Whisky jobs: Dave Francis talks brand ambassadors
It was while working as Nordic brand ambassador for Glenmorangie and Ardbeg that the idea of an accredited whisky academy came to Kirsty McKerrow. She created the Edinburgh Whisky Academy in 2015 having searched the market for credible whisky courses for those – like her – who were involved in the non-distillation side of the industry, only to discover that they didn’t exist.
We asked stalwart whisky brand ambassador, Dave Francis, to share his experience of the role, tell us more about the day-to-day and what qualities are required to succeed…
Brand ambassadors are essentially the face of a brand. The role is about sharing brand knowledge, inspiration and enthusiasm with others. You want to meet as many whisky enthusiasts as you can, communicate your brand messaging, get liquid to lips when possible and leave a positive impression of the brand.
A brand ambassador bridges the gap between market and distillery. The goal is to build brand affinity and brand equity with end consumers and on-trade accounts, as well as distribution partners and their sales teams.
To get a foot in the door, you need a passion for whisky, knowledge of the category and good communication skills. They are the fundamental requirements of a brand ambassador. There are so many personalities out there, each with different backgrounds and styles of presenting.
I find a lot of similarities in my time as a bartender. Working with many skilled individuals; there was ‘the talker’ who could communicate with anyone, ‘the showman’ who liked to create new, fresh drinks on request and ‘the educator’ who was extremely knowledgeable, impeccably organised and courteous. A good brand ambassador will need a variety of skills and, for me, ‘professional bartender’ encompasses them all: charm, knowledge, education and proficiency.
Most people think the role is all hosting tastings at fancy venues, attending whisky fairs and living a jet set lifestyle on the company’s credit card. I can assure you that this is not the case! On occasion we do host incredible events and product launches, meet celebrities and even royalty but these are not day to day happenings. Depending on the region you cover, the marketing budget available and the market objectives, whisky brand ambassador roles may vary a great deal.
Your digital image needs to be a reflection of yourself as you are always representing the brand, even online. Many brand ambassadors have two social media accounts, one for work and one private. It’s not unusual to get emails, messages and even phone calls at all hours, so you need to manage your downtime properly.
Be secure in your brand and know your competitors. This means tasting and learning about them, too. You can’t have an opinion without having an understanding or experience of your own. If you have the opportunity to visit other distilleries, do so. You will make a lot of friends and contacts in the industry so don’t be afraid to get in touch with someone you know or even drop a line to the distillery manager / ambassador or visitor centre manager to let them know you’ll be visiting, both out of courtesy and often they’ll know someone from your company.
Some brand ambassador roles are trade orientated with a focus on education and brand building with the on-trade accounts, while others focus on the end consumer, whisky clubs and aficionados through tastings, festivals and brand activations. Distillery visits with key accounts, VIP guests, industry media, whisky writers and bloggers are always something I enjoy as it’s a chance to catch up with the staff behind the whisky as well as showing off the distillery in its best light and creating lifelong memories for our guests.
Planning is a huge part of the role; upcoming events, tastings, festivals, interviews, travel arrangements. There are always brand plans to follow in all markets with the latest brand messaging which is often bolstered with TV commercials, print media adverts and social media coverage to reach all consumers and followers of the brand. Some brand ambassadors are involved in creating the brand plans and concepts for markets, so creativity is a useful asset in your tool kit.
Senior brand ambassadors are often in other markets supporting local brand ambassadors for events as well as visiting smaller or emerging markets where the brand is looking to grow its presence. The reality is with a lot of travel, sure you get air miles and access to the lounges, but these are invaluable moments to refresh and catch up on emails and reports.
You need flexibility at work as well as home. You’ll travel a lot, have long irregular working hours and often be expected to taste the occasional dram. It’s your responsibility to manage your time and intake of alcohol, you don’t want to burn out or reflect poorly on the company you are representing.
While brand ambassador conferences sound like a jolly up, they can be the most intensive weeks of the year. Aside from catching up with our colleagues from all over the world, we learn from each other and swap ideas which may work in our home markets. Intensive training and educational sessions take place in-house and externally.
Media training for television, radio, print and social media are all useful exercises in the various forms of communication. We also get to learn about new brand campaigns, any changes to the distillery, sessions with master blenders, create new products/select vintages and when possible work the various departments of production. The more we know and more hands-on experience we have, the better equipped we are to do our job.
Always have the confidence to say ‘I don’t know’ and follow up with ‘but I’ll find out for you’ and get their contact details. You never stop learning. You can always be better and get more of an in-depth knowledge of the industry, production processes, brand history, market status past, present and projected.
Above all else, be humble, have fun and be yourself. Everyone else is taken.