It’s not often that a company’s internal anniversary becomes an award-winning documentary, but in Procter & Gamble’s case that’s exactly what happened.
In 1992 the world’s biggest advertiser became one of the first Fortune 500 companies to add sexual orientation to its equal employment opportunity (EEO) statement. This was almost entirely down to one man, Michael Chanak, the company’s first openly gay employee whose courageous and painful seven-year battle ensured P&G’s LGBT+ employees would be protected.
Brent Miller, P&G’s associate director of global beauty communications and leader of LGBTQ+ communications, was the man who found the story and co-produced the documentary, made in partnership with CNN, which won a Cannes Lions silver award this year.
‘The Words Matter’ film is a powerful message about bias, homophobia, and ultimately, how determined individuals can change a company – even one as big as P&G.
However, it also humanised P&G and gave the FMCG giant the “credibility”, sometimes lacking from other businesses, to talk in the diversity space.
“You have to learn to embrace your history,” Miller tells Marketing Week. “There are things in every company that you look back upon and wish they’d done differently, but by sharing it you add a human element to the company that’s honest and people can relate to.”
Chanak took a job at P&G in the mid-1980s, when the AIDS epidemic was rampant, homophobia was rife and P&G, the world’s biggest advertiser, was no different.
“I’d walk down the hall and get called ‘f*ggot’ by some folks. That’s the work environment,” he explains in the film.
The statement is jarring but it was important that P&G told the whole story “warts and all” says Miller. Not least because it was crucial to Chanak’s involvement.
We’re not always going to get it right but if we wait until we get everything right we’re going to miss a huge opportunity to further the dialogue.
Brent Miller, P&G
Miller explains: “It was a long, hard-fought battle that had a lot of resistance and [Chanak] took it on the chin. So, when I called him [about taking part in the documentary] he was very reluctant. Not because he didn’t think it was an important story to share, but because he questioned what is our motive would be.”
Miller believes telling the story will ultimately benefit P&G, though, as it gives the multinational business much needed personality. “In today’s world, where people are looking for companies with personality, heart and soul, this is a way that demonstrates that honestly and creates a connection,” he says.
And despite his initial hesitation, Miller says Chanak is happy his story has finally been told, telling…