Lifetime Achievement Award: Robert Wehling

Author:
Publish date:
Social count:
0

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.”

Related