If you love the drinks industry, but it’s the hours that grind you down and you’re beginning to look for a way to leave the AFDs behind, then there’s 2 immediate avenues to consider;
Wholesale Reps (BDMs)
In this blog, I’ll cover Brand Ambassador and save BDMs for the next instalment.
Back in the 00s, being a Brand Ambassador was kind of the holy grail for a lot of Bartenders. Mainly because Roles were few and far between. And limited to the big superpowers. Diageo just really had their Reserve Brands... Tanqueray and Johnnie Walker. Pernod Ricard has their Absolut, Havana, Beefeater and Chivas Guys. Moet Hennessy has theirs. And maybe a handful of others. That was really it.
Roll forward 10 years, and virtually EVERY brand...even the small local ones…have a Brand Ambassador. It’s become one of THE key ways to market a Brand to the On Trade as most of the industry have cottoned on to the fact that in order to sell something, you need to educate the people who are trying to sell it to the Consumers. Bartenders, who are passionate enough about a product, are paid to go around and Educate, do Tastings and whip up Cocktails that Pubs and Bars can then adopt and sell. Some are full time rolls. Some are part time. Some are regional, some are national...others are even international!!
So how do you become a Brand Ambassador?!
There’s no official answer to this, as each Brand will have their own preferred way of recruiting.
Smaller Brands may well like to reward initiative. Going back to what I mentioned in the previous blog about your Personal Brand, if you start your Social Media and Blogging crusade featuring a smaller local brand, a) they’ll absolutely love you…as long as your drinks look and sound tasty… and b) as they grow, you could’ve created your own Role inside their Biz.
But don’t expect smaller Brands to seek out Ambassadors. To them, it’ll be a big (and quite possibly) needless expense. They simply do not have the Budget, as in the years 1-3, it’ll be all about keeping their heads above water…sometimes not even taking a Wage themselves. Only after seeing the influence and awareness you can provide, will they start to think “we could use them in our team”. That’s when it may well start out as just a few hours a week growing to more, as they grow as a brand. But I warn you, Payment may just be the odd free Bottle here and there, as that’ll be their currency. They still won’t be able to afford a salary until they grow. For me though, this is an exciting path…being part of something you can help grow and being part of that journey right from the very early days. Just don’t expect to be able to quit your job for a while yet though.
With the bigger brands, Ambassadors will be approached
For the top elite brands, you’ll need to be at the very top of your game. You’ll need to be banging out top quality drinks day in, day out. You’ll need to be innovative. But more importantly, word needs to spread that you’re banging out these amazing drinks. You’ll NEED to get noticed. And it’ll likely be your peers talking about you, that gets you noticed too. Not a sexy looking Instagram Feed. After all, anyone can take a half decent pic these days! You’ll also need a Personality too. ‘Resting Bitch Face’ and zero Interpersonal skills ain’t gonna get you an Ambassadorial Role, that’s for sure. You will be the face of their brand. The way you physically make drinks, the industry knowledge you hold, the way you speak, the way you dress. EVERYTHING, will come back to how you represent that brand. Some Brand Ambassadors will climb the Tree, making their name from smaller brands before being poached by the bigger brands. Others will be plucked from behind a Bar. As I said above, there’s no definitive rule.
The other way into a Brand Ambassador position is quite possibly though Cocktail Competitions.
Quite often brands will offer a one-year tenure for winning their annual competition. And to win said competition, you need to pull out the big guns. Not only is it about the quality of your drink, but your story creation. Your skills making it. Your knowledge of the Brand. And your personality in telling that story.
I’ve never entered Comps personally. It’s never been my thing. I had absolutely no desire to compete against other Tenders. The only praise I sought was from the Guests drinking my drinks and enjoying my hospitality. BUT, I do understand some people wanting that recognition though, so I’m not knocking it.
All that said though, I’ve now judged a hell of a lot of Comps. I’m normally the odd one out on a panel, as rarely do I choose the Tender that’s made the best drink. I’m picking the Tender who convinced me to try and buy their drink with their passion and enthusiasm. Because as I always say. Being a Bartender is about customer service. Drinks quality is a huge part of it too, but you could make a 7 or 8 out of 10 drink and still get the crowds flocking back the next week because they had a great time. They enjoyed your hospitality and they remembered you. And that for me is what Brands need. To be memorable.
However...I will add, your drink does have to be pretty damn good. A shit Drink is never gonna win a comp. I’m just saying it doesn’t have to be the absolute best either. Because quite often, with a bit of feedback and a bit of tinkering, that second or third best drink could be a world beater. You just need the personality to deliver it and the lack of ego to learn and take on feedback. And personality will be rewarded, because don’t forget, you’ll be becoming the face of their brand. They ain’t gonna pick a winner with no knowledge and no likeability factor.
So there you have it, a good way to get in to being a Brand Ambassador. For some Bartenders, this is an absolute dream. To represent a Brand they love. To Travel a little. For others. It’s not. It wasn’t a path for me. I loved far too many other brands to be loyal to just one. I would literally excited by something new every single week. So my preference for most of my career, was to always serve the Consumer, not the industry.
The only other thing I will add in too. While you may be leaving the AFDs behind you, BA Hours are still long. You could spend a good few hours just travelling, just to get to your destination. But the rewards, especially for Bigger Brands, could be anything from getting at least half your weekends back…and not having to wash the Glass Shelves on those quiet Monday nights 😉, right through to global travel and international fame!