Oral Histories

Charlotte Otto

Interview Segments on Topic: Crisis Management

Charlotte Otto Biography

Charlotte Otto began her career with Proctor and Gamble as a brand assistant for Prell Concentrate and has remained with P&G to become the first female corporate officer as Global External Relations Officer.   She is responsible for a wide range of communication and public affairs activities from media relations and product publicity to government and community relations.

Charlotte Otto provides service and leadership to the Cincinnati area, serving as a Board Member of The Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, as chair of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber and past chair of Downtown Cincinnati. She recently was awarded the Arthur W. Page Society’s highest recognition, the Hall of Fame Award.

Transcript

Interviewer: Okay let’s move into the work you’ve done and the crisis management. In 2004, Proctor & Gamble became entangled in a heated debate regarding the rights of homosexuals. The decision by Proctor & Gamble to support the repeal of the 1993 Cincinnati charter amendment, I think it’s amendment 12 - dealing with sexual orientation. Ultimately resulted in the boycott of two Proctor & Gamble products. Crest toothpaste and Tide detergent. Although I also read that Pampers was in there.

Otto: They boycotted all our brands.

Interviewer: Now - the media described Proctor & Gamble as the first company to support the political agenda for the homosexual movement. You were right in the heart of all this. Can you describe the different factors that contributed to the corporation’s decision to support the movement?

Otto: Well first let me reframe the issue because while I certainly agree with how you reported it as it was played out in some media - that really isn’t what was going on here. A number of years ago, our city charter was amended to exclude protecting against discrimination based on sexual orientation. And that set in motion, over a period of time, some real economic impacts to the city.  Conventions for example refused to come here. We as a community, I think, took on a very Intolerant kind of a reputation and that combined with some other things that had happened in Cincinnati whether it was the Maple Thorpe exhibit or Marge Shot and the Cincinnati Reds, we were beginning to develop a reputation as a community being quite unwelcoming. That simply was not good for anybody.  It had an impact in terms of P & G on our ability to recruit people, on the economic vitality of the community - a lot of things that we as a company care about. So we along with the Chamber of commerce and virtually every other business in the community, aligned on the needs to repeal Article 12 and essentially what that did was then return our charter to a neutral position. And it really didn’t take a position on sexual orientation, as a basis for discrimination, so we really got into this based on what we felt was a very important corporate interest in both the reputation and economic vitality of the community. We then got in some political cross winds in Ohio in 2004 - Presidential election year and also a year in which in the protection of marriage amendment was on the state ballot, and I think we became a vehicle for raising the visibility of that particular political issue. I think this had very little to do with P & G’s long standing diversity policy of respect on a lot of different qualities and interests including sexual orientation. To say that this had anything to do with P & G taking up a homosexual agenda is absolutely ridiculous and it was political positioning. It really had nothing in the merits and I think most people would agree with that. To me this whole episode, which ended with the American Family Association calling into the boycott because it was ill founded. The real lesson here is that out of a crisis you can develop much stronger relationships and partnerships and this certainly was the case in this situation. We had been in the sites, like most big advertisers, of the American Family Association for many years. They would from time to time write us or protest if we sponsored a particular program or perhaps advertising content that they found objectionable. So we were well known to AFA and we certainly had the door open for them to call us. They chose not to. That was a real signal that we had lost touch with important stakeholder relationships in the Christian community. That led to renewing those relationships. And as an outgrowth of this 2004 episode we created something that we called the Multi-view Resource Network. So we’ve started resource groups for the Christian community, Jewish, Muslim, the gay/lesbian community. When we have an important policy matter, we’ll seek their input. It’s not that they will concur. But they will counsel based on their particular world-view. So for example, we renewed our stem cell research policy, so we convened the Multi-view Network. We asked from their particular world view what perspective could they offer us so that we didn’t unintentionally do something without being aware of how it might be viewed by stakeholders in the community. And it was really, really helpful. When we updated our programming and sponsorship policy we convened the Multiview Network and again got input from these different world views which I think has helped us to renew our policy and have it be even more robust and we did that with an understanding of how it would be viewed in different stakeholder communities. So out of that unfortunate mess that occurred in 2004 I think we got a lot stronger as a company. We have now I would say very strong relationships in the Christian community as one example. And I doubt that something like that would happen again. Because people would call us first and say well help me understand your position on Article 12 as an example. And I think we would be able to have dialogue rather than a need to deal in a crisis environment and through the media. And so I viewed that unbalance as a really good reminder of the importance of being in touch and developing those key stakeholder relationships.