Career Spotlight: What It Takes to Be a Spirits Brand Ambassador|
The liquor industry is unique for many reasons, one of which being the creation of a very specific job called the spirits brand ambassador. I am assuming many of you would file this under the title of “Jobs I Didn’t Know Existed.” If you are picturing the skimpily dressed ladies you sometimes see passing out shots in bars and nightclubs, you are incorrect (they are known as “sampling models”). Brand ambassadors serve as the professional face of the brand, bridging the often-wide gap between the marketing suits, the bartenders and the consumers.
The brand ambassador role is a multifaceted one. The end goal is to get people to drink one particular brand over another, and there are many ways of achieving this. You might occasionally see a brand ambassador demonstrating how to make drinks on TV, or at a wine and food festival or charity event, but more and more often, brand ambassadors work behind the scenes. The bartender is considered a gatekeeper, since they are the ones serving the drinks, so brand ambassadors spend a lot of time focusing on bartenders, bar managers and bar owners. They conduct trainings and tastings, they host dinners and events, and even lead educational trips. So long story short, it’s a pretty awesome gig.
There are many well-known women who have found success in the spirits industry as brand ambassadors. I tracked down two of them and asked them a bit about what it is like to be in the role.
Anne-Louise Marquis is the brand ambassador for Pernod Absinthe, owned and distributed by French spirits giant Pernod Ricard.
Amanda Boccato is the U.S. brand ambassador for Lillet, a French aperif distributed in America by William Grant & Sons.
How did you get into the spirits industry?
Anne-Louise Marquis: When I got out of college, I knew I didn’t want a traditional 9-to-5 job. I knew if I wanted to be an artist, I’d also need to find a job that made me money but had flexible hours. I’d started waiting tables during school, but when I got out and was finally 21, I looked around the restaurant floor and realized that the bartender was having the most fun, making the most money and had an autonomy and a respect I wasn’t getting as a server. So I got a job tending bar almost by accident at a high-volume place, then took some amazing classes on the history and technique of mixed drinks, and talked my way into taking over the bar program at a sweet little place in L.A. After a year of that, I moved to N.Y.C., and a week later I just happened to show up at the friends and family for the Royalton Hotel bar. I sat down next to Simon Ford, who worked for Pernod Ricard at the time, who took me under his wing and became my first friend in the city.
Amanda Boccato: In 2006, I was making strawberry nirvana cocktails at a bar that has since closed in the Meat Packing District [in New York] that Dale Degroff consulted on. It was around that time that I was lucky enough to make the acquaintance of Audrey Saunders, thanks to a mutual friend. After a long and thoughtful interview, she took me in under her wing at Pegu Club. Not only did she teach me to stand up straighter as a woman, but she also trained my palate in an organic way most will not be lucky enough to experience. Through daily interactive education, I was introduced to the vast world of spirits, tinctures, tastes, scents and smells. I had no idea I was joining a group that I would call family, now more than six years later.
How did you become a brand ambassador? Had you ever heard of the position before?
ALM: I’d heard about brand ambassadors in L.A. and always thought it would be a great job for me in the future. I always kept it in the back of my head as a possible goal to pursue if I ever found a brand I really loved. When I got to N.Y.C. I got to know a lot of them very quickly, since it’s their job to know the new places and the new bartenders, and they are all delightful people. Simon was a huge help. Through him I met the whole Pernod Ricard trade team and the lovely Leslie Pariseau, who was the brand ambassador for Pernod Absinthe at the time. Leslie and I collaborated on a few events for Pernod Absinthe and a few months after she left the job to write full-time, they offered me the position. I was getting a little worn down from tending bar and was looking to have something of my own that would let me be more creative. The job came along at the perfect time.
AB: I studied marketing and advertising communications, as well as media and film, while I worked my way through college at the bar. I have a passion for all of the above. The role of brand ambassador in the spirits industry ideally combines these fields, so I identified it as something I could be happy doing early on. The brand ambassadors before my time really defined this role and the ones even after my time will continue to do so. The gig is very evolutionary and with that, what you make of it.
What is the best part of your job?
ALM: That’s tough, there are so many great parts of this job. I love that I get to support the people that inspire me. I get to be a resource my friends — get them press, send them business, plan events in their spaces and give their staff trainings to help them understand and sell Absinthe better.
When you become a brand ambassador it’s a funny thing, you’re no longer in the spotlight the way you are when you’re bartending. I think the job is actually to shine that spotlight on the people who are doing the best work with your brand and champion them. I think that gets me the most excited, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that I love the fact that I get to travel and drink in the best bars in the world and meet amazing, genius people.
AB: The best part of the job has been getting to know the people in my different markets. Having national territory has allowed me to get to know America very intimately. I’m not going to lie — I’m a New York lady, born and raised, and with that came the attitude, “There’s nothing you can’t find in New York City!” That’s not exactly true in the bar scene anymore. People are doing some wild and whacky things all over the country, and the world. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting a lot of lovely towns and cities that possess some great talent in this industry.
Another perk is having been afforded to do some studying in Bordeaux [France], from time to time, where the wonderful liquid of Lillet originates.
What is your least favorite aspect of the job?
ALM: It’s the mixed blessing — I’m out almost every night. It’s awesome and also taxing. I’ve had to put some more focus on my lifestyle and be conscious of all that I am eating and drinking every night so I can take care of myself. I’m not getting the same workout I got when I was bartending, so I keep saying I’m going to join a gym.
AB: The role changes every day, and with that said, it’s sometimes tedious to define what I do to my family and friends, and even to my boss! For that, we have great ambassador outings at William Grant & Sons for support where the 20 or so of us bond around campfires and wake up at dawn to make fresh juices for each other. It’s a beautiful thing. The faces of the WG&S portfolio are a real special group of caring, talented, hobby-collecting, intelligent people with vastly different backgrounds.
What advice would you give to women interested in pursuing this line of work?
ALM: Make friends. Go out, go to the meetings and the tastings, know everyone you can. When you hit critical mass, pick the people you like and support them, go to their events and their bars.
Know your stuff. I was a good bartender, technically and also in terms of hospitality. I think knowing what goes into being a bartender is entirely necessary in this job. You need to be able to make drinks for a lot of different demographics; consumer-facing drinks that are easy to make at home, and also the nerdy and intellectual drinks that you can share with your bar friends. You also need to know what goes into making a drink, what bars are working with what, etc. I can’t imagine having this job without my bartending experience. It would be hard for me.
Be yourself, pick what you love and just make it happen. For me, I wanted to throw whimsical parties, so I just started doing it. I treated it as a job, although I was making very little money, so the end results were awesome and the parties were well received.
I think the fact that I was that girl who knew a lot of people, was a good bartender and threw creative parties is what got me the job. Without realizing it, I was branding myself as the person I wanted to be. I was lucky that Pernod Absinthe wanted what I had to offer. That might not have gotten me a job with another brand, but it’s organic, they found me when I was ready for them to find me.
AB: First, I’d recommend you really think about it. If you’re looking for a way out of a lifetime of bartending because of the long hours, I don’t necessarily recommend this route. I’m on the clock 24/7, and working weekends is still very much a part of my life. Sometimes I’m at a desk, most of the time I’m on a plane on my way into a market for a trade show or a product release event. Sometimes, I’m an event planner; other days I’m an educator. Sometimes you get a really glamorous day where you’re getting your hair and nails done for a television interview, but usually not. You will open a lot of boxes, so invest in a good box cutter and don’t use your fruit garnish knife or you’ll ruin it. You will develop real working relationships with everyone from your UPS delivery person to the likes of Martha Stewart. Your skin will occasionally break out with all the air travel and you will need to learn how to keep your body running optimally at all times to really succeed. Your health is your greatest weapon. This is a challenge in the booze business. Drink more water than cocktails; eat vegetables (hint: the green ones). Nothing can really prepare you for a job like this, but you’ll be prepared for a lot in the future by simply executing your day-to-day obligations to the best of your ability. Grace under pressure, ladies.
Drink Like a Brand Ambassador
Here are some simple drinks recommended by the lovely Anne-Louise and Amanda.
The Allied Buck
1/2 oz Pernod Absinthe
1 oz Plymouth Gin
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
Combine all ingredients in a tin, shake, strain over ice and top with Barritt’s Ginger Beer. Garnish with fresh mint.
2 oz Lillet Rouge
4 oz Barritt’s Ginger Beer
Pour chilled Lillet over ice into a tall glass and top with ginger beer. Garnish with a grapefruit slice.