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Whisky Jobs… Nicola Riske on being a Brand Education Manager

Whisky Jobs… Nicola Riske on being a Brand Education Manager

Nicola Riske is both The Macallan Brand Education Manager and Regional Brand Ambassador for Southern Europe. We asked her to tell us more about the day-to-day and what qualities are required to succeed in the role…

My role is to inspire and educate the world on the craftsmanship & unique qualities of The Macallan Single Malt and the beauty, art and science of scotch whisky as a whole. As both Brand Education Manager and Regional Brand Ambassador for Southern Europe, my role involves me wearing many different hats. I am part of a global leadership team focused solely on The Macallan which looks to create new pathways for whisky education as well as ensure we have global alignment in ways of working and communicating with our Macallan brand ambassadors around the world.

I ensure that my brand ambassador team across Southern and Emerging Europe are happy, confident, supported, and given the tools that they need to succeed in their roles. As a Brand Ambassador working across Central and Southern Europe, I educate and motivate my full commercial and marketing team (here in Madrid), our distribution partners, the trade, the public and the media on The Macallan and scotch whisky as a category through meetings, special events, masterclasses, interviews, and the like; as well as support my team to find creative solutions to bring our brand to life in their respective markets.

Typical day. I would say that there is no such thing as a typical day, to be honest. This role keeps me on my toes and continues to evolve, which is one of the reasons I enjoy it so much. In my current role as an ambassador, I usually travel about 70% of the time, working in-person with my distribution teams across Europe. That said, with the unusual circumstances of 2020, I have been working from home since March. This has given me an opportunity to create new ways of working and develop original solutions to bring The Macallan to life in fresh and engaging ways. Currently, that involves many, many online whisky conversations utilizing every digital platform imaginable (from Teams to Instagram). Thankfully, our amazing team has created some wonderful tools to help me do all of this online work. I don’t know what I’d do without them!

Curiosity. Flexibility. Determination. Self-starter. Heart. These are the five qualities that I would say are most important as both an Education Manager and Ambassador.

Curiosity because whisky is a topic where the learning is continuous and things are constantly evolving, innovating, changing. That thirst for knowledge, I believe, is essential. Study hard and don’t be afraid to learn outside of your comfort zones. I have studied everything from my Whisky Certification at the EWA and my GCD through IBD to the history of cocktails, bartending, sherry wines, olive oil, perfume, marketing, sales techniques, public speaking, food science… Every single thing helps me be a stronger educator and pushes me to see things differently. And – at the end of the day – keeps me humble and makes me realise that I truly know absolutely nothing.

Flexibility. Things can change in a moment in our business. Especially when it comes to planning and events. And so, one needs to be prepared to adapt quickly and without hesitation. We must also make it look easy and always do it with a smile. One also needs to have the flexibility to support one’s fellow ambassadors and team members. So, flexibility is key.

Determination. If you have a love of whisky and you want to work in this business, be prepared to work hard for it. Nurture relationships, read the trades, find your inner circle of other passionate whisky people who support you, be humble and work hard.

Self-starter. When you are constantly traveling alone, working with numerous teams across the continent, it’s important to be organised, be able to self-start your own projects and manage your time properly. So, project management and time management are essential. It is also important to be willing to self-start your own creative educational projects and learn how to pitch them to your team. Don’t depend on others to do everything for you. Depend on yourself.

Heart. My true passion and love of whisky is what brought me into this business. Passion cannot be contrived. If you are not truly passionate, it will read in your presentations to any audience. So, follow your heart. If whisky is in your heart, then pursue it! It will shine through. This business is most certainly filled with passionate people with big hearts, which, I believe, makes it one of the best businesses in the world.

The role of the brand ambassador has most certainly changed over the years. When I first started in this business some 15 years ago, the role of the ambassador was quite often a very scripted, presentational role – at least, this was how it was in the United States at that time. It’s now really evolved into a very multi-faceted position. Depending on the brand and the scope of the job, the role can encompass everything from brand marketing to building commercial strategy, educational content creation to storytelling, relationship management to cocktail creation, innovation to event management.

The opportunities to learn new skills are never-ending. And the evolution of the brand ambassador role is, I believe, why I now have my current role in education within the company. 15 years ago, I don’t believe this role would have existed.

I have a background in marketing, tour and events management where I ran my own business for several years, working for numerous luxury brands across the globe. On the agency side of things, I’ve managed everything from concept to execution. It was through my agency work that I was first introduced to scotch whisky and I immediately fell in love with the entire flavour experience; plus, my family is Scottish, so it reminded me of home.

I realised I wanted to study everything about this beautiful liquid. I became involved with the United States Bartenders Guild, meeting passionate F&B professionals of similar mindsets. I threw myself into spirits and cocktail education there, eventually becoming a member of their Board of Directors. In my free time, I studied whisky distillation in Scotland – not only in the classroom, but working at distilleries, turning malt, nosing cask samples, learning how to build casks. I’m a great believer in learning by doing. I love rolling up my sleeves and doing everything hands-on.

Additionally, I also worked for Cirque du Soleil for nearly four years on tour. So, one of my favourite things to do at our distillery is don my steel toes and either help load casks or pull samples from the warehouses (whenever they’ll let me!) I suppose you could say I feel right at home whenever I’m wearing a safety vest.

To someone wanting to get into this role now or in the future, here’s my advice:

Find a good mentor. And eventually, be a good mentor to someone else, too. This industry is about giving and sharing knowledge. Find someone who will guide you and champion you and also be straight with you, when you need it.

Continue your education. It never stops and I cannot encourage one to do this enough. The Edinburgh Whisky Academy is a fantastic place for continued spirits learning. Also, learn things that have nothing to do with whisky. It always comes back to inspire you in new ways. Trust me.

Build your network. Read the trades. Understand the business. People often think that Brand Ambassadors only turn up at fancy events and whisky festivals, sipping and discussing fine whiskies. Although there are amazing perks to the job, there’s a lot more to know than that. Dig in and discover how stuff works.

And finally,…. When someone tells you ‘no’, don’t give up. Believe in yourself. I cannot begin to tell you how many ‘no’s’ I heard before I heard a ‘yes’. Edrington, parent company to The Macallan, gave me my dream opportunity to work in the whisky industry, however, I heard many, many ‘no’s’ before that.  Hang in there and don’t give up.

To everyone reading this, I look forward to raising a dram with you all in the future! To connect with me, you can follow my Macallan adventures on Instagram at @TheMacallanNicola as well as on LinkedIn.

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