Former Telstra marketer Amanda Johnston-Pell returns to Australia with IBM role

Amanda Johnston-Pell

New IBM CMO: Johnston-Pell

The appointment of Amanda Johnston-Pell as head of marketing for IBM in the Australia/New Zealand region signals the return of a marketer famed for meetings were staff were urged to dance and role play.

Her appointment comes six years after she left her role as director of brands and marketing at Telstra where she oversaw a range of initiatives including the launch of Telstra’s 4G network and the creation of the award winning Rabbits campaign by agency BWM.

All eyes will now be on whether Johnston-Pell will seek to put her own stamp on the brand’s Australian marketing and possibly even extend its agency roster.

Ogilvy has an iron grip on the IBM business worldwide but Pell had a close relationship with BWM in Australia, now part of Dentsu.

The agency lost its share of the Telstra business just nine months after Johnston-Pell left the company.

The marketer has been working on her own start-up in the US and is also understood to have built a close relationship with Ogilvy boss Shelly Lazarus.

While in Australia she cited former Saatchi & Saatchi chair Sandra Yates as a mentor.

Johnston-Pell was renowned for her unique, almost evangelical approach to meetings, often requiring staff and agency executives to perform or role-play.

In one meeting an agency executive wore a Barack Obama mask after attendees were told a famous name would attend give a presentation, while dancing was a common way to kick off agency WIPs

In another reported motivational exercise that occurred under Johnston-Pell’s management was when Telstra-leader Sol Trujillo told his management team they should “catch the vision or catch the bus” – with “catching the bus” meaning leaving Telstra. The message was miscommunicated down the line as everyone having to get on the bus and sending emails to managers confirming it.

Those confirming they were on the bus were issued a “bus ticket” which they were asked to print out and stick on their desk and on their pass. To get into scope of work meetings they had to wave their bus tickets in the air.

While Rabbits built into an award winning campaign, her decision not to return from maternity leave after the appointment of Mark Collis as director of creativity and innovation was met with relief by some.

In announcing her appointment IBM said that Pell would also join the Australia and New Zealand board.

“In this role Johnston-Pell will focus on driving collaboration across the business to deliver deep industry and innovative solutions and services to clients in the areas of cloud, cognitive, social, mobile and security,” the IBM statement said.

It said that she would remain a director of New York based start-up MOSH, which she co-founded in 2013. 

“The interactive social platform enables brands, artists and causes to connect and build deep, personalised engagements with fans and customers,” the statement said.

Last year the company announced it would look to harness inspiration from startups, developing “marketing experience labs”, with one set up at its headquarters in Sydney.

The company said focus on importing startup techniques into an already established business such as IBM was driven by startups’ ability to put something into market to test and learn from that experience.

Simon Canning


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