September 5, 2006

The P&G 1-page memo

When I started my marketing career at Procter & Gamble almost 20 years ago, the 1-page memo discipline was in full force. Every communication had to fit on one page, and follow a fixed format. It was – and remains – a very powerful discipline. I have used it ever since then.

Here it is, with some of my own embellishments. Each 1-page memo contains five parts.
1. The Idea. What are you proposing? This is typically one sentence.
2. Background. What conditions have arisen that led you to this recommendation? Only include information that everyone agrees upon in the Background – this is the basis for discussion, so it needs to be non-debatable.
3. How it Works. The details. In addition to How, also What, Who, When, Where.
4. Key Benefits. This is the “Why?” There are usually three benefits: the recommended action is on strategy, already proven (e.g. in test market or in another business unit), and will be profitable. You can think of these three in terms of the old Total Quality mantra of “doing right things right.” The first (on strategy) means you’re doing the right thing. The second and third mean you’re doing things the right way, because you’re being effective (proven to work) and efficient (profitable).
5. Next Steps. Who has to do what and by when for this to happen?

The Procter and Gamble salesforce used to use something called the Persuasive Selling Format (PSF) in their sales pitches. PSF also had five steps. At some point it occurred to me that the two mapped to each other, which is why the P&G 1-page memo format is so effective for making recommendations: it is a document structure that is designed to sell. (Originally published Jan 25, 2005)


6 Responses to The P&G 1-page memo

  1. says:

    YES! That was the form I learned back in 1973. I use it still, and it remains intact!
    The format was created to serve The READER. Principle was that the reader had to read through reams of reco’s all day.
    Therefore, you must arrange the information the way the reader wants to get it.
    1. What’s is this asking for? What am I, as the reader or approver, being asked to do?
    2. Background: remind me of this project… put this in perspective
    3. How it works: What is the key benefit/action are you asking for.
    4. Key Benefits (formerly called “Support or Reasons Why”): A section meant to anticipate and counter the reader’s objections. If someone sent back a memo asking “what about this” somewhere in the margin, it signaled you’d failed in your writing task
    5. Next Steps: What’s next? When must I approve this by? Who’s to do what next.
    p.s. do you remember the ‘suspense’ system?

  2. Andrew says:

    Always great to hear from another ex-P&Ger! And yes, I do remember the suspense system (but I don’t use it… at least not intentionally!)

  3. Pablo says:

    Can you talk about the suspense system? I´m curious now!

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  5. M. Welters says:

    Inspiring to read about this P&G Best Practice!!! Thanks for that. How successful was it at P&G? What did it bring them? And do they still use this concept?
    What happened when someone’s material didn’t fit into the format?

  6. W.Wall says:

    M. Welters, a very good question, “what happened when someone’s material didn’t fit into the format.” The answer is, they reformatted. The memo system did not bend to people, people bent to the system.

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