Behind the Bar
How Bartenders Can Become Brand Ambassadors
To someone working behind the bar, preparing an endless stack of garnishes or cleaning the umpteenth spill, the life of a brand ambassador can appear glamorous. Brand ambassadors, who work for liquor companies and represent the brand as a unique combination of salesperson and hype man, seem to lead charmed lives, full of seemingly bottomless expense accounts, parties and travel. And for someone who’s tiring of the demands of a service industry job, the most alluring perks of an ambassador's job can also be the most banal: a steady schedule, the security of a salary and glorious benefits.
For bartenders looking to move on from behind the bar, becoming a brand ambassador can be a shrewd, lucrative step forward in their career, a graceful way to avoid the late nights and constant physical labor of bartending while still remaining in the industry.
“Everyone knows that bartender that’s a lot older, an old salty bartender or someone who’s super knowledgeable, but there’s not that many of those around,” said Omar YeeFoon, a brand ambassador for Texas-based The 86 Company. “There’s definitely another place that a lot of people go, besides just being a bartender for the rest of their lives. There’s a progression, whether it be a progression that leads you to owning your own place, or to [become] a beverage director for some corporation, or corporate mixologist, or brand ambassador.”
But what exactly does a brand ambassador do? Duties vary widely across the profession, but essentially, a brand ambassador represents and promotes their company’s line of spirits. This can mean everything from trekking around a region trying to make sales goals to planning and executing elaborate events, depending on the size (and funding) of the spirit company, but the job always involves some amount of professional schmoozing: “I want you to remember the time that you spent with me, and then remember our brand because of that — as opposed to just remembering the hangover that I caused,” said YeeFoon with a laugh.
Intrigued? If you’re a bartender, you’re in luck. Bartenders are uniquely qualified for jobs as brand ambassadors, thanks to their valuable, insider knowledge of the industry, and experience knowing what bartenders like — and don’t like — when being approached by brands.
Bartending skills also transfer well to brand ambassador work. Ambassadors are often required to make drinks, which can include both working the bar at promotional events, or projects like coming up with Father’s Day-themed cocktails for a magazine. They also rely on the soft skills that bartenders naturally pick up on the job, like reading people and knowing how to start a conversation with anyone — a valuable asset when trying to convince a grumpy bar owner to try your your company’s new variety of cinnamon whiskey.
But just like a bartender’s job is often misunderstood (“You’re always drinking on the job, right?”), those who have made the shift to brand ambassadorship caution that the life can be anything but glamorous.
A brand ambassador’s day can be grueling, encompassing both the 9-5 schedule of an office worker — meetings, conference calls, Power Points — and a bartender’s late nights of socializing and drinking.
“Brand ambassadorship is not a 9-5 stable income,” said Marcos Tello, National Brand Ambassador for El Silencio. “It’s an income, but it’s not 9-5. You’re out all hours of the night, out there drinking and it’s hard. It’s hard on you. You gain the freshman 15, because you’re always out eating, you’re drinking and your nights are long.”
“You go from a job that has so much routine — you know what time your shift starts, you know what time it ends, you know what your juices are — then you move into this role where there’s zero routine,” said Charlotte Voisey, Director of Brand Advocacy for William Grant & Sons. “No two days or weeks are the same. You have to understand that you’re entering into a new lifestyle. You’re not going to have your Monday night to go to a class or watch a TV show. You can’t plan and structure your life like that.”
And unlike working in a bar, people aren’t always eager to see you: “When you show up, chances are people might not want to see you,” said YeeFoon. “The industry has been trained to ask these brands, ‘What are you doing for me?’ It gets little bit difficult. You don’t get as many happy faces.”
Still feel intrigued? YeeFoon, Tello and Voisey offered a few suggestions for bartenders interested in transitioning into a brand ambassador role.
Omar YeeFoon, a brand ambassador for The 86 Company, says that people skills are essential to the gig. "I want you to remember the time that you spent with me, and then remember our brand because of that." Photo: Steven Visneau.
1. Network. All three brand ambassadors I talked to got their jobs after being personally approached for the position. Impressive, right? But before that, each spent years working their way up the ladder, taking on a variety of side gigs, and meeting a ton of people along the way. Follow their lead, and diversify your skill set: sure, you can make a great Negroni, but can you teach a class of 30 how to make one? Get experience working events: Tello first got comfortable putting on events while working for his college’s student union. The more people you meet, the more random side jobs you try out, whether it's representing your bar at an event or putting together the drink list at a new bar as a contract consultant, means more opportunities for you to get in front of a company that’s hiring.
2. Be strategic. Engage in some what-color-is-your-parachute type soul searching. Tello recommends questioning exactly what you want from an ambassador job: What brands do you want to work for, and why? What do you want to get out of it? How will this help your career in the long run? “You don’t want to get into this just to have an expense account, just to travel,” he said. “Those are selfish goals. There should be some sort of developmental goals.”
3. Don’t be a sleaze. No one likes an aggressive salesperson. As a brand ambassador, you have to genuinely enjoy talking to people all day and all night. Loving the brand is also essential. You won’t be a successful ambassador if you don’t genuinely care about whatever spirit you’re hawking (and you’ll be pretty miserable).
“The first golden rule is to really find a brand or a company that you respect and admire, and you truly love the brand that you’re going to represent,” said Voisey. “The demands of the job are just too great unless you have an additional innate passion for what you're doing. You have to really believe in it.”