with greg layton

The Inner Chief is for leaders, professionals and small business owners who want to accelerate their career and growth. Our guest chiefs and gurus share powerful stories and strategies so you can have more purpose, influence and impact in your career.

Listen on

In this episode of The Inner Chief podcast, I speak to the CEO of Havas Red Australia, Shane Russell, on how to avoid PR disasters through campaigns that build your company brand and customer engagement, and the ever-changing media landscape.

Shane is the Chief Executive Officer of Havas Red Australia, which merges best-in-class PR, social media, influencer and experiential storytelling, with content at the heart.

In a 20+ year PR career that has spanned both Australia and the United States, Shane has a track record for leading high-growth teams and brands that aren’t afraid of taking creative risks.

Through specialised practice areas, Havas Red represents world-class brands across health and wellness, corporate, technology, automotive, travel, and more.

For a decade prior to joining Havas Red, Shane served as Executive Vice President at New York-based 5W Public Relations, helping it become one of the largest independent firms in America.

In this episode we talk about:

✅  His early years in the PR world and how he strived to be a person of value with some incredibly famous individuals

✅  Taking the plunge by selling everything and moving to New York

✅  How not to stuff up a PR campaign while still standing for causes that are important to you, and

✅  The rapid pace of change in the media world and how to keep adapting.

Connecting with Shane Russell

You can connect with Shane via LinkedIn.

Books and resources


“People just want to hear the truth and just want to be talked to as humans by brands.”


On early career lessons

  • My dad ran Townsville basketball for 15 years. We lived and breathed basketball outside of small business and what was drilled into me from an early age there was you are, you know, you know, bigger than the team. And if you aren't ready to do whatever it takes for the team to succeed, then you're off the team.
  • I was very fortunate to work for 2 entrepreneurs in the business who had just been doing it for a long time and I was learning more about sales and business and growth versus the ins and outs of PR. That stuff came naturally as I went along, but I think having those foundations from day 1 was just monumental. I still think about it now. It still shapes the way I entered a room for meetings.
  • So it sort of makes you work backwards to think, what's the value I can provide in this team? I don't have to be the star of the show. I certainly won't be the star of the show. It's what role can I play? What value can I bring? Uh, and how can I help the business and the product move forward?

On being a person of value

  • First and foremost, it was all about research. I had to know I was dealing with some big egos for starters. So that, that was pretty clear, is, you know, you learn how to play to certain people's personalities and the ways they operate.
  • It was really knowing the audience and who I was in the room with, and then understanding that I had to prep. And be, you know, precise and accurate and, and give really good counsel and advice when I was asked.
  • I spent a lot of time before meetings, really writing notes, thinking what I could say and what I could do before a meeting to put something in front of somebody.
  • How can I add value? I'm dealing with very smart people. They've been doing this for a long time. And I might add before my first job, most people were 30 years older than me. So they're coming into the room with 30 years experience.

On being a great consultant

  • It's the question we have to ask all the time at Havas Red as well is, what are we trying to solve for the client? And if we can come into the room and talk about how we're going to solve those problems. Or, or create those opportunities. That's what the CEO or the business owner wants to hear. They want to talk about solutions and progress and how we can build on what we've done.
  • What does this do from a call to action? And what are we actually trying to get people to do as a result of this? And, you know, that's probably one of the biggest debates we can have around what is the role of PR and earned media versus the rest of the marketing funnel. But ultimately we are here for sales, right? I mean, every business we work for is trying to sell something, whether it's even nonprofits, it's trying to sell a service or a, so, you know, if you can understand again, what is the number 1 reason I'm in this meeting or the number 1 reason I'm working for this client.

On taking the plunge into his own consultancy

  • So overnight started the consultancy, got two clients in the first week. And I think that the biggest thing that I took out of that was, it was probably the very first time I realised that you can just make things happen that you didn't think you could do before.
  • The buck stops here. Now, I'm now in charge versus being a worker and having to find clients in that environment and having to hustle and set up a business and work on the business and it was operational and profitable pretty quickly. And, you know, sort of realize what you're capable of when you just take the plunge.
  • You can make literally anything happen. There is nothing stopping you from taking the biggest plunge where you're totally uncomfortable out of your, you know, out of your depth in many ways, but you can make it happen because you look around and realize lots of people are making it happen.

On leading an agency

  • If we had all people that were hustling and trying to grow sales and business all the time, it'd be a tough place to run. So, I think, I think it's fair to say there's always going to be room in places like the agency world for really good workers who may be, uh, just wanting to do good work and go home. Not everyone has to be that hustler or entrepreneur.
  • I don't know the answers to so many things. And what I try to do is find people that do.
  • I see my role now is trying to be the facilitator that connects those people or put them in the best position to succeed. So. With that, I get the opportunity to ask dumb questions. I get the opportunity to sit in meetings and just listen. There is lots of people here that are brilliant, including clients where I think I can take a backseat and listen and learn.
  • I just go to people and ask questions, and I think that's the environment I want to be in is we shouldn't sit here for two months, not knowing how to do something, just ask somebody and we'll figure it out. And so, yeah, that's that's sort of my approach is being obviously learn what I can and avoid the outcome of being humiliated or embarrassed. But ultimately, I'm okay learning and also passing those learnings on to other people.

On nailing your communications

  • If we're a brand that's trying to communicate our purpose to the world. First of all, it's got to be very authentic. You can't be out there and preaching something that you don't practice from the start. So there's got to be truth to it, but you've also got to understand your audience. You've got to understand, you know, who you're serving in general. And it could be investors. It could be, you know, again, your, your internal audience, it could be clients and customers, whatever it looks like, it's different for every business.
  • You also have to understand that not everyone has to like you. So don't try to be everything to everyone. So if you put those together from a starting point and then you think about what are the things we care about, communicating to the world, if we can do that in a way that's true to our business and what we stand for. And we do it the right way, sensitively, and we've tested it and talked to people. And you're willing to stay behind it and get behind it, then great, go with it.

On how Bud Light bottled it

  • I think the intentions they had were great. You know, trying to show inclusivity and engaging an audience, a younger audience through social, it ticked most, most of the boxes. But what I would say there is perhaps from an audience perspective, it needed more, you know, investigation before it went live. And I don't think right or wrong, again, the intentions were great. It's just more that, you know, you saw the consequences of something going into the wild where it becomes out of your control. And I think a lot of businesses have seen that and learned from it, despite many still making mistakes.
  • I think the majority of the own goals we've seen here in Australia and overseas haven't been as much tied to product or sales or the core of their business, right? It's been about representing something or talking to a new audience or standing for something. I think that's where we've seen most of the mistakes happen is they've kind of, you know, branched out from, uh, whatever the core service or product is they provide. But I think if you're a business that's, that's looking at this landscape and going, is it just safer for me to be quiet? I think what I would do is if you aren't doing much of a communications or PR sort of push externally. I would start with the core business. I mean, ultimately we're customers because we love the product or the service and we're loyal over time because you continue to delight me through customer service and innovations and all the great things, right? And then over time I started to love the brand because it stands for something that I believe in and it makes me feel good in the times that I use the product.
  • Communicate to them through all the channels that are available. Not just the traditional PR release that people think is what PR is, but talk to them in wherever they touch a brand: online, in store, socials, et cetera. And build a base out of that. And then over time, if you're ready to take a stand on social issues or other causes that are, you know, that mean a lot to you and the brand, really evaluate the audience and really evaluate, you know, the good and the bad of what could come from taking a stance, you know, understanding that not everyone's going to agree with you and are you okay with that?

On the ever-changing media landscape

  • 30 years ago, and when I first started actually, we were faxing out press releases to the small handful of daily newspapers. And that was our way of communicating to the external world. We weren't blasting out emails, we weren't using social, we weren't really holding events. Fast forward to today, and I talked about this, there's an explosion in channels of which you can communicate now.
  • Things can get out of your control because there's now, you know, millions of content creators that aren't even associated with a media platform, but they can take your news and broadcast it out to their audience.
  • It's now about direct relations with your audiences through channels like social and direct through events and direct through electronic marketing and email. When I talk about knowing your audience, it's also knowing how your audience touches the brand.
  • There's a lot in the world that's changing and we've talked about this from a communications perspective. It's chaotic. It's how do you know what to communicate? But that's where we think brands really have a role in an opportunity moving forward, which is, you know, being one of the trends is, truth telling versus storytelling for a long time we talked about brands and people as storytellers. We think now the opportunity is to be truth tellers.
  • We think about the impact that AI can have on, on every part of our life as well as business. We see the real opportunity going forward is we've got to have people that know how to harness the power of that because we think it can supercharge creativity output, in many ways of our business and also our clients businesses.
  • People just want to hear the truth and just want to be talked to as humans by brands.

Final message of wisdom and hope for future leaders 

  • No-one's going to care about your growth as much as you, you're responsible ultimately for how you do in your profession. We will support you all the way, but I want you to take the initiative to learn outside of even your skill set outside of this industry. And just be a continual learner and try to always get better. 

Deal hope,