Behind the Bar
A Day In the Life of a Brand Ambassador
To many, the work of a brand ambassador seems glamorous — travel the world, attend major industry events, talk about your favorite spirits and surely keep your bar stocked with the spirit you proudly represent. But whether you're the voice and advocate for a big brand or a small one, the work is just as demanding as it is rewarding.
Hunter Merritt of Prairie Wolf Spirits in Guthrie, Oklahoma works around the clock at his family-owned distillery, wearing all the hats the business demands. He does production, research, marketing, sales, delivery and education along with his parents and brother. Their dogged work in crafting and getting their product in front of an emerging market has grown their business from 12 accounts to a little over a thousand in two and a half years.
Prairie Wolf does have a broker, Premium Brand, but because the distillery is young and small, Merritt figures he calls on more restaurants and bars than anyone else involved. “I call 40 restaurants and bars a week. Then, I go out on sales runs and try to do three or four a day, sprinkling in liquor stores, as well. If I’m in a town I’m not in often, I’ll try to do as many as 15 stops. Two weeks later, I’ve seen 60 places.”
Hunter Merritt, who reps for his family-owned distillery, often calls forty restaurants and bars a week and makes three or four sales runs a day as he works to help the tiny craft brand become a household name. Photo: James Harber, Studio FJ
His typical day is spent adding to and working through a master list of bars, restaurants, and retailers in Oklahoma divided into categories of 1), they don’t carry our products, 2) they carry them but haven’t featured them, or, 3) they carry them and we need to maintain that relationship. “Yesterday, I wrote out a list of 150 places that either don’t carry our stuff or they do and now we’d like to see it on the menu or in a featured cocktail,” he says. “Today, I’ll start calling 15 places a day, setting up meetings and zigzagging across town until I knock out the list.”
Amanda Victoria, a senior national brand ambassador for Belvedere Vodka, also describes her work as a twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week kind of job — though her position differs in many ways from Merritt’s in terms of day-to-day work.
“Ambassadors fall into the creative, marketing, and education sides of the business,” Victoria says. “The sales team has different specialities and skills in their wheelhouse. In my role, I don’t talk numbers and rely on the sales force to work out the deals.”
Where Merritt crunches numbers and looks at who is buying his products in the morning before he makes his calls, Victoria begins a typical day by heading into the local distributors office — in whichever city in North America she is visiting — and trains an audience of 30 to 40 salesmen and women. “I talk about the craftsmanship of the production, the actual liquid, why ours is a quality product and why it stands out. The role leans on me setting Belvedere apart in a saturated vodka category.”
Being a brand ambassador takes Victoria all over the country and world. She visits Poland, where the vodka is made, three or four times a year, and finds herself constantly in cities where the local sales team creates her itinerary and then totes her around town to various speaking engagements. “Recently I gave a martini-making training at Google in Pittsburg. Not only do I talk about Belvedere, but also craft cocktails and mixology. I’m the vehicle to make Belvedere pop off the back bar and become used.”
Education is as much a part of the small brand aspect as it is the large. Merritt sits down with local bar and restaurant owners and bar managers about how they could use Prairie Wolf products in a featured cocktail on their menu, or why they ought to use Dark, their coffee liqueur, instead of a competing brand. Prairie Wolf is yet to have a global reach (in fact, they currently only sell in Oklahoma), but he is no less busy and attributes the hard, dedicated work of his family to the success of the business, which three years ago was not a household name in Oklahoma. “Old ladies recognize my truck now, I drive it around so often. People think we have a fleet because they see it regularly. We’ve got momentum going.”
Victoria doesn’t have to know the markets in every city she visits because the sales team takes care of that, but she is depended upon to be the creative talent that inspires each local market. “It’s fun, but you’ll lose your voice at the end of most days,” she says. “And each day varies because you’re always moving around to different markets.” She reminded me that not all of the job is glamorous. While sometimes she is in the press — once, with Martha Stewart — she might also be “at a storage unit using a knife to open boxes full of Belvedere knickknacks for an upcoming event.”
Victoria, who started her career first as a bartender and then working with smaller brands, says she has a lot of respect for people like Merritt who wear all of the hats. “I’ve been there myself. That’s where you gain true experience in building a brand — from the ground up. Belvedere started as a craft brand in 1993 and now we have a great, sizable team.” As Merritt’s company grows, he may have to wear less of those hats himself, but until then, he keeps track of his 1000+ entries list and backs it up on several external hard drives.