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So you want to be a brand ambassador

20/03/2018
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The world’s leading wine and spirits producers increasingly appreciate the immense value of brand ambassadors as they bid to spark passion for their drinks across the globe.

A brand ambassador is therefore a crucial part of the marketing mix and it is a high profile, fiercely coveted and deeply respected role in the drinks industry. These passionate, eloquent and creative individuals have managed to escape the office grind and they enjoy great variety and intrigue in their careers. This jet-setting role takes you to the world’s best restaurants, glittering cocktail parties and swanky hotels. In some ways it is like being James Bond, without having to go through the troublesome rigmarole of risking your life and grappling with super-villains hell-bent on world destruction.

But underpinning it all is the need to boost your brand’s market share and help it drive sales among the core demographic it is targeting. So how do you break into this coveted discipline, how do you thrive once you make it and how do you keep your waistline from ballooning?

What does a brand ambassador do?

Brand ambassadors are a living, breathing embodiment of the brand they represent, and they are tasked with espousing enthusiasm for it. They educate consumers, bartenders, retailers, journalists, and sales reps about the myriad wonders contained within the brand, with the intention of boosting its market share. They inspire the influential, secure column inches, and social media love and drive awareness of their brand’s values in numerous ways and settings.

A brand ambassador will ultimately serve as a respected opinion leader within the wine and spirits industry. They assist in content creation, participate in event marketing, provide feedback on new products, devise and pitch ideas to grow the brand’s profile, and measure the impacts of existing campaigns.

Roger Dong, an ambassador for Moët Hennessy Diageo in China, says that brand ambassadors rack up more air miles and passport stamps than any of their colleagues at a wine and spirits company. “We spend more than half the week out of office travelling and presenting the brand through various activities such as tasting, dining, and training,” he says. “For the limited time you get in the office, preparing brand speeches, consolidating presentation documents, and pre-event rehearsing with marketing teams are major projects.”

Mike Foster, brand ambassador for Monkey 47 Gin at Pernod Ricard, says there is no such thing as a typical week for a brand ambassador. “From one week to the next, your job can change quite drastically,” he says. “One week you could be hosting customers on a trip to your distillery, the next, touring the country speaking at consumer events and trade trainings, and the following week you’ll be sat in the office working on drink strategies and marketing campaigns with your colleagues. Currently, I’m sat in a lab waiting for my next batch of boozy ice cream to be finished! It certainly keeps you on your toes, and it never ever gets boring!”

Roger Dong, brand ambassador for Moët Hennessy Diageo in China

What skills and qualifications do you need to become a brand ambassador?

It takes a particular set of skills to succeed in this world, which places a great emphasis on passion, enthusiasm, and creativity. Knowledge of marketing is crucial, as is a robust understanding of the wider wine and spirits industry. This allows you to place your brand in a global context and explain its strengths to your target audience in a convincing fashion.

“It’s essential that a brand ambassador has working knowledge of the industry as a whole, rather than just knowing the key facts about their own brand,” says Foster. “Having an understanding of the production of all different categories of liquids will provide a deeper perspective of where your product sits within the industry, and it will allow a brand ambassador to engage with customers and consumers on a far more in-depth level. Qualifications such as those offered by WSET provide a great way to achieve this knowledge.”

Lucy Warren, a Champagne ambassador for Moët Hennessy UK, which counts Moët & Chandon, Dom Perignon and Veuve Cliquot in its portfolio, says: “You need positivity, energy, and a genuine passion for the subject and brand you represent. A deep comprehension of the subject is also a must have, and either a WSET Level 3 in Wines qualification or WSET Level 4 Diploma will be required by most companies. Being a people person is very helpful as you are surrounded with new people all the time. Being a bit of a chameleon is also useful, as the people you talk to from one day to the next changes drastically.”

A solid education in wine and spirits is vital for anyone hoping to thrive as a brand ambassador

 

Warren gained the WSET Level 3 Award in Wines and Spirits while working for UK retailer Majestic Wine in 2011, and that gave her the confidence to apply for her role of Champagne ambassador. She has since qualified as a WSET Certified Educator and finds this extremely useful as she teaches people about the brands she represents. “A deep understanding of the wine and spirits world is key, as when I went into Champagne it meant I had a firm grasp of where we sit compared to other regions,” she says. “This range of knowledge also enriches you as a person and can give you so much to add to conversations when talking about your chosen subject in different settings, and it also helps with personal and professional success.”

Dong agrees that a solid education in wine and spirits is vital for anyone hoping to thrive as a brand ambassador, he says “On top of that, a passion for espousing the beauty of wine and skills at public speaking and presentation will benefit you. An open-minded and cheerful personality is always welcomed when communicating with people.”

Jonas Tofterup DipWSET, the European brand ambassador for Chilean wine producer Valdivieso, says a strong knowledge of the winery you represent is crucial. He advocates helping out during vintage to get a feel for the production. “You have to have a good familiarity of how the wines you represent are made as well as the climate of where the grapes are grown.” Tofterup holds an M.Sc. in Viticulture and Oenology along with the WSET Diploma and finds the education he has gleaned invaluable in his line of work. “The WSET Diploma is probably the most important qualification to be successful as a brand ambassador,” he says.

Jonas Tofterup DipWSET (in white shirt, centre), European brand ambassador for Valdivieso

How do you get started as a brand ambassador?

There are thousands of wonderful brands contained within the wine and spirits industry, from global behemoths to artisanal delights. It would be tempting to start firing out applications in a scatter gun fashion as you try to break into this world, but that would be foolhardy. Instead, you should think carefully about the brands you genuinely admire, and the ones you could see yourself speaking at length about on a regular basis without becoming jaded.

“It has to be a brand or winery that you personally love,” says Tofterup, who was headhunted by Valdivieso and accepted the role because he finds Chilean wines hugely exciting.

Foster would only work for a brand that he truly believes in and enjoys drinking. “If you’re lying to yourself about enjoying a product, then there is no way you can talk passionately to customers and consumers,” he says. “In taking this standpoint, you may find that your dream opportunity might not come along straight away, but biding your time will give you the chance to gain as much experience in the industry as possible.”

Heritage is crucial for Dong, as it keeps the ambassador firmly rooted in the brand and helps you love the job. Warren adds: “You have to choose a brand that you are genuinely interested in. People find this infectious and this is where you are successful.”

Knowledge of marketing is crucial, as is a robust understanding of the wider wine and spirits industry.

 

It sounds like an exciting, glamorous job – is there a catch?

To the outside world, the life of a brand ambassador looks like one long party, and it would be easy to use your social media feed to spark extreme envy among friends. But the role also involves hard work, long hours, late nights, early starts, and a massive amount of travel, which can put pressure on your relationships, your waistline, and your liver.

“Basically, it’s exciting work,” says Dong. “The brand ambassador enjoys the privilege of meeting with glamorous people, dining in top restaurants with star chefs, and starring in front of cameras. Yet the job requires enormous energy for travelling and fighting with your weight in the gym after every event. If you are not self-disciplined, it’s quite easy to be in serious trouble with regards to your physical health and conflicts with your family.”

Mike Foster, brand ambassador for Monkey 47 Gin

Foster says: “There’s a perception in the industry that brand ambassadors spend all their time drinking in bars and socialising – which is true to an extent – but there is a lot of hard work that takes place behind the scenes, often combined with a lot of travel. You need to prepare yourself to work very long hours and have the ability to work independently for the vast majority of the time. It’s also good to find balance and get yourself a hobby that doesn’t involve alcohol.”

Warren echoes those points and says it can be taxing to talk to a wide range of people even when ill or tired. “This is the main reason that being passionate about your brand makes it much easier to cope with this demand,” she says.

It may be a demanding role, but if you are enthusiastic, hardworking, creative, and value variety and excitement in your professional life, becoming a brand ambassador could prove to be your perfect career.

Top image features Lucy Warren, Champagne ambassador for Moët Hennessy UK.

Article prepared for WSET by Martin Green, Editor of Drinks Retailing News.