SB Meets… Glen Brasington, Chivas Brothers

19th February, 2018 by Owen Bellwood

Glen Brasington, marketing director for strategy and business development at Chivas Brothers, on advocacy in whisky and the future of Scotch.

Last year, Glen Brasington joined Chivas Brothers as its marketing director for strategy and business development

Where did your hospitality career begin?

My background starts in the mid-90s in Australia – I was studying at university and working in bars and bottle shops.

Over the years, I worked in retail and the on-trade running some reasonable sized hotels. In the late 90s, I moved to Sydney and started working at a couple of big bars and pubs, where I got to know the Diageo sales rep. Soon, there was a vacancy at Diageo and I joined them in 1997 as a state promotions manager.

Have you been working with spirits ever since?

In 2004 I left Diageo and went to work for PepsiCo as a marketing manager on its carbonated soft drinks.

That was quite a different role for me – we were partnered with a bottler and were very focussed on the marketing of the brand. It was quite a purist marketing role with deep budgets and lots of local production, it was also quite a different portfolio to work with.

PepsiCo also gave me the opportunity to do my first international expat placement. Me, my wife and my family moved to Thailand and I worked in the regional headquarters of PepsiCo for a couple of years. I was working as regional carbonated soft drink director, and this then evolved to become liquid refreshment beverages, which encompassed a few non-carbonated products.

How does working with soft drinks compare to working with spirits brands?

The thing that I noticed the most through that transition from Diageo to PepsiCo was the scale. PepsiCo in Australia, at that time, was selling 50 million cases of soft drink to the 20 million people living in Australia. So we were selling about two and a half cases per person, and we had about a 10% share of the soft drink market, so the scale is on another level.

What would you say is the most exciting aspect of your new position with Chivas Brothers?

I think what really attracted me to the role and why I jumped at the opportunity was that Chivas Brothers has a really diverse portfolio, so we’ve got five of Pernod Ricard’s 11 strategic global brands.

We’re primarily focussed on Scotch whisky within the portfolio and we’ve got a big range which includes different entry points. Our range has premium entry points and prestige expressions of aged whisky, which have a huge amount of heritage and history. I like that diversity and I think what’s exciting is how we manage that portfolio.

Ballantine’s showcased the three distilleries that make up its blend with its first single malt releases

Do you have any innovative new products in the pipeline?

In the last 12 months we’ve had some innovations that have hit the market that we’re really proud of.

With the new Ballantine’s launch, we deconstructed the Ballantine’s blend and really showcased the three distilleries that go into that product, which is something that we’re really proud of.

I think we have to keep pushing ourselves, pushing the boundaries and pushing the consumers with what we do. We’ve got some similar innovations planned for the next 12 months and the new blending team that we’ve had in place for the last year has been looking at really creative ways to finish Scotch whiskies and develop their blending techniques.

How important is social media in promoting whisky?

I think advocacy is really, really important in spirits – you trust someone that promotes a brand to you personally, and social media allows us to have a one-to-one conversation with consumers.

It’s easy for us to respond to consumer questions and queries, it’s easier for us to educate consumers through those platforms and it’s easier for us to target our consumers with specific messages.

With social media, you need to be very specific about which message will work best on which platform, because people use each social platform for different purposes.

How does Chivas Brothers’ coverage compare across these platforms?

I think even if you think about your own social media usage, you can’t just segment your audience across those platforms. We have to focus the message and choose it carefully for each of those platforms.

So as a simple example, we use Twitter more for text-based education, Facebook works well for our events and our brand stories, while Instagram is more the visual core of our brands – we use it for drinks shots, locations or special elements of our distillery.

Where do you think the whisky industry will go over the next five years?

I think whisky has always been really dynamic in its broader sense. Scotch has always dominated whisky, because arguably producers perfected the art very early on. But I think Scotch will benefit as other regions and other styles begin to develop.

In the last 50 years, we’ve seen Japanese whisky really boom, Bourbon has been a big category and Canadian whisky is a growing category as well.

Bourbon has been more focussed on the small batch and craft development, which I think is what we’ll see in the future in Scotch as well. Our job is to reaffirm our craft status, we are hand-crafted in many respects and we’ve got craftsmen at our helm and I think we’ve got to reaffirm that to our drinkers.

What does the next year hold for you and Chivas?

The next calendar year is a plan year for us – we write a four-year plan and, by June, [parent company] Pernod Ricard will have our plan in place and we’ll be starting to work towards that.

With Chivas Brothers, as part of the strategy development part of my role, we will identify a lot of new and innovative consumer opportunities and channel opportunities that we will look to develop. In heritage and our brand experiences, we will hopefully welcome more people to our distilleries, welcome more people to our brand homes and continue to drive advocacy through those channels.

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