We've all met a Global Ambassador at one time or another. During a quiet Tuesday shift or at a mega busy trade show; we've seen these superstars and thought, "Wow, what a cool job, that guy is really living the dream." We've all fantasised about it, we've all wondered what it would be like; but how many of us actually have any real understanding of the day to day life of a GBA? Probably very little. In truth, the expense account and travelling to cities like New York, Berlin and Paris are normally enough to get our attention hook, line and sinker; but that's only the surface of the role. There’s a million other mundane and alien tasks that lie just underneath that, should we ever get the opportunity to land the role, we only find out once we're plunged into the corporate deep end.
And that’s the key word here, Corporate.
Behind the stick, the word is used as a derogatory term. The reality is, the environment of a GBA is with feet in both camps. Like it or lump it, the majority of your interactions will be with marketing departments, agencies, finance and management, and despite our ability to interact with people from differing social background (to entertain, educate and enthrall a multitude of differing personalities from behind our hallowed mahogany) the etiquette of the corporate world demands developing an entirely new set of communication skills. Within the marketing universe, there is an entire lexicon of verbs and adjectives that can be composed to construct entire sentences. The learning curve is tough, but it's one of the most useful skills to learn as it will enable you to express your creativity, ideology and problem-solving abilities to a new audience, in a new language.
The majority of the people you will work with in this environment will not be coming from an ‘on-trade’ background like yourself, so the etiquette that inspires such a fraternal and familial atmosphere within our industry, will not completely translate to this new environment. A lot of these small interactions, go both unsaid and unchecked, so a slight slip of the tongue, a "How ye doin' mate?”, might not go down as well or as expected it would.
My name is Mal Spence, and for the last two to three years, I worked as a Global Brand Ambassador for a Scotch Whisky. I was lucky. I spent around sixteen years working in both bars in Glasgow and Edinburgh, before a role with Jack Daniels opened me up to the world of the ambassador. It was a part time role, but under Nidal Ramini, I was given the tools to research and build my own training sessions. Think about that: build my own training sessions. Of course, I had brand guidelines to adhere to, but other than that, I was free to build a narrative around the famous whiskey and talk to bartenders about the things I loved about the brand. Nashville music, Frank Sinatra, Echinacea plant, the World's Fair…anything! I fell in love with it. The one thing I love more than a good story, is sharing that story with others. That’s what a brand ambassador is.
With this new-found love of the role burning within me, an opportunity to travel to Russia to represent a Scotch whisky presented itself, and after the apprehensions subsided, I found myself in Moscow, at the home of the Bartender Brothers presenting a talk on hotel bartending and its history & legacy. From there, a guest shift at the famous Noor bar, a few more training sessions and then off on the high-speed train to St Petersburg for more training and guest shifts.
Anyone who knows me well will know of my love for Russia. It was my first International trip and in hindsight, I could not have picked a better country if I had a choice. The real prize in a GBA role, is the opportunity to travel to countries you wouldn't book for a holiday, the opportunity to meet new people and experience the industry differently, and the opportunity to tell stories to these people, in these countries and get paid to do it. You'll get to visit all the bars you've read about on lists, to meet the people that spend their time there, to visit trade shows and meet all the other GBA's, and sometimes, get to design and develop amazing tools to gift to your bartending family.
So, the corporate world and all that entails aside, it all still sounds pretty amazing, right? What’s the downside - this sounds relatively easy so far, right?
Well, yes and no. In all honesty, all the exuberance and energy of youth is really useless in this role next to life experience and maturity. There were situations where maybe a younger version of myself would have said yes to that additional cocktail, or to that really enticing invitation that would inevitably left me in the aftermath it tended to in my youth.
Hungover, late, and in trouble.
When you're a GBA, your nights could last forever, but that 10am meeting with distributors or agencies is always there, and the people you are meeting, will have been up since 7am, bright and alert. Despite your commitments at night, your commitments during the day are equally, if not more so, important. You have two faces to display for two different sides of the brand, one to the bartender and one to the corporate world. One will love you and look after you in their home, the other pays your wage, gets you on that later flight when you miss your original, and supports and develops your career and role. Each one requires your one hundred percent respect and attention. It's finding that balance that’s key, managing not only your time, but your resources and energy too.
There's a time limit on this as well. There's only so long you can burn the candle at both ends before a burn out or the consequences hit home. If you're in a long-term relationship, don't underestimate the affect being away from home for prolonged periods of time can have. Don't underestimate the mental strain of spending night after night, week after week in a hotel room on your own, and don't underestimate the mental affect throwing alcohol into this has either. Despite the attention you may receive at masterclasses and guest shifts, you're ultimately on your own most of the time: in airports, in departure lounges, in hotel rooms and Ubers. If you're used to falling asleep and waking up next to the same person ever day, that omission can take its toll, especially around birthdays and celebrations.
Like most of the differing roles within our industry, it presents unique challenges. Challenges that I honestly don't believe, anyone other than a bartender can overcome. On a daily basis, we deal with all manner of firefighting, during stressful times, but always, with a family behind us. If you ever become a GBA, you'll find that family extends to us too. As you travel alone, you'll encounter kindred souls who have made the same transition you have, and like those brothers and sisters you embraced at the start and end of a grueling shift, you'll find their embrace equally as warm and comforting.