losing market share among black consumers. This resulted in a crisis of confidence among the most senior black leaders at P&G.”

When pressed about what black leadership perceived as a lack of commitment, leadership and belief, Pritchard had yet another moment that shaped his point of view.

“The issue is (that) they were right,” he admitted. “What we lacked was demonstrated conviction and most importantly sustained action to do something. This was a profound and painful moment—and a huge wake-up call. I went through every emotion, most of all the pain and disappointment in myself for letting people down.”

Creating an external board to research and address the realities facing black employees inside and outside the company, Pritchard learned about the scope of the problem.

“I was shocked and angry at the bias that existed,” he said. “It was painful to hear about the cumulative impact of comments, dismissal, misunderstandings, mispronunciations, little microaggressions and exclusion—and equally hard to fathom the fear that exists outside of our walls in the community. So it was clear that we and I personally had to step up.”

The importance of stepping up

Pritchard is among a handful of senior marketing leaders who are unafraid to speak the truth. As the keeper of the world’s largest advertising budget, however, his words tend to carry a little more weight and his leadership in the brand world is watched closely and, fortunately, emulated.

Speaking to Adweek after his keynote, Pritchard said that consumers are expecting to hear more about what companies and brands believe in. To that end, more CMOs are expressing “points of view about what they believe in,” noting that the likes of Kristin Lemkau of JP Morgan Chase, Antonio Lucio of Facebook (and formerly of HP), Diego Scotti of Verizon and Fiona Carter of AT&T among others consistently get on the front foot around diversity and inclusion.

Even among his direct competitors like Unilever and its CMO Keith Weed, efforts like the brand’s Unstereotype Alliance are most welcome.

“What CMOs are seeing is that we might be fierce competitors—and we should be on creative ideas, innovations in business models and brands,” said Pritchard. “But when it comes to things like equality, inclusion, environment, there are some things where we can come together because we’re united behind a common brief to be a force for good, a force for growth.”

At the Cannes Lions CMO Growth Council, in partnership with the ANA, last June, he noted that the discussions did veer into the business importance of equality, citing a 2016 McKinsey study that economic parity between men and women would add $28 trillion to the world’s economy.

“When you have even just pay equality, economic equality, you inject huge amounts of money into the marketplace,” he said. “When you have equality, you have a greater degree of innovation.”

All said, though, it’s all about stepping up and leadership. Pritchard noted that P&G doesn’t look at inclusion or equality as something that is just “bolted on.” One of the main goals of the brand, for example, is to be the number one company for African-American employees and consumers. According to Pritchard, a great deal of support comes directly from CEO David Taylor and is manifested in a consistent cadence of being in the forefront of commitment and conversation about the myriad issues it tackles.

What’s telling, though, is that the signals for Pritchard’s viewpoint may have been put into motion some two decades ago at a spiritual retreat in Colorado when he was general manager of the CoverGirl brand. At the end of the week, the leader approached Pritchard and said, “I hope you realize the difference you can make because business will be the greatest good in the future.”

“It wasn’t clergy or government, [but business],” said Pritchard on stage. “It was a blinding moment of clarity.”

To that end, ending to thunderous applause and a standing ovation, Pritchard encouraged the crowd to explore their own journeys and use their positions and influence for good.

“I believe everything happens for a reason and these moments of truth affirm my conviction that this is the path that I’m destined to use,” he said. “Each of us can make a difference every day using our voice, and when it matters most, pick up and take the bold stand.”

@zanger Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.