Two parts – Knowledge
One part- Personality
One part – Dedication
Garnish with a sprinkling of hogwash.
The perfect recipe for a Brand Ambassador.
As I write this I’m sitting in Vancouver airport waiting for a delayed flight to sunny Calgary, by the time I reach The Sandstone City hopefully you’ll have a better insight into my transition from Bartender to Ambassador.
A year ago I was approached by the CEO of Bruichladdich and asked if I wanted to interview for the position of National Brand Ambassador. I’m not going to lie, the thought of representing a brand had been in the back of my mind for a few years, I have always considered myself somewhat of an extrovert, mixed with just the right amount of knowledge and hogwash I just might fit the role. The selling factor to take this leap finally was the brand, (YOU MUST GENUINELY LOVE YOUR BRAND) I have been a fan of Bruichladdich since I first took a sip of Black Art behind the bar at The Miller Tavern, and when I found out The Botanist was distilled by the same crazy group of Ileach’s I was blown away. After a long and grueling interview process (just kidding, it was a 30-minute meeting in the King Eddy) I had secured my position. Simon and Douglas from the distillery, Chris from Glazers, and Thomas from Remy-Cointreau had 100% solidified to me the fact I was making the right choice. They are some of the greatest people I’ve ever worked for.
My first week on the job was both exciting and stressful, I was loaded onto a plane and taken to Scotland to meet the rest of the team, experience life on Islay, and learn everything there is to know about Bruichladdich first hand. It makes life a lot easier when the distillery you work for has a reputation for being a little quirky. “Progressive Hebridean Distillers” is a nice way of saying a little bit insane. That’s what we are, a crazy group of people that believe in a few core principles; Terroir, Authenticity, Traceability, and Ridiculousness. (ridiculousness is not an official stance taken by Bruichladdich, but I’m working on it)
I was so blinded by the glowing stills and beautiful views of Loch Indaal I hadn’t noticed the amount of emails that had been flooding my inbox; dates for meetings, introductions, requests for tastings, sponsorships, interviews, advertising, contracts, presentations, reports, and many more. I had had to re-write my recipe; it wasn’t balanced anymore. I needed a bar spoon of wisdom to fix it, lucky for me I could borrow that from friends and colleagues. I approached people for advice; Dave Mitton, Eric Brass, and Josh Lindley helped me get a grasp of what to expect, and here I am now telling you the story of my transition into the job of National Brand Ambassador.
Everyone around you can help you on your journey from shaker to speaker. I had an idea of what I was getting myself into, but to be honest, you will never be 100% prepared. Even today I find myself learning new things about this job. A few months ago I was sitting in our office talking to my boss about some very important meetings coming up. “Finish those KPI reports and send them over to me for review.” This was a sentence I had never heard before, what the fuck was a KPI report? I had no idea, but I answered straight away with a confident “sure thing boss.” (That’s the floral notes of our garnish you’re picking up on there.) I headed home and immediately asked Jeeves, “Key Performance Indicator Report” was the the answer according to the internet, perfect… what the fuck does that mean? I’m an expert on distillation, maturation, barley varieties, and history. I certainly don’t have any experience with KPI’s, ERP’s, and RFP’s (I googled business acronyms to find those other two) So here I am giving a PowerPoint presentation a group of well dressed, important people in a boardroom with a table the size of my apartment, and I’m doing my best to sound like I know what I’m talking about. In my head I’m hoping someone will ask me about the process of measuring phenols in whisky (high performance liquid chromatography), and all I get is questions about quarterly projections. Needless to say, I ended my presentation with a graph outlining my confusion and understanding levels of KPI reports. It got a pretty good laugh, but I’m convinced they were expecting it. Nobody has ever seen me that serious for very long. Most of my masterclasses have been described as half stand-up comedy act, half history lesson, half science class, half math lesson…See what I did there? Since that day, I have become comfortable with numerous things I’ve had no experience with in the past. KPI reports being one of them. The tough part is reminding yourself that every time a new project comes up it’s the first time you’ve done it. The best part is, the next time it comes up you’re a pro.
The first time I stood up in front of a group to present my masterclass was equally as exciting as it was terrifying. Remember the last time you entered a competition? You’re all pumped up to make your drink and as soon as you pick up the jigger your hands start to shake. Well, I was about as nervous as a fan salesman with a comb over. I stood up there at the largest whisky show in the country to an oversold room of malt connoisseurs, glasses full of whisky and faces full of glasses staring back at me. Young and Canadian are generally the last two things you think of when someone mentions “scotch whisky expert” and I could tell by the faces looking back at me that the guests at my masterclass were a bit sceptical. Luckily for me, I work for Bruichladdich, we don’t follow scripts, we don’t recite numbers, we don’t follow the rules.
If you’ve ever sat in on a Bruichladdich class with the one and only Jim McEwan you’ll know, we are story-tellers, straight-talkers, pranksters, stubborn and passionate people. Sometimes whisky gets thrown on the floor, maybe a glass will break, a broken Gaelic chant breaks out while standing on a table, but in the end you’re going to learn a thing or two about whisky, and leave with a mind full of stories you’ll remember every time you pour a dram from that aquamarine coloured bottle. One of the greatest joys is being approached after a class by someone who’s been drinking whisky longer than you’ve been alive, and hearing them rave about your performance, an even greater joy is seeing them in your masterclass the following week with friends they brought along for the experience. Whisky should take you back to a time and place; each time you take a sip you should remember something about your past, a loved one, a funny story, or a summer you spent every day with friends. For those of us lucky enough to work in this industry, we still get to see our friends every single day.
For those of you looking to break into the world of ambassadorship, remember a few things;
Two parts knowledge – Learn everything you can, immerse yourself not only in your brands but in the entire category, there is a reason every decision is made when creating spirits, and it’s your job to know why. You will be asked the most obscure questions in the world and if you don’t have a good answer, it won’t last very long.
One-part personality – Your life will consist of meeting new people every single day, and trying to maintain relationships with those people, you will be center stage for 3 hours straight with a crowd of 100 people hanging off your every word, make it your own. Don’t recite a script, laugh and have fun. Yes, you are a personification of the brand, but you are also representing yourself.
One-part dedication – This part comes easy, you will wake up every day with a new task, nothing is ever the same, staying dedicated to your work will come naturally as long as you truly believe in the brands you are representing. Remember though, you’ll have 50 new email a day, and staying on top of those may prove to be your biggest challenge.
One Bar Spoon of Wisdom – This obviously comes with time and experience; however, you are surrounded by people that have put that time in. Ask questions; ask colleagues, friends, family members, hell even ask Jeeves if you don’t know the answer to something, you’ll save a lot of time just saying “I don’t know” and soon enough you’ll be pumping out expense reports as fast as you were whipping up negronis.
Garnish with a wee sprinkling of hogwash – Jim McEwan quotes Nietzsche on a bottle of Bruichladdich Cuvee 640, the English translation is as follows “Oh man take heed, what saith the deep midnight voice indeed.” And in order to explain this to people I generally start on a long philosophical rant about the transcendence of man from animal to ubermensch, (the modern day superman) the main character in Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he is the one who is willing to risk all for the sake of enhancement of humanity. After a long metaphysical rant, I usually conclude that what it really means is we should drink this whisky in our underwear. Preferably red, or aquamarine.
National Brand Ambassador,
Bruichladdich, The Botanist, Mount Gay Rum