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Procter & Gamble Global Beauty Care group president promotes change, courage in advertising industry

When Deb Henretta wandered into the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and met the head of the advertising department, she unknowingly started her career.

After one conversation with John Phillip Jones, who was then head of the department, the aspiring television anchor decided to enroll in the advertising masters program. When Procter & Gamble visited the campus, Jones encouraged her to interview with the company.

Henretta, Procter & Gamble Global Beauty Care group president, kicked off the 2013 Eric Mower Advertising Forum on Monday night, doling out advice on how to succeed in the advertising world.

Henretta pushed four themes: change, courage, opportunity and doing good. These pillars played pivotal roles in Henretta’s own life, taking her from a chance meeting to a career with Procter & Gamble, then on a game-changing trip to Asia.

Her career, she said, “is a study in change.”

Henretta’s career with Procter & Gamble now spans 28 years.

“When doors open, you have to be willing to walk through them,” she said, a message that was repeated throughout her talk.

Henretta pushed the audience to adapt and chase opportunities. She also encouraged advertising majors to practice “intellectual courage.” The strength to forego a comfort zone and take creative risks creates leaders in the advertising world, Henretta said.

The debut of the suave Old Spice man was one such creative risk, she said. The famous commercials, featuring Terry Crews, reversed the deodorant brand’s disconnection with young men.

Henretta’s portfolio is a story of reinvention, saving brands like Pampers diapers and Cheers detergent, whose declining sales and disconnection with customers put them at risk.

Cheers detergent was her first assignment. The company was in a slump and its advertising was “boring,” said Henretta.

She and her team created a new commercial with humor and punch to distinguish the brand from other detergent manufacturers’ repetitive selling points.

Henretta spoke mostly about her work with Pampers diapers.

She drew on her needs as a mother to revamp Pampers’ image and reverse its 10-year decline.

She changed this trend with a new advertisement featuring animals across the world with their babies. She said viewer feedback exploded, flooding the brand’s 1-800 number with requests for copies of the ad.

When she was later promoted to head of operations in Asia, it made Henretta uproot her family, but ushered in positive change. The Asian market at the time was fragmented and hard to target, she said.

Her work in Asia led to gigs on the Singapore Economic Development Board, overseeing Singapore’s economic growth and the 21-country Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. She advised President Barack Obama and outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Advertising also needs corporate social responsibility, she said.

“Doing right is so important in a time where our heroes are falling – in entertainment, politics, even in business with Enron and the Lehman brothers,” she said.

She touched on Procter & Gamble’s humanitarian efforts in Asia, including water-purifying packets that cleansed water contaminated with arsenic and bacteria.

“Make sure you use all of your talents and time to make a difference in this world,” Henretta said.

For students, like sophomore public relations major Meg Lane, Henretta’s talk was reassuring in an uncertain job market.

“She inspired me. It’s not like Deb’s a global celebrity like Bob Costas, but someone who’s made it in the real world,” Lane said. “She made her success applicable to us.”

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