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A drink with… Emma Hutchison, Sweet & Chilli

The executive creative director and co-owner explains how Sweet & Chilli became a leading drinks agency, and what keeps it thriving.

Hutchison has co-owned the business since 2015

What is Sweet & Chilli, and what does the business aim to achieve?

Launched in 2002, Sweet & Chilli began as a collective of world-class drinks talent, with a base in London but roots across the globe. We specialise in drinks strategy, trade advocacy and brand experience – shaping the way people drink around the world. We truly believe in a drinks-first approach – from this all things flow, to engage the trade in inspiring and exciting ways and to enable the creation of authentic brand experiences. It’s not an easy task, especially as the competition in all categories grows. But we love a challenge and work hard, together with clients, to create this perfect combination.

What’s your role in moving the brand forward?

As executive creative director, my role is to steer the direction of the brand and business, shaping the team and the work we do. That means fostering a culture of creativity within the mix of diverse talent that makes Sweet & Chilli so special, embracing new ideas and innovations so we continue to deliver creative solutions for our clients that break new ground.

What’s interesting about the business?

The team combined has nearly 200 years of experience behind the bar, so we have first-hand knowledge of the industry and drinks strategies that make global impact.

What are your highlights from being executive creative director and co-owner of the business since 2005?

Launching [cocktail bar] Nine Lives in 2017, and seeing how guests just loved the vibe was really rewarding. Plus, having a thriving bar under the office goes down a treat with our team and clients too. There have also been some really bizarre moments over the years. For example, I somehow ended up as the only person with a camera allowed on stage at the MTV Europe Music Awards in Berlin, and was asked by Jay-Z and Beyoncé to take photos, which was pretty mad – I’m not a photographer.

What’s challenging about running Sweet & Chilli?

Just keeping up with the pace of change of today’s world. Across design, ideas, culture, and technology, we’re ensuring that we’re staying true to our core values while embracing the new. Weaving new ideas, innovations and life into how we work and how we manage the business. But that’s also what makes it a thrilling ride.

Why do brands come to you to strengthen their business?

We’re fiercely passionate about drinks, and the people, the bars, the culture and places that make up the landscape of our industry. Our team all come from the trade, so we bring a level of insight that sets us apart. We are the trade; we’re at the forefront of emerging trends as they happen, and understand what truly resonates with bartenders and drinkers alike. We bring this expertise and an infectious energy into the work we do, to create drinks strategies, advocacy programmes and experiences for our clients that have global impact and inspire.

How do most beverage brands hear of Sweet & Chilli?

Generally through recommendation… or discovering us in excellent publications like The Spirits Business.

How did Sweet & Chilli build its name as the leading drinks agency?

We’ve always had a drive to go above and beyond, and, of course, it’s taken a lot of blood, sweat and tears along the way, but I’m super proud of what we’ve accomplished with the business. Over that time we’ve been able to evolve and really hone our offering and approach as an agency. A lot of our success is down to the fact that we have a distinctive point of view, a team of talented people – and we’re also really fun to work with.

This interview was first published in the May 2022 issue of The Spirits Business magazine.

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