Robert L. Wehling – Lifetime Achievement Award
Robert Wehling's HOF Speech
Robert Wehling gave 41 years, his entire professional life, to Procter & Gamble. Wehling retired as global marketing and government relations officer at the company in 2001, leaving behind a legacy of success in helping to build and market some of the most prominent brands in American history. But he got his start out of pure auspicious happenstance.
"The truth is, when I was a senior in college I had a wife and a daughter and another one on the way, and I had to get a job," Wehling says. He happened to be reading a novel about advertising. "I said, ‘I think I could enjoy that,' so I said, ‘I'll interview with the next company that comes to campus to talk about advertising.'" The next company that came to Ohio's Denison University was Procter & Gamble. "I had never had any courses in business or marketing," Wehling says. "I didn't know what the hell I was doing, but you learn as you go."
And Wehling had a couple of things going for him from the start. A man with fastidious attention to detail, he had a love for consumer research, a knack for understanding the role media played in the success of products, and, perhaps most importantly, an innate understanding of the gender most responsible for buying products.
"I always understood women. Don't ask me how, because I don't know," says the father of six daughters. "If I couldn't convince them of something I wanted to do with a product, how was I going to convince everyone else?"
In his early years with P&G, Wehling worked as a brand manager on a number of high-profile products including Crest, Head & Shoulders shampoo and Secret deodorant.
He repositioned Secret with the "Strong Enough for a Man, But Made for a Woman" campaign, which propelled the brand to two decades of growth. He successfully launched Head & Shoulders, now a billion- dollar brand, in 1963.
With Crest, Wehling enlisted Bill Cosby to help promote dental hygiene to African-American children: At the time, market research showed the group brushed their teeth less frequently than the rest of the population. It would not be the last time that Wehling's business acumen and sense of civic purpose worked together.
"He had an ability to align the interests of the company he worked for, his own ethical standards, and what was good for the medium, and get those interests aligned with a unique solution that achieved all of those diverse objectives," says GroupM Global CEO Irwin Gotlieb, who has known Wehling since the late '70s.
Wehling and P&G were also ahead of the curve in putting money into emerging media entities. The company took a bet and made the first major buy on CNN when the network was just a fledgling cable experiment. P&G brands were also among the first advertisers to make significant buys in syndication and on the superstations, TBS and WGN in particular.
"On a global basis, he was spending tremendous amounts of money. He was a very, very strong image for P&G," says Magna Global Worldwide CEO Bill Cella. "He would get people to believe in his mission, and he did it in an articulate, subtle way. It was just clear, concise information and opinions he would convey. He's a terrific salesman."
Later in his career, Wehling helped set the new industry standard for partnership between companies and their ad agencies by promoting a system in which agencies share a percentage of a brand's profits. He also helped establish P&G's ethnic marketing organization and worked to recruit, train and keep minority employees at the company.
But those who worked closely with Wehling speak again and again about the fact that the man used his leadership position to effect positive change for issues that mattered to him, such as family-oriented television programming.
For years, Wehling had been receiving letters and phone calls from consumers complaining about the lack of family-friendly programming on TV, mostly on the broadcast networks, in primetime. In 1998, he partnered with Johnson & Johnson Corporate VP of Advertising Andrea Alstrup to form the Family Friendly Television Forum. Now known as the Alliance for Family Entertainment, the group includes more than 40 major advertisers that work together to nurture and develop television shows with multigenerational appeal.
"People were scoffing, saying ‘This thing will never work,' and all of a sudden 20 advertisers became a part of this. It became a prominent mission for everybody, " says Cella. "It was really to make the advertisers, the networks and the viewing public aware that there's an organization out there that really wants to see more family programming."
"I think that was a big point of personal preference and commerce coming together," says Fox President of Sales Jon Nesvig. "This is something that [Wehling] personally wanted to have a hand in effecting, and something that was also good for his company."
Wehling, along with Gotlieb and TV executive Jamie Kellner, who was running the WB network at the time, also began a script development fund for family-friendly programming. One of the scripts, Gilmore Girls, was launched into production on the network, produced and sponsored by P&G.
And while the praise and accolades keep coming, Wehling reflects on the honor of being inducted into the B&C Hall of Fame with humility.
"Other than the fact that a lot of other people probably deserve it more than I do, I appreciate it," Wehling says. "I always try to have a positive effect not only on Procter & Gamble's business but on the industry, and this [recognition] says to some degree that maybe I did a few things right."
Marc Pritchard, P&G global marketing and brand building officer who has worked at the company for 28 years-and was born the year Wehling started working there-can attest to that.
"Bob is one of the most remarkable human beings on the planet," Pritchard says. "He's a true leader. He's an innovator. He's a humanitarian. And he's one of the greatest guys you will ever meet."--David Tanklefsky