Interview with Charlotte Otto – Communications and Branding Expert
Charlotte Otto is one of the most remarkable managers I have had the privilege to work with in my career. As Global External Relations Officer, Charlotte was responsible for managing the Procter & Gamble corporate brand. My first direct involvement with Charlotte was when she led the Organization through the process of rebranding the Company. I quickly recognized Charlotte as a manager who could help me become an even better brand builder. Selfishly I took advantage of every opportunity possible to learn from her experience. Charlotte is also one of the managers at P&G who started me on the journey of mastering place branding as a sponsor of my Executive-on-Loan assignment with the Ohio Business Development Coalition. I view Charlotte as a mentor and a friend who has made an important impact on my life.
Charlotte is also well known in Cincinnati, Ohio for her personal leadership and public service in the local community. She is a past chair of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber as well as Downtown Cincinnati, Inc., and the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. She also served on the boards of the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, and Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation. In 2005, The Cincinnati Enquirer named her “Woman of the Year.” Hopefully it is easy to see why I wanted to capture and share Charlotte’s perspective on Brand America with you. After you read her interview, I am confident you will agree that Charlotte is a remarkable leader and a believer in the value of a strong Brand America.
Question: How would you articulate Brand America’s promise?
The essence of Brand America’s promise is embedded in our Declaration of Independence: all people are created equal and are endowed with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This was the inspiration for our founding fathers. It has been at the heart of virtually all of this country’s major turning points, from the war of independence through the abolition of slavery to the New Deal and today’s push to “Win the Future” through technology accessible to all, and so many other moments of truth. It is what people in virtually every country admire most about us. It is the “American dream.”
Question: What are the challenges that Brand America must address to consistently be seen as “walking the talk”?
To fulfill our promise, we must continually evolve and improve in every aspect of our society. One immediate priority is to face up to the tough choices required to get our fiscal house in order. As stated in the preamble to the Obama December 2010 Deficit Commission report, “Throughout our nation’s history, Americans have found the courage to do right by our children’s future. Deep down, every American knows we face a moment of truth once again. We cannot play games or put off hard choices any longer. Without regard to party, we have a patriotic duty to keep the promise of America to give our children and grandchildren a better life.” This plan offers one approach to addressing this imminent threat to America’s fundamental promise, but it is not the only approach. The important thing is to move from talk to action or our ability to fulfill our promise will erode severely…perhaps permanently. As citizens and the current stewards of America’s promise, we cannot allow this to happen.
Question: What are the traits of Brand America that people around the world are likely to find appealing?
The most inspiring traits are the freedom and opportunity to fulfill one’s dream, no matter where you come from, what you believe or to what you may aspire.
Question: What are the different ways Brand America can keep its promise?
Beyond addressing our fiscal crisis, we need to focus on access to and quality of education. One of the key enablers of freedom and opportunity since our founding has been focus on bettering oneself through education. Yet, today our public schools are eroding, the achievements of our students are not world-leading, and we are not honoring our teachers. As we get our fiscal house in order, we must ensure we renew our priority on education at every level to keep our promise of the opportunity for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” One book that offers some outstanding perspective on how to move from concept to action is Building a 21st Century Education System. This book is a selection of essays by education thought leaders edited by Robert L. Wehling, a great friend and my most influential mentor. Leaders should at least read the forward to this book to understand the questions we must address to systemically improve our education system.
Question: What is the importance of Brand America in the world?
America remains the ideal for freedom and opportunity. As many have said in one way or another, our system is not perfect but it’s the best around. As we watch the recent freedom revolution in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East, we are reminded that America remains a role model for personal and political freedom. And while our policies have sometimes appeared (or have been) in conflict with these freedoms and have fueled cynicism about America’s faithfulness to these ideals, my experience in traveling the globe extensively over the past 30 years is that America still stands as the single best example of personal and political freedom.
Question: Who benefits from a strengthened Brand America?
A rising American tide lifts all boats.
Question: Do you believe Brand America has a relevant, competitive and authentic promise?
Yes, the promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” remains as relevant, competitive and authentic today as it was in 1776. The challenge is to consistently deliver on this promise. This means continually articulating the promise, bringing it to life through personal and public policy choices, taking personal responsibility for constructively participating in activities to better our society and demanding of our leaders that they embody this promise. We must all believe, “if it is to be, it’s up to me.”