In the comfy chair .... Peter Russell

Our guest blog is entitled 'In the comfy chair' and features conversations with industry leaders, icons and other interesting people. Our guest is invited into the living room of HendersonMC seated in the cyber chair of their choice and together we share a metaphysical cocktail before we talk about the really interesting things.

Peter Russell – Marketing guru

Peter Russell actually hails from a liquor background which is possibly responsible for his penchant for problem solving, light bulb moments and creativity revolving around all things vinous.

Expanding waistlines and red noses not withstanding, Peter has headed the marketing functions of a diverse range of companies across several different industries, from FMCG, liquor, healthcare and for the last several years consumer durables as CMO for Fisher and Paykel Australia. He has become arguably one of the country’s highest profile senior marketers, certainly within the durables during his time at Fisher and Paykel.

A key hallmark of Peter’s style is for grand scale, highly innovative, experiential initiatives intended to illicit consumer/ brand interaction to complement traditional & digital media.

You're sitting in my comfy chair what is your favorite chair?

A ridiculously oversized, leather club chair that is slightly shabby, horribly impractical and too large for most rooms. One kind of needs to sit sideways in it so I decided long ago that the best position was to sit on an angle, legs over one of the arms. My Mum wouldn't approve!

I'd like to mix you a relaxing drink what would that be? Coffee, tea, or maybe something stronger and why is it your favorite?

Well, if it's before lunchtime then a heart-starting triple espresso please (just the one mind, pour me another of those and you'll also need to call an ambulance). Later in the day I'll fossick around your cellar for a good Pinot that I know you must have.

You are originally from New Zealand. What brought you to Australia?

An aeroplane. Fabulous inventions, you put people in one bit and fuel in another. Must be careful not to mix them though.

(Thank you Peter point taken JH.)

What enticed me to Australia? Alcohol. A very nice man named Bruce Tyrrell of Tyrrell's Wines in the Hunter Valley reckoned I should come across from NZ to be his Marketing Manager in 1997. I thought that was a terrific idea and so here I've been ever since.

I have known you as a marketing guru; tell me about your career?

Well I kind of fell into liquor initially, not literally, although I have physically done that (but that’s another story for another time). My career is a bit like my music choices, hugely varied and seemingly without a common thread. My industry choices have been quite different and aren't so much about the company per se but more about the opportunity to do something meaningful, challenging and genuinely interesting. So after a number of years within the wine industry I moved to pharmaceuticals and healthcare. I enjoyed having colleagues test hair removal products on my forearms and graduated to the wide world of consumer durables, appliances. If I look back now, I see that most of my positions were about inserting a’ zig when the others zag’ mentality, interesting as we are now living in uncertain times. Uncertainty breeds caution and cautious marketing quickly becomes very same / same and vanilla. In my mind bold imagination-capturing marketing is what is required for these times. Consumers almost need to be shaken out of this post GFC mind fog.

You were at the marketing helm of Fisher and Paykel for many years, what were the challenges and highlights?

The challenge Fisher and Paykel had and still has, is one of driving reappraisal. Meaning the brand is known for one thing, yet the company wishes to be known for another. Sounds straight forward enough. Most challenges are when you strip away the fluff. But brand positioning exists not as a statement on a piece of paper or nice images on a wall, but within recipients, the consumers minds and that normally entails years of hard wiring. Fisher & Paykel is undergoing long term repositioning work away from a white-box commodity space, towards a high involvement, emotional purchase, cooking space. That takes time, money and dedication to cause. It's a bit like Volvo perhaps deciding one day they don't want to concentrate on cars anymore and want to make and be known for motorbikes. Not exactly a case for simply flipping a switch is it?

The highlight for me? Well Fisher & Paykel doesn't have the large marketing budgets like the global big boys Samsung and LG. So it was always a case of dancing much smarter and doing one or two things really, really well. I'm pleased to say that the all important brand tracking, (the dashboard indicators if you will and of course sales) showed our single minded ‘change how people think of us’ initiatives, mostly centered around cutting-edge experiential experiences were / are working. This gives great comfort to global executives and provides a template for other global regions to replicate.

You are creative with your marketing approach and a risk taker, how did you develop your strategies and what were the highs and lows?

I simply follow a few guiding principles, mean or stand for something (preferably something unique). Don't follow the herd (herd or group think is brain rot for marketers and wasteful for companies). Take calculated risks and back yourself, your team and your brand. The highs are seeing a strategy work, seeing the hard work pay off, the lows are the tougher corporate environment CMOs must now operate in. Well-meaning but ultimately ill-advised armchair experts are an operational reality for the modern CMO.

You're passionate about marketing, what is the essence of a good marketing manager?

Become a vocal advocate for your brand. You need to be like a clarion trumpeter and call your colleagues to rally around. An effective marketer needs to be multi-talented, speak the lingo, feel the pain and live in there and now that is the reality of life with the sales team. He or she must effortlessly talk numbers and metrics with colleagues in the C-suite and be able to balance off good ol' common sense with artistic merit when interacting with creative types.

When you have time off how do you spend your hours?

Dreaming about work! No, not at all. I think filling one's head and time with everything other than work actually benefits your profession and helps with perspective. I like to Zen out by kayaking. I once challenged myself to find a form of exercise that I could achieve exclusively by sitting on my backside.

What is the next exciting challenge for you personally?

I'll gravitate to a company that needs a brand evangelist. A company that doesn't need more of the same and one that supports a culture of ridiculously strong coffee drinking.

Peter Russell



I met Peter some years back and we worked together beautifully. His professionalism, sense of humour and eye for business made our time together such a pleasure. I wish him all the best for the future and know that his next position will be another triumph.



Peter Russell

Peter Russell