Ten tips to become a brand ambassadorBy Amy Hopkins
Many a bartender has sought heady heights of mixology fame by becoming a spirits brand ambassador – 10 of the world’s best give us their tips on how this can be achieved.
International travel, cocktail-making and educating both consumers and trade on the virtues of your brand are just some of the things a spirits brand ambassador is required to do on a daily basis.
This seemingly glamorous, jet-setting profession is usually reserved for the particularly accomplished or long-serving and revered bartender who has cannily caught the attention of a spirits brand.
Often, these ambassadors have won cocktail competitions sponsored by a particular brand, and get to travel the world, singing its praises as part of the prize.
Though their role differs between company, country and category, the job of the brand ambassador is rather self-explanatory: they are hired to advocate their brand and educate consumers and bartenders on its versatility.
Also, they give a brand a face and indeed become the physical embodiment of the name. But how can one enter this much-coveted, if somewhat elusive profession?
Click through the following pages to see our 10 tips on how to become a spirits brand ambassador.
Oli Blackburn, UK brand ambassador for Grey Goose
“First and foremost, to become a brand ambassador, you need to love your brand! Being a brand ambassador isn’t just a career, it’s a passion. You also need to know your industry. Having a knowledge of taste, drinks and service is imperative.
“Any brand ambassador needs great management skills, so a good hospitality background is a great start. Events are an integral part of our role so being calm under pressure is important. Making sure you have the best bar team around you is essential and will equip you well for this.
“You need a team of bartenders that understand the brand and its values, look slick when service comes, but aren’t afraid to pitch in and premix thousands of cocktails, off-load vans of glassware and then break down a bar at the end of the night. Of course, this means leading by example and creating these relationships prior to becoming a brand ambassador.”
Tom Vernon, American whiskey ambassador for Bacardi Brown-Forman
“Before starting my role as American whiskey ambassador at Brown Forman, I was behind the stick at various different establishments. This helped to build a relationship with brands and ambassadors and to help with structured events and tastings specific to the venue I was working in.
“This led me to take a role as a tactical trainer for Bacardi Brown-Forman which opened my eyes to so many different aspects of how training and eventually ambassadorial roles helped to deliver a perception of a brand. This was in addition to learning about all the different elements that go into building a brand strategy. Building good relationships and learning from peers has been the biggest help along the way.”
Frank McGivern, UK brand ambassador for Chambord
“Knowledge is key! Be known as a knowledgeable and educated bar person, one interested in spirits with a capacity to learn.
“These days it’s important to have an online presence, so try to be active on the various social media platforms. Make sure it’s clear what your main focus is on. Instead of tweeting about the rude customer you served tweet instead of the amazing drink you served them.
“Experience is important. Most brand ambassadors come from a solid background of bartending or management. Often you will gain the respect of your peers if you have a good few years of paying your dues behind the stick. Work for a good company with a focus on training and education.
“Don’t slag off other brands; you may be working with them one day. Also, you need to be good at networking. This comes naturally to bartenders who often travel the world working or taking part in competitions. Hold on to those contacts for the future. Finally, be confident! You are going to need to present and talk to large groups of people, often cantankerous mustachiod bartenders.”
Rob Allanson, global brand ambassador for Grant’s
“I think one of the most important steps of becoming a brand ambassador is having the confidence in your brand, being able to talk with passion, knowledge and conviction. There are people out there who are quite happy to run a brand down because they don’t like it, the skill of the ambassador is to overcome this, keeping your integrity and belief in the brand.
“Most likely this resistance is down to a lack of knowledge or appreciation of what goes into creating a brand, this is where the education side of the role comes in; that essential skill of pitching education to a level where it makes a difference and can be understood. If people leave your company feeling they have learnt something, are happy and are talking about the brand, then it’s a good day.”
Ludovic Ducrocq, head of brand ambassador advocacy for William Grant & Sons
“I look for talented individuals who can personify our brands and share their unique stories. Our team currently includes ex-journalists, mixologists, actors, distillers, bloggers, musicians and many more rare characters. We don’t always advertise vacancies. Instead we often prefer to create our own candidate pool using more informal channels. Networking with the right people is therefore key for someone looking to join our team.”
John Quinn, global brand ambassador for Tullamore Dew
“To become a spirits brand ambassador, you need to start working when you’re still a teenager, and you need to start at the bottom. Work in every possible dept of the company, production, marketing, sales, export development, car wash department and so on.
“You also need to develop a reputation for knowing stuff others don’t know (i.e. become a spoofer) and look after your boss’s boss – ignore your own boss.
“I advise that you should learn to speak other languages (people usually believe you are more competent if you speak more than English) but also learn to speak English if this is not your first language.
“Finally, it helps if you are a little older (like a good whiskey) and can keep talking about ‘the time when’ (before your audience was born).”
Manuel Terron, global brand ambassador for Midori
“As Midori’s global brand ambassador, I find one of the key factors is to have passion for the brand and the entire industry. With Midori, it was about discovering the versatility of the liquid through every aspect of its production, which would drive me to create beautiful drinks that excite the imagination.
“Then delivering the information and drinks becomes an infectious exercise to anybody watching because of that intense personal investment. It’s what gets the heart racing and emotions burning when you are talking about something that you adore, which is why I say that this is not a job, it’s a lifestyle. That, unfortunately, is not anything you can really teach anyone, it’s ingrained from an early age.
“The ability to adapt to different audiences is imperative. From my experience with Midori I could present to 200 people one day and two people the next – the important thing is to adjust your content to your audience. When talking publicly about your brand, you must be comfortable you know the brand inside out.
“Be prepared, and always be able to manipulate your inner-scripted chat depending how many people it is for, and their level of expertise. Know your crowd, talk to them not at them and look to evoke emotion through connection.”
Zoran Peric, brand ambassador for Suntory
“First hand knowledge and experience of alcohol brands in general is essential for starting out. It is helpful to have experience in the trade to understand the business. It is not enough to be an exceptional bartender, you must have high-end management experience in the on-trade. Brand ambassadors must be teachers; over the years I have been on many management courses which basically train the trainers.
“Success is marked by reputation and recognition. A good brand ambassador is synonymous with their brand – when someone in the trade thinks ‘Suntory’ they think of me, ‘Mr Suntory’.”
‘G’ Franklin, brand ambassador for Luxardo
“Becoming a brand ambassador isn’t that simple! You need a lot of hard work and you need to get out there. It’s fine having expertise but if you don’t get your name out there, people won’t know about you. I did a lot of work for brands for free to gain exposure in the spirits industry.
“Competitions are great too as they build the confidence, experience and creativity you need to present. They are also great fun and good for networking.”
Tim Stones, global brand ambassador for Beefeater
“Get some experience. Being a bartender for a couple of years doesn’t give you the knowledge of the industry that you need to perform the role of brand ambassador. The role requires an in-depth knowledge of national and global drink trends that takes time to accrue. Nearly all the current national and global ambassadors have spent at least a decade learning their trade in the drinks business before making the move.
“Life experience also goes a long way. To be able to understand, evaluate and make sensible comment on the industry as a whole, you need more than a short bartending career, no matter where that career was!
“Finally, don’t be in a rush to be an ambassador just for the sake of it. If you want to be successful and enjoy your career as an ambassador you have to love the brand you represent, it’s very obvious to others if you’re not passionate, and who wants to live a lie? Think carefully about whether you want to put your name to a brand.