WG For the small amount of people who don’t know who you are... Marc, could you tell us about your job, what you do and some of the brands? I’m sure everyone has most of these brands in their home.
MP Well, Walter, I’m the chief brand officer of P&G. In some companies, that’s a chief marketing officer but we call it the chief brand officer because P&G is a company of brands. And that’s where I spend most of my time, working with the teams throughout the world on how we make our brands the very best they can be. Our mission is to be the very best at brand-building. That’s not just the best in the consumer products industry, that is in any industry. Brands that you may be familiar with are Pampers, Luvs, Always, Tampax, Tide, Downy, Gain – let me see – Bounce, Dawn, Swiffer, Febreze, Charmin, Bounty, Puffs, Pantene, Olay, Head & Shoulders, Herbal Essences, Oral-B, Crest, Gillette.
WG It’s a heavy list.
MP Venus and Vicks and Metamucil... a whole bunch of brands that, hopefully, you’re familiar with.
WG Did you hit every one of the brands just now?
MP No, I didn’t. There’s another 50 or so.
Those are just the biggest.
WG You hold one of the largest budgets in the world. Everybody wants to do business with P&G and yourself.
In this conversation, we’re going to be personal, open and direct. I’m going to start here. I read that your father was an activist among Mexican farm workers in Colorado. What impact did that have on you, and how has that impacted the work that you’re doing today?
MP Probably in today’s terms, we would not consider him an activist because of what activists do today. But what he did was very active in advancing the migrant farm workers, and doing everything he could to help them. Back then — it was in the ‘60s — Cesar Chavez went on strike for the migrant farm workers to get better wages. I remember my dad being one of the people who looked up to Cesar Chavez and helped in what-
ever ways he could.
More than anything he helped the migrant farm workers, who were very, very poor, largely Mexican. Back in Colorado when I grew up, they were referred to as Chicanos. They were incredibly poor. They had little access to healthcare, little access to education. My father would give them healthcare because he was in the healthcare business. He would take blood and do blood pressure and help them out.
It gave me empathy. He made it clear that he grew up poor and he was proud that we had advanced to the middle class. And so he said: ‘We’re in the middle class now. What you’re seeing now, Marc, are people who are poorer than even I was when I grew up. Take that into consideration, make sure you can understand.’ So when I was there with the people, where there were dirt floors, there was a church where everybody went to... that was the most constructed building. I don’t remember running water, toilets, or any of that kind of thing. But I remember joy, love, energy, and community, and that’s what mattered.
This gave me empathy.
It’s helped me to be here today. So I have a lot more than a lot of people did. I can do something with that, do the right thing and help other people.
WG Your father was of Mexican descent. What moment was it where you felt the need to come out and own who you are and own your ethnicity? There are many who look like myself who go into a room and we do what is called ‘code switching’.
We simulate what another individual is doing on the other side of the table. ‘I’m going to talk like them, I’m going to emulate them in some ways.’ And it’s difficult. At what point in your career did you say, ‘OK. I’m going to own me.’ I can tell you like yesterday when my moment was.
MP Walt, it was very late in my career, it was more than 30 years in. It was just recently, really. My father’s birth father was named Gonzalez. My father was adopted by a man named Pritchard who was of Mexican descent but he had an English name. My dad married a German woman, and so my mom’s German. I had both
Mexican and German heritage. I could pass as Caucasian. Many times I also looked very Mexican as well. So, I learned what that was like and I embraced that pretty heavily as I grew up, mostly because my dad was so into the Chicano world.
But when I got into my job I suppressed it because of fear of judgment, fear of how people might perceive me. I saw prejudice in Colorado. I also saw prejudice when I moved down to Arkansas, which in my school was half-black. There I saw massive layers of prejudice. I saw a little bit of that during my high school period. So, knowing that and seeing that, I said, ‘Oh’, and kind of kept
But as I got into the work of using our voice in advertising as a force for good and growth, to use it to be able to promote equality, to promote justice, then I said, ‘You know what? It’s time for me to own this.’ And I told my full story. I told the full story at ADCOLOR in 2018. And that was a very emotional moment.
That was the time when I really embraced being Mexican and letting people know. The reason why I did that, Walt, was because
I figured if I could provide some emotional safety to people, it would open things up. And it did.
WG I love that and I appreciate your candor. The position you’re in today, you’re one of the most senior, most powerful men in this world of advertising. So, you’ve had moments, I would assume, where you felt, ‘I’m fortunate to be in this space, but if these individuals in this room knew, I might not be here.’
MP Yes. It was not lost on me that my dad’s name from his birth father was Gonzalez. My parents actually considered naming me Mick. And I used to joke that I could have been Mickey Gonzalez. I thought: ‘I don’t think I would have made it to chief brand officer, with the name Mickey Gonzalez.’ That privilege
was not lost on me.
I thought: ‘Wow. If people knew I was Mexican, they might think about me differently,’ so it wasn’t lost on me at all. Which is why it took me so long to finally just say: ‘You know what? I’m going to own this.’ I’ve got to own this because we’re not going to get to the kind of place we need to be in either our company or our industry or our society unless people who have these advantages that are built in can come out and say, ‘Hey, look.
Here’s what the reality is.’ Understanding that does then lead then to empathy and then action. And so I’ve become very committed to use the privilege of being in the position that I’m in to be able to make a difference.
WG Do you think that individuals would look at your commitment to diversity differently? As some thought you were a White executive coming into these rooms, they look at you as like, ‘Oh, wow,’ and followed suit, right? People follow what you do, right? Quite frankly, brands and so on and so forth. But do you think that changes? Is there a positive or a negative to people knowing this? Because from someone like myself, they’re going to say: ‘Yeah. We expect Walt to talk about diversity because he’s Black,’ right? And this is a tricky question but does that, you think, benefit us or would it have been better if people continued to believe that you were not of Mexican descent?
MP I think by virtue of moving forward with the actions that I was doing well before I came out as Mexican, I think people followed that because they were paying attention to the substance of what it was about.
I’d never really explored the concept of having built-in advantages of being perceived as a White cisgender male.
I never thought about that until I finally came out and said, ‘Wait… I’m a Mexican American male.’ Now I understand some of the advantages that come from being male but I also understand the other side of that.
WG This pandemic has brought so much confidence in so many people of color around the world, right? And people of non-color as well…. Do you feel that, as we look across the space, a lot of these brands that came out and made all these promises, ‘Yes, we’re going to do this. Yes, we have a black square. Yes, we’re going to donate money,’ that frankly, we haven’t seen much follow up. Do you feel there has been a real change?
MP Not nearly enough. The mindset has shifted substantially, there’s no going back on the mindset. There are commitments made throughout the industry by brands, by companies. They can’t go back. The other thing is that it’s also been picked up. For example, it’s been picked up by the investment community. The problem is it hasn’t happened fast enough. I’m still frustrated at how slowly the change occurs. The reason is because there’s deeply embedded systemic issues that need to be broken down, and that’s where I want to encourage the industry to keep going. You’ve got to dig deep to go into the systemic issues, and you’ve got to change systems.
Think about this: the system we operate in was built for the majority. It’s not a broken system, it was built this way. So, it has to be, in many cases, dismantled and rebuilt. Or parts of it have to be dismantled and then rebuilt. So, that’s where leadership really comes in, and so that’s got to be the next generation of activity.
WG How do we get there?
If you were to say, ‘Look, these are the five things that we could focus on’. Change means we need to start at the top. Change means we need to have other people of color, people with disabilities at the top. Because we need to see individuals that look like us when we enter these spaces… I would love to know, like, here are five things, or three things, or even two things that you think most urgent.
It starts with commitment from the top, and then…
Walter Geer III is Executive Creative Director,
Experience Design, at VMLY&R, New York.
Marc Pritchard is Chief Brand Officer at Procter & Gamble.