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February, 2024

Crown Resorts reshapes remits, appoints former Coles Liquor and Reece CMO as new group marketing chief as Keighery ditches Optus job for Qantas

What you need to know:

  • Crown Resorts outgoing chief brand and corporate affairs officer, Danielle Keighery, has ditched plans to join Optus in a newly created role that included marketing, and will instead join airline, Qantas, as its new chief corporate affairs and communications officer.
  • Crown Resorts has meanwhile confirmed that its has hired former Coles Liquor, Reece, Cadbury’s senior marketing leader, Yolanda Uys, as its new group EGM of brand and marketing, reporting to the CEO. Uys takes up the group brand and marketing reins left by Adam Ballesty, who exited Crown last November.
  • Unlike Keighery, Uys does not have government relations, ESG or community under her remit; Crown Resorts has put those into the hands of a dedicated group executive, Sarah Adams, who holds the title of chief government and industry affairs officer. But she does have a rebrand platform to keep bedding down and a tarnished brand reputation to continue rebuilding.

Keighery ringing the changes

This week, Qantas confirmed Danielle Keighery will be joining the ASX-listed airline as chief corporate affairs and communications officer from 1 March. She replaces Andrew McGinnes, who finishes up at the airline in June after a 13-year tenure.

It’s an unsurprising move in many respects, given Keighery’s near 17-tenure with Virgin Airlines prior to a 14-month stint with Bank of Queensland then two years with Crown Resorts. Some suggest it’s a dream job for the experienced corporate affairs leader. Yet the decision comes just two weeks before Keighery was due to commence her tenure with embattled telco, Optus in a newly created role overseeing marketing and corporate affairs.

Qantas Group CEO Vanessa Hudson pointed to Keighery’s mix of category know-how and depth of corporate affairs experience.

“Danielle has a wealth of experience leading corporate affairs functions for major organisations in both Australia and overseas, with broader expertise in building corporate reputation, enhancing brands and customer experience, and driving cultural change through strong communications and stakeholder engagement,” Hudson said in a statement.

“Danielle also has a deep understanding of aviation, having held a number of senior executive roles at Virgin Australia during more than a decade with the airline. I know she’ll make a valuable contribution to the Qantas Group as part of our leadership team.”

Crown bets on FMCG firepower

The news comes as Crown Resorts’ new group executive general manager of brand and marketing, Yolanda Uys, gets her feet under the desk. The experience marketer, who’s spent the last two years as ANZ CMO for Reece Group, officially joined the casino, hospitality and restaurant operator in January. Uys reports directly to group CEO, Ciaran Carruthers.

Mi3 can confirm Adam Ballesty, who was brought on at Crown in early 2023 to execute a rebranding strategy as EGM of brand and marketing, has completed his brand project and exited the organisation in late November. Ballesty’s former employer, Domino’s, is understood to be currently looking for a global CMO in addition to A/NZ marketing chief, Allan Collins, who rejoined the QSR 12 months ago.

Uys has a long track record within FMCG, which Mi3 understands was one of the reasons for her appointment. Prior to Reece, Uys spent three years as GM marketing for Coles Liquor, and also previously spent nearly five years as head of marketing for Dan Murphy’s. Her resume also includes senior marketing roles with PZ Cussons, plus Cadbury in the UK as well as pharmaceutical giant GSK in South Africa.

Uys’ remit of group brand and marketing includes brand, social, paid, media, guest experience and overseeing Crown’s internal creative studio. She also has group oversight of PR and corporate affairs, which are under the stewardship of direct report and group GM of media and corporate affairs, Libby Armstong.

Armstong joined Crown as GM of communications plus the Crown Foundation in 2022 after a stint overseeing comms and PR at Bank of Queensland, also alongside Keighery. Crown Resorts’ group brand leader, meanwhile, is Andy Holmes, who joined from The Monkeys in July last year after being seconded while Ballesty was in the marketing seat.

Crown’s partnerships remit, which had formerly sat within group marketing, has since been relocated into the commercial sales team, while CX and database elements of engagement sit within the various properties across the country. It is understood however, that Uys will work closely with these teams.

Crown also has state-based GMs of marketing with dotted line reporting to the group. It is in the process of finalising a new general manager of marketing for Sydney, reporting to Sydney property CEO, Mark McWhinnie, and with responsibility across brand, group marketing, PR, communication, events and partnerships.

In addition, Crown has now shifted corporate affairs, along with ESG, community and government relations – all of which were previously Keighery’s responsibility – into the hands of a dedicated group executive, Sarah Adams, who holds the title of chief government and industry affairs officer.  

Crown’s brand platform and agency plans

Most recently, Keighery was responsible for spearheading a brand repositioning campaign (by The Monkeys, which have just exited a 15-year relationship with Telstra) which debuted in late September in a bid to restore a positive image of Crown in the market.

Alongside this, Crown had in October put its media account out to tender. The client account had been held by Dentsu. The group on 7 February confirmed it has now selected Initiative, based our of Melbourne, as its new media agency of record.

What Optus does next

Keighery had been hired by Optus last September at a divisional MD level to oversee marketing and corporate affairs in a combined role.

Optus had orchestrated several structural changes in order to accommodate Keighery into the executive role. With a direct reporting line into the CEO, the role represented an indirect and elevated position compared to that held by former VP of marketing (CMO), Mel Hopkins, who had previously reported into MD of consumer marketing and revenue, Matt Williams, prior to joining Seven as chief marketing and audience officer.

Keighery’s appointment was being supported by the introduction of a new integrated product business unit, dubbed Customer Solutions, led by Williams.

“Optus’ vision is to be Australia’s most loved everyday brand with lasting customer relationships. To achieve that, we need to be easy to do business with and this requires simplification of our operating model,” Optus told Mi3 last October. “We have created one integrated product business unit, Customer Solutions, led by Matt Williams, that brings together our consumer and mass business product teams together, strengthening our operating model and delivering end-to-end solutions for customers with greater efficiency and effectiveness.” 

The role was a hugely significant one in light of the reputational battles Optus continues to face. The cyber breach of 2022, which saw the personal data of nearly 10 million Australians stolen and exposed, remains the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Office of the Australian Privacy Commissioner and class action lawsuits.

Last November, Optus suffered another huge blow after a national network outage that lasted about 14 hours and what’s now been revealed as thousands of Australians unable to dial emergency services. The fallout resulted in the resignation of CEO, Kelly Rosmarin, who Keighery was to report directly into. Given how close the role of corporate affairs chief and CEO was to be, Rosmarin’s exit was no doubt a major factor in Keighery’s decision to switch course.

An Optus spokesperson confirmed the details of Keighery’s planned commencement and said the team wished her well in her future ventures.

Keighery was also coming into Optus off the back of a big year at Crown as its chief brand and corporate affairs officer, navigating the troubled Blackstone-owned casino and entertainment operator through a tumultuous 2023 that included a whopping $450 million fine for historic breaches of Australia’s anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism laws, as well as shedding more than 100 staff.