Peter Sandström, Marketing Director, Maxxium UK

Peter’s international marketing career spans over 20 years, including senior regional and national marketing roles at Monsanto, Diageo and Beam Global Spirits

Tom Holmes

Founder & Chairman



Tom Holmes talks to Peter Sandström, Marketing Director of Maxxium UK.

Peter’s international marketing career spans over 20 years, including senior regional and national marketing roles at Monsanto, Diageo and Beam Global Spirits.

Peter is now Marketing Director for Maxxium UK and heads up a 30 strong marketing team achieving outstanding results. The Famous Grouse and Courvoisier now enjoy their highest market share in history and Maxxium is one of the top performing spirit companies in the UK.


Creativebrief: As Marketing Director of Maxxium, the UK’s 3rd largest spirits company, what is your primary focus?

Peter Sandstrom: I am focused on delivering our company vision which is to be the most dynamic, respected and passionate brand builders within the spirits industry. Over the past three years we have step changed our business by adding over £127 million, with Maxxium now delivering £965 million in sales value across the On and Off trade.

Since Maxxium became a local operating unit for Beam and Edrington, our marketing has transformed with a consolidated consumer and customer marketing approach. This enables my team to really build a range of marketing skills, be that creating through the line campaigns or building focused customer strategies with some of the best On and Off trade outlets in the world.

So, I am essentially focused on profitably building great consumer brands, while creating a dynamic environment where people can build an exciting marketing career.

Creativebrief: What are the main brands in your portfolio and what makes them so successful?

Peter Sandstrom: Within Maxxium we are fortunate to have an excellent and varied portfolio as well as a number of category leading brands. While every brand is important to us there are a few brands that have really transformed over the past few years.

The Famous Grouse is an exceptional brand and we have grown the brand into the UK’s second largest spirits brand and the No1 scotch brand. This has been achieved by consistently building consumer demand, whilst taking a dynamic approach to innovation. We have seen Black Grouse, Naked Grouse and more recently Ginger Grouse invigorate the brand.

Courvoisier, the UK’s No1 Cognac is a great brand and continues to pioneer and drive the category. We are revolutionising the way consumers think about Cognac and our focus on quality and dynamic marketing has enabled the brand to grow its value share to 63% as we continue to draw new consumers into the brand.

Jim Beam, the World’s No1 Bourbon and the first to introduce flavoured whiskey. The brand has really step changed its performance by being extraordinarily brave in its innovation pipeline. Within the UK we have been first to market with Red Stag, a black cherry infused Jim Beam and more recently Jim Beam Honey which brings natural honey into our Bourbon. This is all helping make Bourbon ‘hot’ in the UK and the Jim Beam is leading the conversation. This was brought to life recently when we brought our distillery to London as a Stillhouse Experience.

Finally another dynamic brand is Sourz which is really leading the way in terms of bringing fun and flavour into the shot category. The brand has grown into a major brand worth over £133 million in sales value and continues to grow by +10%. We have been building this brand by being on trend and simply bringing a lot of fun to our consumers with a high quality brand that tastes exceptional.

I really could be here all day as every brand has a unique story to tell which makes the portfolio so interesting, exciting and fun to work with.

Creativebrief: What advertising campaign have you done recently makes you really proud and why?

Peter Sandstrom: I think our most recent work has been incredibly fun to develop with my team. We have worked in harmony with our regional and global teams to ensure we deliver strategically aligned work. This has enabled us to work as a team and partner our agencies on the creative and their dynamic executions.

A ‘Famously Unpredictable Summer’ from The Famous Grouse saw a simple idea transform into a full through the line campaign which consumers and trade loved. It’s simply not something they would expect from a Scotch.

The great news is that we are taking this disruption a step further by enabling consumers to personalise their own The Famous Grouse bottle this Christmas.

I love these ideas because we are taking them through the line from television down to the shelf and creating conversations about our brand.

Sourz has also been an exceptionally rewarding as the team has taken real insight into action to create ‘This is our Shot’ campaign.

We know the shot occasion is more about the bonding with friends and it is this moment we want people to enjoy with an exceptional flavour and an unique taste. The teams have worked so well together to deliver a great campaign which is proving to be very successful. Again, this demonstrates the example of one idea that is flowing across multiple touch points.

A slightly more daring piece of work has been with Courvoisier, where the team created the ‘Here’s to Now’ campaign.

We have delivered a compelling campaign that is unlike anything ever seen from a Cognac brand and is designed for consumers to reappraise their Cognac moments and include the brand within more occasions. We have spent over 200 years perfecting the liquid, so the time to enjoy it is Now.

Red Stag has been another outstanding brand to work with and we took a global piece of work, adapted it for the UK and gave the brand a unique voice for Bourbon. We have created a range of extraordinary BTL activations from O2 sponsorships to Kigu parties whilst supporting the brand above the line. Our commitment to the brand and the campaigns has helped transform the conversations on Bourbon and position Jim Beam as the fastest growing brand in the category.

Within the team we are continually creating and building engaging ways to bring our brand to our consumers. We are also highly focused on commercial return, resulting in great balance of creative and effective marketing.

Creativebrief: Your career has spanned Maxxium UK, Beam Global Spirits & Wine, Diageo, Monsanto and SmithKline Beecham, what have been the high points?

Peter Sandstrom: My career has indeed been an exciting journey that began in South Africa where I built a solid foundation within the FMCG industry and had a fast tracked journey from salesman to marketing director of Monsanto’s consumer division.

During this time a key highlight was helping to build a focused consumer strategy which resulted in us designing and implementing a standalone FMCG business. This focused approach step changed our performance and delivered the highest market shares of any country in the world. These results lead me to the UK and my appointment to regional director for the Middle East and Africa. The role transformed my outlook of the world and really stretched an entrepreneurial approach to building markets. It taught me to drive innovation and how to adapt a consumer approach within developing markets, which was a major factor in our financial performance growing over 50%.

My move to Diageo was in fact a step that really grounded my marketing experience, working with both the beer and spirits divisions. This brought two significant highlights. Within the beer division we built regional and local ready to drink strategies whilst creating regional ATL and BL material. The highlight was recognition by the industry for the best brand launches within Nigeria, Cameroon and Kenya and, more importantly building a highly profitable and growing business. On the spirits side, the most rewarding experience was creating ‘Everyday Heroes’ for Johnnie Walker because we built it on true consumer insights. We created a ten part documentary series that brought to life stories of entrepreneurs succeeding in Africa, establishing a sense of pride whilst inspiring people to pursue their dreams. We were rewarded with a Golden Loerie Award for adverting, which was a first for Diageo and a great recognition for a real team effort across the distribution network.

Shortly after this, I had the opportunity to live in Greece becoming Innovation and portfolio director for South East Europe. The highlight here was turning the region into the most profitable innovation region in Europe, whilst being recognised for the best innovation globally for Smirnoff North. This was all made possible because of the warm and dedicated team in Greece. They are such a proud nation, determined to succeed and this made all the difference and it made working in Greece a lot of fun and extremely rewarding.

My journey has come almost a full circle. I am now living back in the UK but in Scotland as  Marketing Director for Maxxium UK, this has without doubt been the most rewarding time in my career as the UK is a major market for our partners. Over the past 3 years we have transformed Maxxium into the 3rd largest spirits company, having grown our Nielsen sales value by 7%.  We have managed to do this through a strategy of building our core brands, coupled with driving innovation that not only builds our business but also spirits categories. We have grown The Famous Grouse into the No1 Scotch brand, transformed Jim Beam into the fastest growing imported whisky brand in the UK, accelerated Courvoisier as the UK’s No1 Cognac and No1 luxury brand, whilst having fun with Sourz, which is one of the most dynamic shot brands.

These results have been possible because of Maxxium’s people, who are all focused on being the most dynamic brand builders in the spirits industry. This simply makes building brands a pleasure when you know the company is single minded about the importance of building great brands.


Creativebrief: What marketing trade bodies do you support and why?

Peter Sandstrom: I support the Marketing Society and last year I chaired the Scottish Star Awards. The society is an excellent network  for marketers to celebrate the craft of marketing and to help inspire a career in this field. The society is incredibly active and continues to champion excellence and helps to build capabilities.

Creativebrief: You have worked in both the emerging world of Africa, the Middle East and South Eastern Europe, how has this cross-cultural experience particularly helped in the UK?

Peter Sandstrom: My career has taken me into over 50 different markets around the world and I have had some rather diverse experiences, such as sitting on a Guinness crate talking to consumers in a dimly lit bar in the middle of Lagos and launching some of the rarest whiskies and cognacs within some of most exclusive outlets in London. These cross cultural experiences have been humbling and motivating at the same time, as they have taught me not to take anything for granted and that possibilities can become a reality if you put your mind to it.

I believe this venture mindset has helped me because I am not concerned where a good idea comes from. If it is a good idea that will build our brands and in turn drive our business that’s great. I would rather make a decision to move things forward versus procrastinating and not making one. You can always fix an incorrect decision but inertia is inexcusable.

I often see marketers wanting data to tell them what to do, but it does not always work that way. If you don’t try, you will never succeed. There are too many people that are frightened of failure, they don’t realise that failure can drive excellence. Just try it and ensure that if something fails, you recognise it quickly.  This will be cheaper in the long run and you will learn quicker (fail fast; fail cheap; learn quicker).

Creativebrief: What are the main challenges for your sector/category over the next 12 months?

Peter Sandstrom: The key challenge for the industry is to continue to deliver high quality brands with exceptional production values. As an industry, we are focused on driving effectiveness and efficiency whilst constantly being challenged to reduce pricing. This balance is a natural part of business, although it is essential to realise that consumers will not compromise on quality.

We are living in a world where brand loyalty and consumer retention is of paramount importance. Consumers are increasingly managing their financial affairs and they are constantly evaluating how and where they are spending their well earned income. The result of this is an uncompromising need for quality and value. The industry therefore has a real responsibility to deliver this to ensure our consumers enjoy our brands and have quality experiences be that staying in or going out.

Within Maximum we have an uncompromising focus on quality, ensuring we try to deliver executional excellence. A great example of this is, where our dedicated mixologists educate the trade and consumers about the art of cocktails. We also partner our customers to ensure they stock the right brands to deliver a great experience. A happy consumer is a returning customer.

Creativebrief: How do you see the media landscape unfolding in the next 5 years

Peter Sandstrom: We are living in a transformational time with respect to media. If you consider the progress that Apple has had within the last 5 years, it’s astounding!  The iPad launched 3.5 years ago under a cloud of scepticism and today it is considered their best launch ever, having sold over 170 million units. What’s even more astounding is the fact that they celebrated their 60 billionth App sale within a world of millions of smartphones. This dynamic growth demonstrates how rapidly technology is changing our world and how complex media has and will become.

What’s exciting and challenging is the transformation from physical to digital retailing and how consumers are utilising media technology to do their shopping. The issue is that digital still cannot deliver the human need to use our senses. Consumers still want to smell, touch or taste new products therefore the transformation will be on the shop floor. Consumers are accessing media to make an informed decision, be that price, quality or review recommendations. Decisions are being made rapidly and the media and creative challenge is to credibly switch or maintain them.

Creativebrief: Do you prefer to use an ‘integrated’ agency approach or specialist agencies by individual discipline?

Peter Sandstrom: I am not sure if I have seen many agencies that truly excel as a fully integrated agency.

Leith Agency is probably one of the best and they have done an excellent job at helping us build Sourz. They harness the talent from their network of independent arms such as Blonde and Lethal Thinking and this combination has helped translate our ideas through the line across a range of disciplines.

That said, on other brands we have a multiple agency approach, which brings together the best talent to meet the brief. Good agencies are very capable of working as a team, irrespective of where they come from.

So, I think it is really about the brief and the brand determining the type of agencies we need. If an integrated agency has the expertise to deliver, great. Equally, if a specialist agency can deliver, they will be roped into our multiple agency team.

Creativebrief: What challenges do you face, managing day-to-day agency relationships?

Peter Sandstrom: There are three key areas I try to embed with my team and agencies.

  • Jointly own the brief. This is really an owned process and we have got to ensure the teams understand what’s required and why. The brief needs to be very clear from both sides. Spending time on clarity will speed up delivery and quality and avoid disappointment on both sides.
  • Communicating as a partnership. If both parties understand the issues at hand they can be resolved together. I sometimes feel people use language which is ambiguous and threatens misinterpretation. Be clear and to the point, this cheaper and more effective for both parties.
  • Present an idea and not only a campaign. A well thought through idea is powerful, as it enables the team to leverage this across multiple touch points and ensures alignment. Spend time drilling the idea and articulating it as it will speed up the creative and implementation process.

Creativebrief: What’s your attitude to the ‘traditional’ pitch? Do you think there is a better/more modern way?

Peter Sandstrom: It’s really down to the brief and the remit of the brand’s strategy. The advantage of a traditional pitch, is that it enables a team to really gain a different perspective. I also think it brings a new agency closer to the client by giving them a common platform, ‘the brand’, to begin a relationship. Building brands is a personal process and you need to trust and be inspired by each other. It’s important to have a partner that stretches and challenges the teams thinking to ensure we deliver creatively and commercially. A traditional pitch can help build this partnership.

Creativebrief: Would you ever consider awarding an agency business without a pitch?

Peter Sandstrom: We do not always go through a formal process. When we understand the teams and their expertise, then we will appoint. We recently did this with The Famous Grouse and the ‘Famously Unpredictable Summer” idea. It came as a prospective piece of work that both the team and we really liked and felt it delivered on our needs. Instead of the agency doing a blanket prospective email which ends up in the bin, they thought about the brand and delivered an interesting concept and idea, which the team leveraged to great effect.