Paula Davis, Chief Communications Officer for the Colgate-Palmolive Company, shares how the Colgate-Palmolive Company is creating innovative ways to raise awareness about oral health and its link to mental and overall health through their Know Your OQ Campaign. Paula explains what communicators should keep in mind when they are building partnerships for a campaign. Paula also urges communicators to get involved in organizations that align with their passions.
DOUG: Paula obviously, you have a huge role at Colgate-Palmolive, could you maybe share for context for the audience some of the top-line things that you’re involved with?
PAULA: Oh, sure. We’re doing a lot of great things at Colgate-Palmolive Company and Colgate and Palmolive are two of our brands and they’re very important. But in addition to oral health and then home care, which we have with Palmolive led by Palmolive, we’ve got lots of other brands in those categories as well as in pet nutrition. So we’ve got hills, you may know it’s but Hill’s science diet, prescription diet, and then also personal care, home care and oral health. And we’re involved in a lot of different things that strengthen our business, that strengthen our culture and advance our purpose, which we look at as reimagining a healthier future for all people, their pets and our planet. One of the things I’m especially excited about that we’re working on right now is on the importance of oral health and recognizing how important it is and how it’s linked to overall systemic health. That’s an area that we are spending a lot of our time on here in communications.
DOUG: Yeah, and to someone like myself, I would think oral health, I mean, it’s a crisis in this country, But I know when we’ve spoken before, you’re very hesitant because the word crisis is so overused. How do you work around it when it’s something that really is such an important, compelling issue, like oral health?
PAULA: Yeah, it’s true. And when we started doing some research on this and that positioning, because as we know, we know as communicators that packaging matters and when we asked people about the language we were using to promote oral health, they said, I have enough crises in my life. You’ve got climate change, we’ve got a pandemic at the time, you know, COVID was at its at its height,we’ve got a war, we’ve got a lot going on. And so to use the word crisis was not resonating with people. They were burnt out. And so we needed to look for better motivation, a better way of talking about oral health, knowing that it is important and that 64% of people are still suffering from oral health issues and that we know it’s the number one reason that kids don’t go to school is because they’re having oral health issues. And all of that links to these different areas of systemic health, to heart health. You can tell I’m very passionate about this. To heart health, to dementia, to mental health, to all of these other areas of our health, of our physical health and mental health, how did we communicate this? So that was something that we looked at with a campaign we developed called Know Your OQ.
DOUG: Yeah, and that’s so interesting because if the public’s crisis out, if you will, for lack of a better expression, the media is aware. So from media relations perspective, if you’re going out to where the crisis, those who are sort of the guardians of do you get on a show, do you get a story in the paper, they’re going to be like, you know, I don’t really want to be doing that because I know my readers, my viewers don’t want to hear it.
PAULA: Exactly. And it could come off as tone deaf, when you consider that there are these other very big issues going on in people’s lives. I mean, from day to day, even more things emerging. So we talked about it and engaged the media and the profession and our customers, so we really looked at a number of different stakeholders to get buy in on this idea of, you know, your EQ, you know your IQ, but what about your oral health, your oral health quotient? So we introduced a quiz that people could take. We incentivize them to take that quiz, working very closely with our commercial organization, which is a whole other issue around partnerships that maybe we can touch on. But we created this quiz and then we went to the profession to have them talk about this issue and link it to some of these new studies that have come out of why oral health is so important to generate this awareness and then consideration for changing consumer behavior. And there are a variety of different ways to go about this. So we use the quiz to engage people and some incentives there, we use thought leadership and reaching the profession. And another campaign we use, which is about turning off the tap and the importance of when you’re brushing your teeth, turn off the tap while you’re doing that because of all the water you waste, we use really compelling storytelling around that, to show what the implications are for people around the world who don’t have access. And that’s honestly been one of the most profound and memorable ads that we’ve run with visible and tangible outcomes of changing consumer behavior about turning off the tap. We’re hoping to do the same with Know Your OQ, but using different tactics to do that.
DOUG: Now, it’s really fascinating, and I’ve heard you describe sort of a function of PR as being conveners. And what do you mean by that?
PAULA: In the academic world, there used to be a well known moniker, if you will publish or perish. And then I heard somebody else say it’s partner or perish today. And if you get things done, it’s about partnership. And I think this is a real superpower that communicators can bring to the table. We can connect the dots because we know what’s going on across an organization and in an industry and around the world. And so we can bring that. And from a convening standpoint, whether you are looking to initiate an action like our program, like Know Your OQ, you are doing things inside of your company, you can convene the right players to do that as we do with Know Your OQ, bringing in our corporate technology group, our commercial group, our Bright Smiles, Bright Futures corporate social responsibility group, our marketing group. We convened everybody and said, this is going to help you grow your business commercial. We’re now going to be in a very large US retail outlet with Know Your OQ branding. And so we can bring this value to you and we convene these groups to do that. Externally, I spend a lot of my time meeting with people, bringing them ideas, asking them for ideas and connecting with people outside of Colgate that I think can add value to this organization. It might not be readily apparent, but if I can be a convener that can help us all do what we want to do and find the people who have interests that we do those the same goals or motivations, that’s how you create progress, that’s how you do you make a difference.
DOUG: And I should just for purpose of disclosure point out we got to work on the Bright Smiles, Bright Futures campaign early when it was being launched, which is a fantastic program. You talk about partnerships as really being the most efficient path to success and communicating. Any tips on how you can go about and do that and be successful at it? Because there are challenges.
PAULA: Absolutely. And we can talk about both sides of the coin, but I see so many more benefits, and I’ve seen it throughout my career that identifying people and what their interests are. So we’re looking at opportunities around going into schools, for example, and promoting oral health, but when you look at the this wrap around child, which I which I learned about this term from somebody in education, like that is a model that I learned just connecting with someone and now we’re bringing in other potential partners who have an interest in making lives, making children’s lives healthier. And so finding, you know, through your connections, what people are interested in and foraging those connections, whether it’s going to help you directly in the job you’re in, maybe it will down the road, or just helping somebody else advance their goals, I mean, again, that’s how you make a difference. That’s how you have influence and I feel like at the end of the day, it always helps you no matter what role you’re into, to be able to bring people together like that. The downs, it’s not a downside, but the watch out there is when you’re bringing people together to be really clear on what the objectives are, why you’re there.
DOUG: To that point, I was going to ask you about mistakes to avoid, because it’s sort of like an assumption that automatically partnerships work out perfectly and they don’t always pan out. And especially should your mindset be about, we want to make this something that can be done long term, not a one shot wonder. And that’s sort of a good litmus test.
PAULA: Absolutely right. And by the way, if that’s the expectation going in that this is a one and done, that’s okay. You know, if this is something we want to do and then we move on, that may be it. But the important thing is to set expectations so everybody is clear on the expectations, the objectives, what each person’s role is, and then how you’re going to measure success. And, you know, we enter partnerships, we enter them like relationships and whether it’s a one and done or not, you want to everybody wants to feel good about the investments they’re making, whether it’s money, whether it’s time, whether it’s people. And so it’s really important to have that clarity and focus upfront.
DOUD: And as we wrap up this really terrific discussion, I know one of your passions is the area of mental health and we’ve seen so much increased awareness of how that’s affected by so many different things, of course, the pandemic had a role in it, oral health also has a role in that.
PAULA: Absolutely. And so that’s something that we’ve looked at oral healths link to mental health is both as a driver and also as an indicator. So sometimes it’s the dentist that’s the first person or the hygienist is the first person to identify that somebody may be struggling with mental health issues. If you can imagine, there are some people who wake up in the morning in the idea of brushing their teeth is just too much for them. But if they can do that, one task that sets the stage for a better day. And so it really is incredible. And yes, mental health is very, very important to me. So we’re we’re activating some things that are good for Colgate, that can bring my personal passion to this discussion, with the links between oral health and mental health. I also serve on a few advisory boards on mental health that we’re trying to make a difference there. See the statistics, particularly around young people and there was just something that came out about veterans that they’re going to now have access to mental health services and a new number that people can call for mental health across the country. So we’re making some great inroads there, and I hope to continue doing that.
DOUG: Companies, whether they either struggle or excel at keeping the team together that they want to keep and keeping them functioning at a high level, sort of allowing people to integrate their own passions into the work is so critical. As a leader of an organization, how do you go about doing that? Any advice for people out there want to do that better.
PAULA: People want purpose and I am lucky enough to find it at work with our very, our literal purpose is reimagining the health your future for all people, their pets, and our planet. I think what I try to inspire and encourage in my team is the idea that you can be a leader no matter what your title is. If you’re looking for leadership opportunities and to make a difference and to live your passion, you can do that. You can do that by leading a council. I have somebody on my team who brings together sustainability champions because they love sustainability, who convened a social media council or a company that hadn’t existed before. You can join a board of a nonprofit or a junior board of a nonprofit. You can get other employees together in an employee resource group. There are so many ways to be a leader, to make a difference on things that you care about inside your company, because chances are there are other people who share that passion and outside your company and it all comes back to your company. If you if you join a board and you’re getting you’re building your network and you’re building your skills and capabilities, that’s all going to benefit your employer. And so I encourage you to work for an employer like Colgate-Palmolive that feels that way and for managers who do too, because I’m a huge, huge believer in that.
DOUG: Right? That’s really just reaffirming that you express that. Thanks so much for your time and thoughtful contributions. Really fantastic to speak with you.
PAULA: Thank you so much. Great to see you.