Panorama & Lifestyle

Genesis as a partner in golf: “I think it’s a unique mindset”

10/16/2023 by Tobias Hennig

Genesis as a partner in golf: “I think it’s a unique mindset”

Graeme Russell, Chief Brand Officer of Genesis, talks to Matthias Gräf, CEO of Golf Post. (Credit: Golf Post)

Genesis has been involved in golf in Asia and America for some time. In Europe, the carmaker has just sponsored the Scottish Open for the second time. Graeme Russell, Chief Brand Officer of Genesis, talks to Golf Post about different markets, long-term commitments and Korean hospitality.

Interview with Graeme Russell, Chief Brand Officer of Genesis

Golf Post: Hi Graeme, so we’re here sitting after the closure of the second Genesis Scottish Open. We want to talk more about Genesis the brand in general and not kind of golf as the tournament so much. So it’s kind of the second year in Europe and also in the same timeframe since you introduced your brand here in the market. What can you tell me about the connection between Genesis and golf? Why is it so important for you?

Graeme Russell: Yes, absolutely. Well, thank you. It’s a pleasure to have you here. It’s a sunny day in Scotland and the wind is blowing and we’ve just witnessed a great winner in Rory McIlroy at the Genesis Scottish Open. This is the culmination of many years of Genesis, involvement, investment and support for golf. The Genesis brand was launched in November 2015. Shortly after that, in 2016, we became a partner of the Korean PGA and their point system and really starting to support Korean golf. And then we went beyond that and started to become a significant partner and supporter of global golf. And that was with the Genesis Open at the time, and latterly, has become the Genesis Invitational. And then of course, with the Genesis Championship in Korea. So that was really our start in golf. And then two years ago, we became the title sponsor of the Genesis Scottish Open, now co-sanctioned, and that really completes a portfolio of three iconic, prestigious tournaments. For us. The rationale for Genesis in golf, I think we believe that as a premium luxury brand is introducing ourselves onto the global stage. Golf was a great platform for us. It aligns with our values to be audacious to be progressive, and that distinctly Korean element very much is, of course, Korea, Women’s golfing in Korea particularly and then naturally men’s golf. There’s a huge passion for the sport. So I think Golf was very much a natural fit for Genesis. And we’ve gone on since to enhance our portfolios, I’m sure we’ll talk about in a minute. We talked about R&D for audacious commitment, because I think there’s very few sponsors, there’s probably a handful, they’d be FedEx, maybe Rolex, to have this kind of prestigious portfolio and significant investment and commitment to the school. So we’re very proud. And today, especially when we’re talking about an hour and a bit after the conclusion of the Genesis Scottish Open with a fantastic winner, one of the best golfers of this generation, winning our tournaments.

Golf Post: So we are in Scotland, in Europe, and still Genesis as a brand in Europe is still quite new into the market, two years into the market by now. How would you describe the genesis brand for an European audience? What is the USP that you bring into the market?

Graeme Russell: I think very simply, we have a very strong design component, we have a world class design team, Luc Donckerwolke, SangYup Lee, arguably two of the best designers in the global automotive industry, the technology that we’re able to incorporate into our vehicles into our Genesis models, and into our Genesis customer experience is right up there. It has been world class. And then I think the differentiator is our hospitality. This Korean philosophy of “Son-Nim”, how we look after people, whether it’s for the golf tournament, looking after the players and the caddies, holding them close, of course, or whether it’s looking after our customers, particularly warranty programs, who come to you to test drive programs, etc.That’s that feeling of “Son-Nim”. And treating customers as our guests is very important.

Design, of course, has led the Genesis brands since its launch. Technology is a very important part. And hospitality, the way we look after all people who are friends of the Genesis brand, is that combination that makes us, I believe, unique from the other brands, of course, in the premium luxury space.

Golf Post: What I noticed here is that there weren’t many big signs and claims of Genesis out there on the golf course. Is there any sort of claim that Genesis is going to put out there?

Graeme Russell: I think, we talk about our audacious commitment to golf, but I think we’re in that distinctly Korean philosophy, which I’ve had the pleasure of really learning since I moved to Korea 18 months ago. I’m a Scott. I’ve spent my family life in Edinburgh. This is my home tournament, but I live in Korea and work there with the team. And I’ve really learned that there’s a very thoughtful and mindful humbleness about Korea and Korean brands. And so for example, we didn’t want to put cars all over a beautiful golf course. We are very happy to let the golf course show its true design and natural beauty. We want the plenty of players and the spectators and the fans and everyone, really just to appreciate the golf course. And then we of course, can communicate with them in those sort of off course facilities. So I think you know, each brand takes its own approach, how they feel it’s right, we have a distinct thing for me and a philosophy and mindset that we apply to all of our tournaments. It starts with looking after the players from when they arrive in Scotland to the transportation experience, the accommodation experience, the partners that the Renaissance Club, we look after them with great gym facilities, the player and caddies cafe on the land, which is a kind of unique feature and global goal. The fact that we look after the caddies if the player scores a hole in one, both the player and the caddy on 17. So I think it’s a unique mindset. It’s a unique philosophy, and it’s one that we’re very proud of. We have a lot of support within Genesis for this approach. It is a long term vision, this long term commitment. So, we’re very proud of how we approach the game of golf globally.

Golf Post: So from a brand perspective, how difficult is it to set up the brand properly at a golf tournament or the golf venue? So what goes through your mind when you think about setting it up?

Graeme Russell: I think we follow a very considered approach. We work with the DP World Tour and the PGA Tour. This is the only co-sanctioned event. So it’s very much an elevated event, there was a small number of global partners involved in the game, you know, FedEx, and Rolex, and then Genesis being the title sponsor. So we’re very considered about how we present our brand. For example, we want the look and feel the tonality to be right. Sometimes we will make our logos smaller, for example. So the aesthetic of the logos, we’re not overly present, it’s about fitting in with the environment. I mentioned that we haven’t put car placements all over the golf course, we kept them closer towards the clubhouse, because we wanted the natural beauty of the Renaissance, this modern links golf course, in a spectacular Golf Country, in East Lothian. Behind all of this we have two sets of objectives. Our first objective is to look after the players and the caddies, their families and the team around them. And we believe if the player and the caddy are well looked after that will enhance their performance, their ability to play well in the tournament. If they’re playing well, if they’re enjoying themselves, if they’re comfortable, they’re going to play better golf, and the fans will have a better experience, they’re going to see the world’s best golfers playing their best golf. And we saw that throughout the whole week. And then after that, definitely the fans are enjoying it here, the fans in person, but the spectators who are participating through TV and through media coverage.

And then of course, we have our hospitality facility where we’re sitting today. And we’re able to host a wonderful dining and hospitality. So it really is that sort of ecosystem or that complete experience that we’re looking to do. And so it’s the overall Genesis experience, not just the conventional marketing. Of course, our secondary objectives are those marketing KPIs, of course, it’s a significant investment to be a title sponsor on either the DP World Tour, or the PGA Tour or in the Co-sanctioned event. We have the Genesis Invitational on the PGA Tour, now designated event and one of the top events, we’ve got one of the leading events within the Rolex series on the DP World Tour. And of course, we’ve got the Genesis Championship in Korea, so it’s a significant investment. So there must be a very careful attention and due diligence on how these events perform for the brand. They raise awareness, whether it’s a new market like Europe, or whether it’s about reinforcing the appreciation for the brand and markets.

Golf Post: You already mentioned the Genesis Invitational. It’s also already known that you have an affiliation with Tiger Woods as the host. Are there any plans to have more players affiliated to the brand and have some of the best golf players as brand ambassadors?

Graeme Russell: Firstly, we’re very proud. The friendship, the partnership with Tiger Woods and the TGR foundation is very, very important to Genesis and we look forward to continuing that partnership. The Invitational has grown from the Genesis Open to the Genesis Invitational and I think we’ll continue to have an elevated status. In terms of beyond that, I think it’s a really interesting question, because we have a very long list of the most prestigious portfolios in global golf. As we mentioned, the Invitation on the PGA Tour, a co-sanctioned event here with PGA Tour and DP World Tour, a tournament in Korea, the Genesis championship and also the Korea Championship presented by Genesis, and then also a partnership with the APGA, partnership with the Presidents Cup of which we are the official automotive partner, and a series of other sort of secondary sponsorship. So our portfolio is pretty significant. We do always consider whether partnerships with individual golfers and athletes would be something we’re considering, but there’s nothing significant that I could share with you now, because I think we’re very much tournament focused. And when you’re tournament focused, you get to host the best players in the world. And again, the leaderboard that we saw today was one of the best. We had eight of the world’s top 10 golfers here with us this year. Last year, I think it was 14 or 15. At the Invitational last year it was 10 out of 10 of the world’s top golfers, and again, similar to that this year. So our events are attracting the best golfers. And then of course, you would have a really challenging decision, which golfer would you work with and everything else. So yeah, watch this space.

Golf Post: You mentioned your big investment into different globally important golf tournaments. There’s obviously a couple of tournaments left, the really big ones like the majors and the Ryder Cup. Is it something you might look into in the future? There are other competitors involved in those tournaments. Is there a master plan to also be involved in the very top level of golf?

Graeme Russell: I probably can’t give you an answer on that just now. I think I’ll go back to this very prestigious portfolio. And it would be very difficult to go beyond this. With the majors, I believe you are able to have title sponsorship, like official automotive partner. I think in the future, we may well consider it always. I think as one of the leading partners and supporters and sponsors of global golf, I’m sure if opportunities do come up, people will come to us with and present these opportunities to us. And as always, we would do our due diligence and understand if it’s the right fit for the brand. But at present, it would be difficult to top the portfolio that we’ve got. And as we just mentioned, you know, with the caliber of the winners, the caliber of the fields we’re attracting, I think we’re in a pretty good place right now.

Golf Post: So in the end, it’s about selling cars. You have some of the cars here promoted at the tournament. When you plan your marketing strategy, the branding strategy do you also think about the events where you will promote the cars and do you include the golf tournaments as an important element in your schedule for promoting new cars and product launches?

Graeme Russell: Yeah, absolutely. As I mentioned, we have the two sets of objective, the players and the caddies, the bands, the customers etc. And then obviously the marketing objectives. When ultimately our job is depending on which market we’re in whether Genesis has had a more established presence like in the United States, it’s a combination of using the golf event, the Genesis Invitational, as a platform for looking after our existing customers, some of our longest standing customers, also our dealer partners or investors, so it’s very much the hospitality element plays a part there. Then, of course, on the course we want to raise awareness so we have wonderful facilities at the 14th hole at Riviera (golf course which hosts the Genesis Invitational). We have a Genesis interactive experience. We have product displays, we have simulated golf, we have hospitality, Korean snacks. And of course, then the branding element is for that wider reach. So the significant prestigious golf tournament allows you to activate in many ways. And whereas here for example, in Europe, this is an interesting one to talk about, particularly because it’s co-sanctioned for the DP World Tour and formerly known as the European Tour that allows us to raise awareness of the Genesis brand into Europe and markets.

We’re in the UK of course which is hosting the tournament here in Scotland. In Germany, of course, there’s a growing golf market where we have other partnerships and activities. But then the other benefit, of course, is that broadcasting is all going back to the United States. So you really must feel that here in Europe, this is about introducing the brand presenting the Genesis brand, whereas for America, it is about awareness. But it’s also about perhaps a deeper relationship with our existing customers. So our organization’s commitment and our significant investment. Also, we were able to realize that value and the return on that in many different ways. So there are nuances, there’s different structures and opportunities. And that’s why Golf is a really, really valuable platform.

Matthias Gräf (left) and Graeme Russell. (Credit: Golf Post)

Golf Post: If you look down the line and let’s say in five years, what would you think a golf tournament needs to be set up and what kind of activities would need to be there? For example, different virtual hybrid strategies for an event. What would be your dream event in five years?

Graeme Russell: Very good question. I think, the game of golf is definitely evolving. If you look at the stats around the world, on the course, golf participation, those who playe nine holes or 18 holes, is growing. It’s becoming a more diverse sport with younger participants, more female participation, and more diversity. But also the off course golf is growing. So driving ranges, simulator golf, Top Golf, for example. We’re very optimistic about the future of golf. And I think also the way golf is played is changing. Golf is back to the whole new generation. And the way that golf is covered by the media has also changed. And I think there was a clear opportunity for technology, which I mentioned is one of our key pillars alongside design and hospitality, to really start to play a greater role in the experience that we create. For those who are, you know, participating in playing, or those who are watching and spectating golf, I really believe technology can enhance that, whether it’s on the TV screen, or whether we start to get into a place where you can be watching golf in person. But having that experience enhanced by your mobile device, or something else, I think goes a long way for technology to enhance the overall experience, and for Genesis that is really what we ultimately look to do we ultimately believe we want to use design technology and hospitality to create original experiences for our guests, for our customers and our future customers. So technology, and the way golf is covered, the way golf is broadcasted, these are all clear opportunities for the way we believe we can take our tournament portfolio and make it even better. We’ve had two years here today. It feels like how could we make this better, but we’ve got plenty of ideas. And I think working closely with yourselves and other media partners, I think we should take on that commitment to how we can enhance golf as a sport, whether you’re playing it, watching it, following, etc.

Golf Post: You set some pretty high standards this year. So you have big benchmarks to hit next year.

Graeme Russell: We do and we do. But the good news is, this is year two of this tournament. It’s year seven of the Invitational, year seven of the Genesis championship. And, you know, we still see we have great partners in all these events. We’re always looking at how we can find those improvements. Whether it’s 1% kind of marginal gains or fine tuning or whether the game fundamentally evolves into really interesting direction, then I think we’ll be there as a committed partner, and very much positive aspirations for how Genesis can continue to support the game and sport of golf, whether it’s in the United States, in Europe or elsewhere around the world.

Golf Post: Fantastic. Thanks a lot for sharing all this information.

About Graeme Russell, Chief Brand Officer of Genesis

Graeme Russell is the Chief Brand Officer of Genesis. Russell is responsible for leading Genesis’s global brand, product and retail communications and ensuring an engaging brand experience across all customer touchpoints. With a wealth of experience in the luxury marketing and communications fields, including Global Head of Brand Communications for Bentley Motors and Brand Ambassador for The Macallan, Russell leads a division consisting of customer experience office and retail experience office, with a focus on differentiated brand communications with customers.

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