Oral Histories

Charlotte Otto

Full Interview

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.


Interviewer: okay I’m going to talk a little bit about PR and how it’s changed over the past 15 to 20 years. And you’re looking at PR nationally as well as internationally with your work. So what are the changes that you have observed in the practice at this corporate PR? Specifically at Proctor & Gamble but also what have you observed on your travels throughout the world?

Otto: Well, if you go back in history the what they call the public relations division started at Proctor & Gamble in 1949.  And in the founding recommendation for our work it talked about the purpose being to ensure that the company acts in ways that will earn the public trust and that the public knows of the company’s actions to earn their trust. And I really liked in that founding recommendation the fact that the first focus was on actions and behaviors that earn trust because that’s really what it has always been about at P & G. Over about 40 years we were largely a reactive public relations and issues management organization.  And then in the late 80s and early 90s we really began the practice of brand public relations in a big way. It was still I would say kind of an afterthought.  It wasn’t core to the marketing plan and it was topspin. But it was beginning to be taken up by our brands. And at the same time I think the leadership of the company was beginning to appreciate that we had to have more of a public face for the company as things like the environmental issues or animal testing became more important in the early 90s.  In 2000 we did a major redesign of how we do our work and brought together all of the externally facing capabilities in the company so not only was this public relations and communications but also the technical external relations that had previously been housed in R & D; some of the legal work that was done particularly in the regulatory area. All of our professional relations consumer relations government relations, were all brought together in one function in what we now call external relations. So it brought together over1200 people around the world that were doing externally facing externally influencing work. And our mission is to develop superior influence relationships to help build and protect the business and reputation of P & G and its brands and that’s really our centering focus and we do that with five disciplines, with brand PR, regulatory and technical relations, corporate reputation, government relations, and consumer relations. So that’s where we are today. And it’s been it’s been a really exciting journey especially over the past 20 years or so. Because we’ve gone from order takers you know people who kind of get called in at the last minute to take some notes on what the press release ought to say to true business partners. And the relationships with influencers that we’re able to bring into the company are the source of what we call commercial innovation, which is marketing big marketing ideas that are then deployed throughout the marketing mix. So it’s not just a PR program. But it can be the center of an entire brand-marketing program. You know an example might be our Dawn Ducks program - use Dawn to help clean animals who have been affected by something like an oil spill. Well that’s not just the PR program. It’s a customer program, a retail customer program with merchandising in stores, advertising on television and in print and radio. So it’s throughout the marketing mix. And that was an external relations idea that we brought in and became the center of a total marketing program. And that’s what we really aspire to do now is to be an edge for the company through influencer relationships. So that we’re not only protecting the company as we always have with issues and crises management; but we’re a real business building force as well. So that’s the journey that we’ve been on and it’s been really exciting to be a part of it.

Interviewer: What are the most important issues - those enduring truths that you’ve discovered as you’ve come along and grown with Proctor & Gamble.

Otto: I would say first of all it’s really important to know yourself and to know your values and be very centered in knowing right from wrong. It’s one of those Page Principles of ‘Telling the Truth,’ knowing what your truth is, is really important because having that clear and centered personal set of values then enables one to give better counsel, clearer counsel to not have to struggle with issues in your own mind. So I think that’s really important. I think it’s really important to have a mentality of generosity. There’s room for everybody to be right.  Now I’ve never met a person who believes strongly in something and articulates it believing that they are wrong. You know for some reason they believe that their view, their approach, has merit - even if others may not. So I think this mindset of generosity, of having room an abundance mentality. There’s lots of room for lots of different views is really important to building trust and earning the right to be a part of the community. I believe in lift as you climb. I believe we each have a responsibility to do unto others as we have benefited from mentors and coaches and people who have helped lift us up, so I spend a lot of time with women’s organizations and the leader of our corporate Women’s Leadership Task Force because I really believe in that whole notion lift as you climb.