PR’s Top Pros Talk…COVID & Social Justice – Damon Jones
Damon Jones, Chief Communications Officer at Procter & Gamble
Damon Jones gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the communications strategy at the company as the COVID pandemic unfolded. He discusses the film “The Choice” which Procter & Gamble created as a way to help people have the necessary and often uncomfortable conversations about race.
Damon is the first person of color to ever be ranked #1 on PRWeek’s Power List. He addresses some of the different things a person of color might need to do to achieve the level of success that he’s had.
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About the Host:
Host: DOUG SIMON
Guest: DAMON JONES
DOUG: Damon thanks so much for being with us and congratulations on being number one on the PR Week Power List. Quite an accomplishment.
DAMON: Thanks Doug. Lots of great people on my team to help me make that possible. So great to be with you.
DOUG: Yeah, in fact you’ve got 500 people on your team, and I think one of the things we can jump into are the increased challenges of managing a team that size in a time of COVID. People are working separately and there are all these additional issues to deal with. What’s your advice and some of your tips on how you manage managing a group this large and make it work?
DAMON: Collaboration is really the key. I mean we have a globally dispersed organization like many people but, you wouldn’t know the difference, right? I mean obviously everyone’s working from home in many capacities right now. I think the first thing that I would reiterate is really clarity of vision, no matter the challenge that you’re dealing with. In a situation like COVID-19 we established three very early very simple and very clear priorities. Number one – protecting the health and safety of P&G people. Number two – serving the consumers that depend on P&G products, many of them that have health, cleaning and hygiene benefits. And third, being there for the communities that have always been there for us. So part of the reason we’re able to stay connected in this time is because we’re really clear on those priorities, we operate from principles and guidelines versus rules, and we have a high level of trust for each other. You know I don’t micromanage what happens in our Japanese organization, we’re on the same page from our principle standpoint. They know what they can do to get the help that they need from us so that hide the gut level of interdependency and trust is really important.
DOUG: And you started in this role as Chief Communications Officer right after the pandemic hit. How that’s sort of putting you right into the fire, if you will.
DAMON: Timing is everything, right? So I don’t know that I could have time this better or worse depending on how you looked at it, but I think it really helped put the role of communications front and center for so many people. Obviously we’re always the people that get pulled in in a time of crisis, but as we think about the world that we’re going to be living in for the foreseeable future, having the necessary agility, having the ability and the need to really balance a wide variety of stakeholder interests, the need to be consistently serving our shareholders and our consumers at the same time and balancing those interests, communications is at the center of that. And so our ability to not only bring on, bring together the hundred thousand P&G people around the world, but as well as the 5 billion consumers we serve is really a delicate balancing act, but one that I think we’re doing so far we’re managing pretty well.
DOUG: Yeah, you’re also, P&G is the largest global advertiser and there’s obviously the twin crisis, the pandemic and then there’s the social justice issues that have been there for a while, but are now suddenly rising to a greater awareness, and I should also commend you and your company because you’ve been ahead of the game in recognizing that it’s an important issue, you have the new The Choice campaign, but have you changed sort of your advertising and communications mix because of what’s going on?
DAMON: Well you know there’s a big part of what we’ve done that is really going back to basics. Before COVID-19 hit we were on a strategy of really providing superior products to consumers with superior packaging superior communication and superior value. That formula is what has allowed us to really thrive in an area of COVID. In a time where consumers are spending much more time at home, and they want their dollars to stretch further they want products that they know one that they trust. So our approach to advertising has been to double down on the superior performance that our brands provide and to make sure that we’re being useful and really helpful. How are we serving consumers in this time, how are we giving them the information that they need in ways that are meaningful and relevant that we’re not chasing after the latest fad, if you will, now the time when people want trusted brands, and P&G is well positioned to do that. I think as we look at some of the more recent things that have caught the eye and attention of the world, being the civil unrest and the issues of racial discrimination here in the U.S., this is a time when companies increasingly want to know the values behind the brands. P&G has been a staunch advocate for equality for many years. So right now that’s a natural conversation for us to have because we can talk about what we did in 2014 when we talked about gender discrimination, we can talk about the talk that we launched in 2017, to bear the conversations that were happening in black homes across America, and then how do we extend those conversations. So times like these really reveal the character and the values that underlie brands versus it for us being a time when we really need to rethink much. It’s been a matter of what can we accelerate and what do we showcase, but our values that underpin what we do really have been consistent.
DOUG: Right, and that 2014 campaign was the Like a Girl campaign. Can you talk a bit about The Choice, I believe that’s where you’re encouraging people have uncomfortable conversations about these issues. Can you speak a little bit about that??
DAMON: Absolutely. in the wake of not only George Floyd’s death, but Breonna Taylor’s murder and the death of Ahmaud Arbery, we recognize that, you know, that the issues of injustice were coming into focus in a way for many people that they hadn’t been in years prior and different than prior campaigns that we had done. We really needed to get people who were just sitting back at home saying, “wow that’s a shame that that’s happening,” how to we get them away from the movable middle to use the political term to really move them off of the sidelines and into action? And The Choice is a film that is really designed to bring people into action, to say hey not being racist is not enough, I need to be actively anti-racist, and I can be anywhere along that journey. So if I am early in that journey and I want to learn more we’ve created a web resource where I can read reading lists, watching lists on ways that I can get involved. if I am further advanced that journey, there are ways that I can get involved in donating and spending my time in the community. So we really wanted it to be a resource for people to get engaged and to recognize that no matter who you are, what your background is, or what you’re doing, you too can be not only an advocate, but an activist for equality. We wanted to equip people with the tools to do so, and so that’s the resource that we’ve created with the film, The Choice, and the resources that we put online at pg.com/take-on-race.
DOUG: Great and we’ll get to one more important point in moment, I should say as disclosure we have worked together in the past. I asked Damon if it was OK to say that and he said it was OK as long as I didn’t share how long ago it was, we’ll just say he has a larger portfolio. But on an important issue, it’s not a secret that PR has an issue with the lack of diversity. And you yourself have commented that there are not a lot of people who look like you who hold the types of positions you have. Are there different things that a person of color needs to do to be able to advance to the level and have the success that you’ve achieved?
DAMON: Well I think unfortunately the answer to that question is yes, right? I mean representation matters, having role models matters, but in the environment that we’re in I think it’s really important that we are allowing people to bring the fullness of their humanity to the roles that they are charged to do. Obviously in a field like PR communications we can most effectively serve our companies and our consumers when we reflect the diversity of the people that are in the world around us. So that to me is foundational because that affords any organization the insights to understand and then to really connect effectively with them. Specifically, to what is needed in the PR industry I think there are three things. Number one – we have to put the elephant on the table. We’re not nearly as diverse as we need to. You can look at that on the agency side and the corporate side and you can look at it by level. We have to have an enduring commitment to do this not to check the box, but because it enables us to be better counselors. So admitting where we’re at and then setting very clear measurable goals that are not only about what you do through internships and recruiting, but what are the promotions, What are the advancements? Are we putting people into roles where they have the scope and the scale to make a huge impact not just working, for example, on multicultural marketing? And the third thing there is we have to really consistently provide the business opportunities for diverse businesses in our industry. Again, it can’t all say sit in the agency side and also on the corporate side. We’ve got to make sure that we’re rewarding the people who are bringing together the talent, the insights and the opportunities that really allow us to connect with the broad spectrum of people that we serve.
DOUG: Well that’s thoughtful and important advice from not only one of the most successful people in the communications field but one of the nicest. Thanks so much for sharing your ideas and thoughts with us.
DAMON: Appreciate it. Good to see you again, Doug.