Brand ambassadors have a huge influence on what and how we drink. But who are they, and what do they really do?
On any given day, Kevin Brownlee drops in at local bars and restaurants to visit with his bartender colleagues. In the evening, he’ll hit a nightclub or two, or hang out at an event like Dish ’n Dazzle. Or he’ll jet off to some exotic locale, Puerto Rico, say, or maybe Miami.
And he’s actually paid to do all this.
You might think Brownlee has a dream job, and he won’t disagree with you. The former bar manager of AnnaLena is now the portfolio ambassador for Bacardi, one of an elite group of people hired to represent spirits on the local and world stage.
“The beauty of this is now I get to support the industry as a whole,” he says. “I love that part of the job.”
But what does a brand ambassador actually do? And how does one get one of these sweet gigs?
According to the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, “Brand ambassadors are a living, breathing embodiment of the brand they represent, and they are tasked with espousing enthusiasm for it.” More specifically, they educate consumers, bartenders, retailers, journalists and sales reps with the intention of boosting market share and driving awareness of the brand.
But that definition contains multitudes. “There’s a pretty big spectrum of roles that are called ambassadors,” says Ryan Cheverie, the territory sales manager for Brown-Forman. “I’ve always been a sales guy, but I fulfill a lot of ambassadorial roles. There is a job called a brand ambassador. I’ve not technically held that job, but I do a lot of the tasks it entails. The difference is it’s less transactional.”
A brand ambassador can range from the person handing out samples at an event to someone like Lauren Mote, the Diageo Reserve and World Class Global Cocktailian, as well as co-owner of Bittered Sling. Her influence is vast: Not only is Diageo the largest distributor of portfolio spirits in the world, but since 2009 more than 300,000 bartenders in 60 countries have participated in the World Class program. “I speak corporate and I speak bartender. It’s walking this fine line,” Mote says. “It’s making luxury available, accessible and approachable to all people.”
Other local brand ambassadors include Jacob Sweetapple for Absolut, Kevin Trusler for The Glenlivet, Colin MacDougall for Lot 40, Sabrine Dhaliwal for Belvedere, Shane Ely for Jack Daniels and Shea Hogan for LemonHart Rum. Each in their own way has, as Mote puts it, “embraced the role that the brand is the hero.”
Brands are more likely to keep an eye on bartenders who win competitions and/or promote their products at their bars, then handpick those they feel are a good fit.
Ambassador jobs don’t come along all that often, and rarely do they cast a wide net. Rather, brands are more likely to keep an eye on bartenders who win competitions and/or promote their products at their bars, then handpick those they feel are a good fit.
“I was always a big supporter of the Bacardi portfolio,” says Brownlee, who worked at West and Pourhouse before AnnaLena. “In 2014, I competed in the Grey Goose Pourmasters competition and that got my foot in the door.” Then in 2017, when he was ready for a change, Bacardi approached him about the job. “The timing couldn’t have been better.”
Mote got her gig by winning Diageo World Class Canada in 2015 and becoming such a passionate cheerleader for the competition that Diageo created the role. “World Class is a platform, not a brand,” explains Mote. “My job has three parts. The first part is that I am the figurehead of the World Class program globally. The second thing that I do is I work across 13 brands. The third thing, we have 230 reserve ambassadors in 130 countries and I am the aspirational leader of all of them. My job is to inspire the ambassadors.”
In Cheverie’s case, the job was posted, he applied, and the rest is history. But, he cautions, “Not every bartender is going to make a good brand ambassador, for sure. Being a brand ambassador is not a path for a hipster.”
On the positive side, he says, “We’d refer to it as a real job, as opposed to a bartender job. It’s more stable and leads in more directions than a bartender job. It’s a paycheque rather than relying on tips.”
There are other benefits, too.
For instance, there’s all that travel. Mote can be in Iceland one day and Brazil the next; Brownlee regularly jets down to Bacardi headquarters in Miami. “That is a nice perk,” he says. “It can be exhausting. But I think if you put yourself in the right head space and you travel well, it’s really rewarding.”
Being an ambassador means working relatively normal hours and leading a healthier, more family-friendly way of life.
And then there’s the lifestyle. “I love bartending. I love the service element. I love that I’m always meeting people. I love the creative element,” Brownlee says. But, he adds, “The hours are tough. It’s very demanding.” Being an ambassador instead means working relatively normal hours and leading a healthier, more family-friendly way of life.
Most of all though, Brownlee loves how he can take his passion for cocktails, spirits and service and relay it to a new generation of bartenders. “The job is about the relationships,” he says. “I’m a bartender first and foremost. Now I get to work in a position that fosters that profession. I love it.”
—by Joanne Sasvari