From selling quarter pounders to diamonds: Jo Feeney on her move to Michael Hill

After over seven years at the Golden Arches, last year Jo Feeney joined Michael Hill Jewellers to transform its marketing proposition. Feeney speaks to Mumbrella's Calum Jaspan about the shift between the two brands, and why focusing on the product and story during uncertain times has become the focus for the Antipodean brand.

When sandwiched between two years of sporadic lockdowns and a new cost of living crisis, buying diamonds might not be every Australian’s first thought. But chief marketing officer of Michael Hill, Jo Feeney says that in uncertain times, meaningful connections – and special items to mark them – are more important than ever before.

Feeney joined Michael Hill Jewellers, the dual Australian and New Zealand listed company last March from McDonald’s, and tells Mumbrella the complete shift in product has been “really fun and exciting”, and taking the brand on a journey around transformation and growth “isn’t something you get to do with every brand you’ve worked on”.

“I still love a quarter pounder,” jokes Feeney. “But my husband was definitely a bit nervous when he was like ‘hmm, diamonds or burgers?’ that worries me for my bank balance.”

Joining Michael Hill, Feeney says there was a lot of desire within the brand to shift where it was perceived and seen within the market, moving away from a focus on product and price, towards a bigger picture, and the story behind the product and brand as well.

“What does the brand look like to people moving forward? And what do we want them to think about us? There were so many things that we weren’t telling people.”

“We weren’t telling them about the fact that we have a manufacturing department here and we make so much of our beautiful product out of Australia. There’s real history and a craft to the business, and there are people who’ve worked here for 20, 30 plus years.”

Storytelling became front and centre for Feeney and Michael Hill, as she set about “bringing things to life” in a way people hadn’t seen before through the brand.

“At the end of the day, it’s really about understanding what your brand does for people and what people are looking for. Michael Hill is all about marking those really special moments in people’s lives, and I think that’s what’s beautiful and powerful about the product that we sell.”

She highlights that Michael Hill’s range of products is not only diverse in range, but in price as well.

“We still want our product to be accessible to people, but certainly aspirational as well.”

At a time when Australians are watching their wallets more than ever, Feeney says buyer consideration is becoming more central to prospective purchasers, who are looking for an item that will last.

“It’s funny thinking we’ve already been in a couple of years of uncertain times, but we’re also going into different uncertain times with the way that inflation is moving. I think people are looking for products that aren’t as disposable, if I’m going to buy something, I want to invest in something that I know can last.”

This was particularly brought into focus with the brand’s recent Mother’s Day campaign via CHEP Network.

Feeney says the brand went to market with a special Mother’s Day line with the product centered around the strength and resilience of motherhood.

“I do think as we head into these more uncertain times, jewellery is such a product that means things to people, and over the last couple of years we’ve really gone as humans back into that space of meaningful connections as being more important than ever when you haven’t been able to see people, and jewellery is really personal.”

More generally, Feeney says jewellery still holds an important place for people to mark these moments, and that won’t change.

“People are still getting married, the world is still buying engagement rings, you just change what you spend. Again, it is a piece that will last, you really think about your engagement ring because it’s not something you’re going to change. It’s those forever pieces.”

Headquartered in Brisbane, Feeney talks glowingly of her aforementioned agency partners, CHEP Network in its Queensland office.

“I actually think what’s interesting is this belief that you can’t get great work out of somewhere like Brisbane, and I believe truly great work and great things come from great people, not places.”

“I have a wonderful partnership with the team at CHEP, certainly up here in Brisbane. We really reshaped the agency relationship when I started. I wanted to have a team locally that I could spend time with, and having that facetime connection with people that you work with is so important to me.”

Feeney says working with good humans is foundational to any relationship she has had with an agency and is insistent on keeping it that way: “I don’t like to think of it as an agency-client relationship”.

“I’ve always said I don’t like the C-word – that being client, just to be clear – but that’s because I don’t want to be called the client, I don’t like that, they’re our partner, they’re an extension of our team.”

Feeney finishes by saying when you have the opportunity to build that kind of human-based relationship, that is when you get to produce amazing work.”


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