From hosting lavish parties to celebrate the unveiling of the latest rum to jet-setting around the globe, the life of a spirits brand ambassador seems glamorous. Dream of being part of this club? You’re not alone.
“There is almost too much to list when it comes to the best parts of this job,” says Douglas Graham-Leigh, Grey Goose Vodka regional brand ambassador for the East Coast. “With incredible access to top tier events and working with A-list celebrities to travel opportunities and meeting and working with some of the best bars and bartenders in the world, just about every part of [it] is cool.”
Though travel restrictions have curtailed some aspects of the role, it’s still a pretty enviable gig. Here’s how to enter the velvet rope-clad world of these spirits industry professionals.
Get as much bartending experience as you can.
During her years in Miami working towards an undergraduate degree in international business at Florida International University, Natalia Cardenas took a part-time job as a bartender. After graduating during a recession, she had a difficult time getting established in her field, and returned to bartending with a more serious dedication.
“I started being a committed bartender, then joined the Miami chapter of the USBG (United States Bartenders’ Guild), engaging with local brand ambassadors and learning that side of the business,” she says.
Cardenas entered cocktail competitions and attended as many trainings and tastings as she could, and was eventually recruited by Bacardi as a part-time specialist with Leblon Cachaça. In 2018 she obtained her current position as brand ambassador for Woodford Reserve Bourbon.
Her advice? “Be involved, volunteer your time, compete in cocktail competitions and stage at a bar that uses a technique you’re not familiar with.”
Network, network, network.
Over the years, Graham-Leigh has developed an impressive number of friends and colleagues in the hospitality industry. He began his career with a stint at a busy local pub in the south of England, where he grew up, and he began to bartend local events. He’s worked behind the stick at a ski resort in France, oversaw bar programs in Britain, France, Switzerland and Greece, and was part of a high-profile opening in central London.
Through it all he amassed a global network of like-minded individuals. This helped kickstart his trajectory with Grey Goose, after he’d moved to New York City with a different spirits brand that ended up not launching.
“Get to know the world which you want to represent,” says Graham-Leigh. “A massive part of the role is networking—knowing people and when to engage with them—so already having a strong network will make you a much more attractive candidate.”
Introduce yourself at events where industry people congregate and let brand reps know your career aspirations. In other words, don’t be shy.
“I love the human interactions that my job allows for,” says Xavier Herit, national brand ambassador for Grand Marnier. “From meeting bartenders across the U.S. to talking with distributors, I have met so many wonderful people along the way.”
Covid-19 has thwarted much in-person interaction lately, but similar to his counterparts, Herit has been connecting with bartenders, media and spirits aficionados via Zoom cocktail classes and information sessions and on social media.
Let your background inspire you.
Herit grew up in Paris but has roots in France’s Bordeaux region. “Some of my fondest memories were around the table with family and Grand Marnier was always a family staple,” he says.
Look to your own background or hometown to drive you. Cardenas’s mother’s family is from Mexico and her father immigrated to Florida from Bogotá, Colombia. She’s proud of her adopted home of Miami and lets it stir her behind the bar.
Hone your public speaking and teaching skills.
Looking back, if there is one thing that Cardenas wished she had done prior to her current role, it’s to gain more public speaking experience.
“If there’s a Toastmasters chapter in your town join it,” she says. “Practice makes perfect.”
Above all else, Herit sees himself as a teacher. “My ultimate role is to educate consumers, bartenders, distributors and the industry about Grand Marnier’s portfolio, rich history and flavors,” he says.
Be prepared to be part of the corporate world.
It’s not all VIP lounges and tableside Martinis. For those used coming from a bar background, the business side can be quite eye-opening, Graham-Leigh says.
“The use of language, communication and structure is something that’s normally missing from work in the on-premise, and a common gripe among ambassadors is the level of reporting and admin required for the job,” he says. Some might consider it a minor inconvenience for those in such a covetous job, but the paperwork and documentation can be a pretty rude awakening.
Think outside the liquor bottle.
Many, but not all, brand ambassadors work with spirits or liqueurs. But the industry is teaming with other products that require staff to educate the public and provide promotion. This includes glassware, bar tools, syrups, mixers and zero-proof “spirits.”
New Orleans native Warren Hode worked in New York City’s restaurant scene beginning in 2002 as a beverage director and as owner of beverage-focused catering company TasteArtNyc.com. He never intended to be a brand ambassador, until a friend introduced him to the product range for Lyre’s Non-Alcoholic Spirits. Now he relishes exploring alcohol-free spirits and using them in equally creative ways as their boozy counterparts.
“The coolest part is designing ways to plug and play [non-alcoholic] and low abv cocktail cocktails in a seamless way,” he says.
Believe in your brand.
Brand ambassadors spend every day working with people to promote a product, or line of products. If their commitment rings hollow their audience will be able to spot it from a mile away.
“Apply for a brand that you’re passionate about,” says Cardenas. “Bartenders are some of the best at reading people, so make sure your message is genuine.”
Graham-Leigh agrees. “You have to live and breathe the products and talk about them on a daily basis, often trying to convert non-believers into why the products are the very best,” he says. “If you don’t truly believe in the ethos and the liquid, it’ll show.”