Peter O'Sullivan | Influence 100

Peter O’Sullivan 

GM, Group External Communications & Community 
Woolworths Group 



This may come as a surprise to shoppers in the UK and the US, where a company of the same name shuttered its retail stores two decades ago, but Woolworths is Australia’s most valuable brand, according to a report from consulting firm Brand Finance.
Peter O’Sullivan has been responsible for managing the company’s external communications for the past five years, first as head of public relations, community and sponsorship and now as GM, external communications and community. Before that, he led the New South Wales business for PPR, one of the country’s leading public relations agencies, and served as managing director of the Australian operations for leading UK consumer shop Frank.
Recent years have not all been plain sailing for the company, which admitted in 2019 that it may owe its employees as much as $300 million as a result of underpayments, but it did earn high marks for its response to the coronavirus, after CEO Brad Banducci took a highly visible leadership role, letting Australians that there was enough food and toilet paper for everyone—and offering temporary jobs to laid-off airline employees.

Can you share a moment in your career when you saw PR's direct impact on business performance?
The work of the team to support the business over the last 18 months during the Covid crisis has been inspiring and played a critical role in building customer trust, as well supporting the business’ reputation.

What are the communications industry's biggest challenges and opportunities in the year ahead?
Maintaining momentum from the impact and role played during the Covid crisis. It’s important that the communications team continue to play an important role in business decisions, not just communicating the outcome.

What have you most admired about this industry over the past year?
Resilience. The ability for teams to keep facing into challenges and helping businesses navigate uncertain times.

What has most disappointed you about this industry over the past year?
Not a disappointment, but there has been less opportunity to be creative and innovative as comms teams focus more on functional and helpful communications for customers.

How have you switched off from work and maintained wellness in lockdown?
Making sure I switch off from the emails at the same time as non-lockdown times. Daily walks also important and mini-breaks between hangouts to ensure the day doesn't fly past due to back-to-back meetings.

Sum up 2021 in one word.