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Interview, Part 1: Stoli Group CEO Hugues Pietrini

July 18, 2018

Hugues Pietrini, formerly executive vice president of global distribution at Moët Hennessy, took the helm as global CEO of Stoli Group just over a year ago.Since then, the veteran drinks executive has reshaped Stoli’s leadership team, including naming former Beam Suntory executive Rudy Costello as president and CEO of Stoli Group USA. Also among Pietrini’s first major initiatives is an ambitious new global campaign for Stoli’s flagship vodka, which is rolling out across 20 countries. Stoli declined to disclose financials for the campaign, but the flagship brand’s U.S. media spend was $4.4 million last year, according to Kantar Media. According to Impact Databank, Stolichnaya vodka was up 0.8% in the U.S. to 1.7 million cases last year. This year, the company is projecting a 3% increase for the brand. SND managing editor Daniel Marsteller recently met with Pietrini to discuss his vision for the future of Stoli.

SND: Having previously worked on Stoli from 2004-2006 with Allied Domecq and Pernod Ricard, how do you assess the brand’s current position in the market?

Pietrini: One reason I was very excited to come back is that I think Stoli remains the iconic vodka. Despite changing distributors over the years it has remained strong in terms of awareness. It’s a bar call and has a particularly strong presence on-trade. But because the market has evolved and consumers change, the past history of the brand and its credentials have been somewhat forgotten. We need to reconnect with people who know the brand but haven’t had it as part of their repertoire the past few years.

SND: The U.S. arm of Stoli Group has seen a lot of change lately at the executive level.

Pietrini: Yes. Stoli Group USA is still a very young company, and when I arrived it needed change. The first pillar in our vision is to have good people. We have a new executive team—Rudy Costello as CEO, Jose Carvalho as CFO, and Russell Pareti as senior vice president of marketing. They’re very motivated. We want to be much more precise commercially. We’re not discounting as the market is pushing us to, because we’re selling high-quality products. Our ultimate goal is to be recognized as strong brand-builders in the U.S.

SND: What are the main objectives for Stoli’s new “Loud and Clear” campaign?

Pietrini: The platform goes beyond the Stoli brand and is really a manifesto for the entire Stoli Group. We want to talk about the emotional values of the brand, developed over its 80-year history, not just its intrinsic values. We need to make the brand cool again, make it part of pop culture, and do it through our own values of entrepreneurship, taking risks, being bold, creative, and innovative. We want to celebrate diversity, the fact that success is what you make it, and that it’s whatever drives you that’s important. There are so many fake brands out there that use fake stories to advertise their products. We’re using real people—whether it’s a welder, a DJ, a bartender—who can discuss what drives them. That’s the heart of the concept. The code is more luxury than classic FMCG. We have 12 or 14 characters that help illustrate our values, and we’ll have more looking forward. We’re investing significantly in the U.S.

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