Diageo Making A Mistake Killing Whisk(e)y Ambassador Program
Word has surfaced today, courtesy of the great folks over at ScotchWhisky.com, that spirits giant company Diageo is effectively killing its highly regarded Masters of Whisky ambassador program and replacing it with “a new programme … marketing its … higher-end spirits brands in bars and restaurants” that seems very watered down by comparison. The net result is the loss of some two dozen well trained and well loved individuals who have, between all of them, educated tens of thousands of people about Diageo’s various whisk(e)y brands, while at the same time serving as the public face to bartenders and consumers alike at events such as tastings and classes.
I don’t want to parrot too much what ScotchWhisky.com wrote about this, as this is an exclusive to them after some good reporting. That said, it has long been a plank of The Whiskey Wash’s focus of bringing multiple voices to the whisk(e)y discussions we have here to tell you the stories of whiskey ambassadors across various brands. To date, we’ve told the story of quite a few of them through our semi-regular Whiskey Ambassador Corner feature. It is thus quite disturbing to see Diageo taking this step of killing this effective program, no matter what their so-called “review that included feedback from distributors, the trade and brands” may have told them.
In an era where authenticity among whisk(e)y brands is ever more important, having someone like an ambassador who is there front and center to speak about the spirit to those interested injects a level of realness no marketing department at a corporate office will ever be able to spin. It is true some ambassadors don’t do a good job at representing the brands they speak of, but the vast majority do, and in that process they help consumers and the trade emotionally connect with a Scotch or bourbon in a way I feel is somewhat similar to listening to a distiller passionately speak of the product he or she has made.
Distillers, when you think about it, are in many ways the original brand ambassadors. They can’t be everywhere, however, which is why having a group of highly trained and dedicated folks who can act as a jack of all trades in speaking to the merits of a range of bottlings are needed. I’ve sat with a host of these people through the time we’ve been doing these interviews and I can tell you, first hand, they are not just simple spokespeople for the booze they peddle. They are, rather, the physical embodiment of passion of a topic we all share in common – that of whisk(e)y.
These ambassadors, while they certainly have great perks, bust their asses to get the job done when it comes to telling you and I about their brands. Many of them travel a good portion of the year, and it is a profession you do see a lot of stress emerge in as a result. I won’t speak to some of the stories I’ve been told off the record around their jobs, but I will tell you this – it is not all glamour and glory as we might think when we watch them presenting and guiding us through sipping spirit.
I think, therefore, Diageo is doing its consumer and bartender base a great disservice by removing their Masters of Whisky program from the whisk(e)y ambassador world. We are in an era when education, personal touch, and passion need to be front and center, not shifting to a model, as ScotchWhisky.com puts it, which is “based on luxury experiences in an effort to maximise sales at key on-premise accounts.” That is, quite frankly, the wrong direction for the company to be going, and I seriously hope they reconsider this.
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Nino Kilgore-Marchetti is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Whiskey Wash, an award winning whiskey lifestyle website dedicated to informing and entertaining consumers about whisk(e)y on a global level. As a whisk(e)y journalist, expert and judge he has written about the subject extensively, been interviewed in various media outlets and...