HP's new chief PC evangelist is no stranger to Apple

While Apple struggled financially and on the innovation front [while he was at Apple], he did keep Apple on the leading edge in terms of promotion and advertising.
Peter Burrows

The next few days will be a coming out of sorts for Satjiv Chahil, who became marketing head for HP's PC group in September. He's hosting a dinner with a number of Silicon Valley reporters on Jan. 3, and will be a big presence at the Consumer Electronics Show this week.

Veteran Apple watchers will recall that Chahil worked for the company, rising to become its chief marketing executive under the dismal tenure of Gil Amelio. But while Apple struggled financially and on the innovation front--Chahil, for example, never figured out the key to turning the Pippin set-top box into a winner--he did keep Apple on the leading edge in terms of promotion and advertising. For example, he landed high-profile advertising and produce placement deals to have Powerbooks featured prominently in flicks such as Mission: Impossible. He was also a prime mover behind the development of the 20th Anniversary Mac, as a way to show off the company's design prowess. Before that, he'd helped make Apple the first strong non-Japanese PC vendor in Japan.

Now, after spending the last few years at Palm, Chahil has joined HP. After some deliberation, he was swayed by PC chief Todd Bradley that the company was on the upswing, especially if it could find a marketer that could breath new life into HP's reliable products and boring brand.

I think he's a perfect fit. He'll bring a dash of pizzazz to the organization, and I'm not just talking about his Sikh turban or his big amiable laugh. While HP's tone is now set by just-the-facts operations wonks such as CEO Mark Hurd and PC Chief Bradley, he's someone who can not only see the big picture but figure out interesting ways to convey it to customers. And Chahil arrives at a time when HP's PC unit is on a roll, and looking at some interesting new opportunities--particularly, in terms of coupling its PCs with technologies from around the rest of HP. For example, insiders hint that it has big plans for improved integration of its PCs with its big-screen digital TVs. The company has also been aggressively promoting its Snapfish online photography site to HP PC owners, and will likely move to expand linkages to make it easier for HP customers to store, print or order pics however they want.

And then there's music, of course. As I recently noted, HP's contract to offer iTunes on its PCs lapses this month, so it will have a second shot at making a splash in the music business. This should play to Chahil's strength: making high-profile corporate connections, to do splashy branding campaigns. I'm not saying Chahil can go ad-to-ad with Steve Jobs, or match Jobs' ability to create marketing campaigns that resonate with consumers. But Chahil will do a better job of defining and then promoting HP's wares in a way average folks can care about.

For mnore hints on Chahil's MO, check out this website.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.