There's no denying Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) is one of the biggest and most recognizable names within the consumer staples sector. But size and pedigree don't necessarily translate into perpetual success. Just look at General Electric.
In this instance, though, the biggest powerhouse in the home consumables business is a buy again, after pushing through some turbulence that required a significant top-down overhaul of its entire operation.
Not yesteryear's P&G
That overhaul began in earnest back in 2014, when P&G announced it would be dropping 100 brands to better focus on the 65 or so that accounted for 95% of its profits. That effort was well under way by 2015, with that year's sale of a wide swath of its beauty business to Coty (NYSE:COTY) serving as something of a landmark of the sweeping changes under way.
That same year, David Taylor replaced Art Lafley as CEO, setting the stage for further evolution. Taylor followed through with the business streamlining already put into motion, but he's made his own mark as well. He soon shook up an established corporate culture with his willingness to hire outsiders rather than promote from within.
He also cut the company's marketing budget -- and the use of marketing agencies in particular -- as part of a revamp of Procter & Gamble's entire marketing approach. That change eventually meant P&G would leverage data to define and target "smart audiences," shrugging off the old and somewhat scattershot approach to advertising. It also allows a shift in how and where P&G addresses consumers, with more and more of these connections happening online.
Reaping what it's sown
It's an awful lot of change for a $300 billion company doing $70 billion worth of business per year. Transformations are always tough, but they're even tougher when an organization's sheer size can be a stumbling block.
This transformation is pretty much complete and paying off now, however, even if one has to look past all the COVID-19 noiseto see it.
Take for instance Procter & Gamble's newfound smart-audiences segmentation capability. It equips the organization to connect with consumers outside of the typical retail store environment. In 2017 the company bought deodorant brand Native, which already had a strong online presence but was ripe for expansion. This June P&G unveiled a major digital ad campaign for Native that tapped Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram -- a program that may not have been as effectively utilized by Procter & Gamble's previous marketing arm that relied on a more traditional media approach.
Then in January of this year the company announced it would be acquiring direct-to-consumer shaving product brand Billie, adding to its shaving product lineup already addressed by in-store shaving brand Gillette. Like Native, Billie will allow the company to utilize detailed digital consumer data to expand its existing reach. Procter & Gamble now even operates a dedicated brand incubator called P&G Ventures, which (among other things) is meant to get the company into new markets it doesn't currently operate in using a direct-to-consumer approach that doesn't require retailers' cooperation.
The decision to tap outside talent rather than strictly hire from within also opens doors that may have remained closed before, as it brings in new know-how. For example, in 2016 the company created the new role of global media director to steer its newly overhauled marketing machine. It then tapped Gerry D'Angelo, formerly of Mondelez International (NASDAQ:MDLZ), to fill the position. He's proven brilliantly insightful about how to market in the modern era, explaining in an interview last year that all advertisers must find the right balance between broad brand marketing and response marketing meant to induce purchases of a particular product, and then adjust that message to the medium as needed. In other words, television and the web can't be addressed the same way.
His leadership on this front seems to be right on target. Procter & Gamble was named Ad Age's marketer of the year for 2019.
These developments are just two of several changes P&G has put in place in recent years that prepare the company for a bright future, even if these changes have been slow to take shape.
Ready to roll
This companywide paradigm shift bears out in projections of Procter & Gamble's fiscal numbers.
The pace of demand growth from the first half of this year -- thanks to COVID-19 -- can't be sustained. But analysts do believe the new-and-improved organization has a second and even a third act for the post-COVID-19 environment. Sales are projected to improve 3.6% this year, and then accelerate through fiscal 2023. Earnings are projected to improve at an even faster clip, as years' worth of improvements finally get their chance to make an impact.
It may never be a high-flying growth stock. But, yes, Procter & Gamble is a buy. It's not the company it was five years ago. It's not even the company it was one year ago. The old-school name has been updated for relevance in the modern era, an evolution that was arguably overdue.
Of course, with shares just coming off record highs, it wouldn't be crazy to wait for a more palatable entry point. Just don't wait too long.