Because the role of a spirits brand ambassador covers such a broad range of duties and responsibilities, it can be difficult to pin down exactly what such a person does. These coveted positions vary significantly, especially regarding time commitment and salary. Some ambassadors work part-time, while others, like key market and global ambassadors, commit to full-time positions that can pay upwards of $100,000 a year.
“One problem with quantifying the role of a brand ambassador is that the definition of the job is truly unique to each company—and even each brand,” says Jessamine McLellan, a national brand ambassador for Whiskeys of Midleton in East Cork, Ireland. Even when you land the job, the role can change with the demands of the bar and retail industry. Over the last three years, as the bar world began focusing more on education, McLellan’s role has shifted from simply talking about the brands she represents to concentrating on whiskey education and trade engagement.
It used to be that industrious bartenders would take it upon themselves to learn about the spirits and categories they serve, but that breadth of knowledge is now a prerequisite for anyone who wants an ambassador role. Bartenders, retailers, and even consumers now demand more transparency, as well as detailed information about spirits’ production. As a result, it’s become necessary for brand ambassadors to create presentations for the trade that are not only engaging and fun but also educational, technical, and detailed. When designing their training programs, they must incorporate information about the greater spirit category rather than just spotlight their own brands.
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For McLellan, developing educational materials on her brand’s products happens to be one of the most rewarding aspects of the job. “I’m a bona fide nerd,” she says. “Getting to share that knowledge and teach someone about a new aspect of whiskey is very rewarding.”
The Spectrum of Duties
An ambassador also requires a degree of flexibility. No two days are the same, explains Charlotte Voisey, the director of brand advocacy for William Grant & Sons. One day, Voisey may be working on a cocktail class for a consumer event or coordinating a party for bartenders. Other days, she’ll be working with the media, doing demonstrations on television, giving interviews on the radio, or meeting with journalists. “Then, every once in a while, there is a report to fill out, usually about highlights from the month, and then expenses,” she says, adding with a hint of sarcasm that that’s “every brand ambassador’s favorite part of the job.”
For Brett Keen, a brand ambassador for the Sazerac Company and its Buffalo Trace Distillery, who oversees the Houston market, the job breaks down to approximately 20 percent administrative work, including planning, reporting, and following up on prospects; 40 percent working with accounts to expand opportunities for the brands; 15 percent presenting educational programs to bartenders, distributor partners, and other members of the trade; and 25 percent interacting with consumers at events or bars.
Consumer interest ultimately drives the kind of education that bartenders and distributors want brand ambassadors to provide, as their customers’ comments and questions about the products tend to be on their mind. With whiskey in particular, says Keen, consumers have become much savvier—they use the Internet to learn more about the spirits they enjoy and discover new ones, so they often arrive at a bar or store with a basic grasp of mash bills and distillation. “My goal is to first understand where the consumer or bartender is coming from, knowledge-wise,” Keen says, “and then share the next piece of the puzzle with them—help them understand why they like what they like, and help them appreciate spirits they may have not experienced before.”
Travel and Life on the Road
Many—if not most—brand ambassadors travel at least part of the time. During her peak traveling period as a brand ambassador, Voisey spent 75 percent of her time on the road. The job also required her to move from the U.K. to the U.S., which was a huge part of what attracted her to the position. “The opportunities I’ve had traveling with this job,” she says, “have brought tremendous enjoyment, experience, and appreciation for cultures and peoples around the country and the world.”
Voisey’s current schedule requires her to be on the road about 50 percent of the time, and while she still enjoys the travel, she admits that it can get tiring. The willpower necessary to resist indulging all the time and to maintain a healthy lifestyle on the road is difficult but critical, she says, adding, “The older one gets, the harder it is to bounce from one time zone to the next. The trick for me was to keep control over what I eat, how much I exercise, and how much sleep I get.”
McLellan agrees that a good diet, exercise, and self-care should be priorities for any brand ambassador, but she thinks time away from loved ones is the most challenging aspect of travel, noting that “when you are away for periods of time that are just a little bit longer than you want, it can overshadow the entire experience.”
The travel schedule is a little easier for Keen, who works a specific region and needs to travel only every other month. His travel is mostly focused on the accounts within his assigned territory, meaning that most nights he’s able to go back home, even if it’s late. Says Keen, “Having an understanding and empathetic spouse helps.”
Getting the Job
While there’s no real secret to what it takes to land a brand ambassadorship, the three ambassadors we spoke with suggest that there are some key qualities and skills that can improve your chances. First, they say, make a good impression. Build your experience behind the bar, cultivate a thirst for knowledge, learn how to be a good communicator and teacher, and be gracious and genuinely hospitable. Finally, make sure you have a solid understanding of the industry. But they add that simply being good and professional at your job behind the bar can also help get you noticed.
If you’re interested in becoming a brand ambassador, Voisey strongly suggests that you research the company you want to represent and get a solid understanding of the ambassador position and its responsibilities before signing on, especially since no two jobs are the same. Once you have the gig, she says that finding a way to infuse it with your own passions and interests is critical to being engaging, having fun, and staying in the role longer. Keen adds that continuing education in spirits is also critical, “as the world expects you to be a walking encyclopedia of knowledge.” Finally, they say, find a brand you really love. “Never work for a brand you don’t believe in,” says McLellan. “We can all tell.”
Lou Bustamante is the author of The Complete Cocktail Manual, and a freelance writer covering the bar and cocktail scene for local and national publications. Aside from being a prolific cocktail drinker, he has also held a considerable number of positions in the spirits industry, including at a distillery and behind the bar.