Featuring Sarah Shimmons, Global Marketing Director, Smirnoff
In this episode we discuss:
- Managing a global brand that has such great heritage
- Covid and the impact on Smirnoff
- Measuring marketing effectiveness
- Training and continuous learning for marketers – the Diageo way
- Investing in your own education
- Do you even need a marketing education?
- Managing beer brands at Tennent’s NI
- Using Tennent’s Vital to reposition Tennent’s beer
- Social media and how it can mislead your thinking
- Smirnoff challenging perceptions and social issues
- Working in different brands across the globe
- Working at Coca Cola (the local bottling company in Ireland) and how to ace in store execution
- Deep RiverRock TV ads and Smirnoff TV
- Investing in creative excellence
Digital Marketing Strategy Course
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Find out more about it and sign up here: https://univaasa.teachable.com/p/digital-marketing-strategy
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Sarah Shimmons is the Global Marketing Director, Smirnoff at Diageo.
She is a Marketing Director for Smirnoff with background mainly in the drinks industry and passion for comms, media and innovation.
In my eyes, Sarah is one of Northern Ireland’s best marketers and is set for global domination. Her views on education, brand management and marketing are well worth listening to.
Find her on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/sarah-shimmons/
Sarah’s Book Recommendations
Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE by Phil Knight https://amzn.to/2PPn0py
Dogs of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky https://amzn.to/336PBJY
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Andi Jarvis, Eximo Marketing.
This transcript has been done automagically using Happy Scribe and hasn’t been checked by a real person, so there may be some hilarious mistakes where the AI can’t work out our accents – I’m sure they’re trained on just the American accent.
Eyup and welcome to the strategy sessions.
It’s not often you get to do something really like this where you get to interview somebody who may well have changed your lives, who could well be described as one of your heroes. I know it sounds a little bit cringeworthy. What’s going on, though? What is he talking about? But Sarah Simmons, welcome to the Strategy Session.
Thank you. Andi very excited to be here. I’m really happy to have you on. So Sarah is the global marketing director for Smirnoff. Many, many years ago as she was working at Tennents as brand manager, was it? Yeah, I think so, yeah. Brand, our marketing manager at the time.
And at that point, Sarah had a conversation with me about the M.S. in marketing at the university. And I genuinely do draw a straight line between that conversation ended up being Eximo. Now, it did change my life, those conversations that we have. Thank you very much.
We’ll talk about the good old days in a little bit because I love talking about the good old days. But let’s start with what you’re doing now and why you are now. So I’ll tell you, I’m very impressed. Global marketing director for Smirnoff. I don’t care if you hate it. Sounds like an amazing deal. Yeah, it’s a good job. I guess it’s just one of the benefits of working for four days. You know, you just get those opportunities to grow.
So that’s kind of that’s what I put down rather than anything on my part. I put it down to the to the company in terms of, you know, able to get promoted. And, yeah, it’s been good. So really enjoying it at the minute. And just to be over such and such a great brand, you know, it’s such a household name in terms of Smirnoff, it’s the world’s number one spirt brand. So globally it’s huge.
So it’s really great to be working on that because of all the different markets that I’m getting to talk to. And yeah, it’s just broadened me in so many different ways. So it’s been great. Well, I’m going to come back to and so I’m going to tell you, Roland, as well, when you put it down to the company. So what we’re going to come back to to how you got to where you are in a minute.
But let’s talk about some of the world’s biggest spiri brand. And it’s in it’s in every country in the world, but it must be in hundreds of countries around the world. So that’s exciting. It’s a huge global brand. But also it must be quite daunting or challenging because the different country restrictions and different brands and different marketplaces, it must be quite a challenge juggling a brand like that in so many different places.
Yeah, it can be. I think one of the key things that you always have to remember, or one of the key responsibilities that we have on the global brand team is sort of creating that consistency across markets because you’re always going to get things that are different and different markets, not culturally, but just from the brands perspective. So, yeah, our job is kind of to make sure that the brand is showing up consistently or as consistently as possible.
So it doesn’t mean that it always has to look the same, but maybe it has the same tone of voice or maybe it has the same cultural relevance. So if we’re focussing on one area of culture and one market, we might see what’s the interpretation of that and another market and how that shows up might be quite different. But at the core, they’re the same situation we’re looking at. How can you keep driving that consistency at a core level?
And then how that’s executed in market is is up to the markets. And there’s always that sort of tension between what we want to do from a global perspective and then just being sensitive to what people also want to do in the local marketing and making sure people feel passionate and able to do their job and do what’s best for the brand and those markets that they’re in. So that’s what makes it so exciting, because you get to partner with so many different people, you know, it’s in every continent of the world.
So I wake up and I’m talking to people from all over the world in one day and I just find that, you know, it’s really thrilling. It’s a it’s an amazing experience. But also for me personally, it’s just brought in my horizons massively. You know, I look back even three years and go, you know, I don’t feel like I’m the same person because you’re just getting so much more cultural experience and getting to know people and especially being from Northern Ireland, living in Northern Ireland for your whole life.
You know, it’s just it’s just amazing on a personal level as well. So, yeah, it’s been good.
But I remember my days of doing beer markets, and I think he was one of the global brands. Might have been Budweiser, might have been. Korona It doesn’t matter which one, but the tension between what they wanted to do globally and what we were trying to do locally to execute it. And I think it kind of reared its head once on Patrick’s Day where we had this Patrick’s Day compared to global. And, you know, and it just it’s because it would work perfectly well in American markets.
But it was just something I like. If you roll this around Ireland, we’re just going to spend the next week fire fighting people, ripping us to pieces and that sort of.
And those conversations were always. Interesting, let’s put it that way, what’s it sounds like that you are a much more broader view, you not being able to execute in marketing quite strongly is important for the brand.
Yeah, because one, you know, we try not to tie ourselves to occasions or events. We kind of try and start with the consumer, put them at the heart of it and say, you know, what are the occasions that they are drinking alcohol in and white spirits and what are the key behaviours that we’re seeing in those markets? And then we try and attach the brand to that. So think about, therefore, what is the brand’s role?
And that immediately makes you really relevant in those markets without necessarily having to focus on one key event or something that is happening culturally. So I think that’s that’s really helped us as well as kind of a combination of being super local, but also that sort of localisation. So making sure it fit, is still fit, is quite big and it doesn’t go to local. But make sure that you’ve got the you know, the behaviours, the attitudes of the consumer in that market at the top of your mind.
So that’s a big focus for us. Smirnoff’s brand, it’s it’s it’s almost a heritage brand that’s been around that long. Are you still quite young? You focussed cutting edge. There’s an interesting tension that is going to run for years and years of history and that that you push. And there’s also the fact that it’s been on for so long. It means quite a lot to people. You know, people buy into the brownstone and I think it’s one of those brands people feel is part of them.
So how do you manage all that when you feel the weight of pressure?
Well, I think, you know, it is high on meaning. You know, it’s high insulin. So everyone knows about Smirnoff. There’s very few people I know of, like Smirnoff, and it’s got a very high meaning. And so that’s that’s a positive. You know, I see that as a good thing rather than a challenge, because when everyone knows you, are you do you have that people have that knowledge of you across the world. It’s a lot easier than to go in and start marketing to those people and and having a bit of fun because you’ve already built up the base.
So, you know, for some brands, it’s all about driving awareness, whereas for us it’s really going that level deeper. So that makes it really exciting. I think one area where we continue to strive to grow is in that distinctive. So in terms of making sure we remain distinctive within the market, vodka is huge, but it’s kind of like bottled water in a way, when you think about it, because you’ve got a lot of different vodkas, they all looked the same.
So it’s how do we differentiate ourselves? And I think that’s why we’ve always had that rule in, you know, younger consumers, Alday plus consumers. And that youth culture is because we’re trying to grow that distinctive for ourselves. And so, yeah, there’s an interesting tension between where a brand that’s been around since eighteen, sixty four. But yet we’re also try to be in culture. But I think it goes back to we lean in to that story of ourselves from where we came from, and that’s sort of a credibility thing.
And it’s also, you know, shows the quality of the brand and how long we’ve been around for. That really helps. But it’s not enough because that’s just to brand out. So we think about that as sort of our brand strategy. But then you also need to be thinking about the lives of the consumers and what’s relevant to them, because you can say, oh, well, Smirnoff’s been around since eighteen, sixty four and this is the story of the brand.
And you will get consumers who just will be like, well so what, what does that mean to me. Yeah. So it’s how we can make it relevant and make you know, some of those, some of those things from our history come forward and, and interact with people today. So that’s kind of where we’re what we am today.
And if we can say this without sharing any company secrets, what are the key markets for Smirnoff?
And, you know, so do you what do you look at across the globe? You have to sort of say, well, markets to two to three or how how do you break it open?
What it’s just basically, you know, in terms of the different markets we have. So our biggest market is North America and obviously UK and Ireland would be high up on those lists on that list as well. But then we have other markets like South Africa or markets in like where we’re also really popular. And it just depends as a you know, as a brand, we’re not just Smirnoff vodka. So you think of us as a trademark where Smirnoff Ice, we have got a lot of different ready to drink products globally so you can go into a market.
And Smirnoff looks very, very different to what it does in the UK and Ireland because it’s focussed on a flavoured vodka or on a day. And and so it’s quite interesting to see how there’s a bit of a chameleon. So it means that actually there’s a lot of markets where it’s really important for us to keep to keep them high on our agenda because one might be really strong on Smirnoff vodka, but then another might be really strong on some of our other products.
So there’s a good mix of countries in there.
I would say Smirnoff Ice, a drink that holds a special place in my heart and yeah, and probably really killed me during my university years, which was fantastic love, my favourite of ice when I first moved to Northern Ireland, the so draught supposed to said, so let’s not get into that.
But it’s a bit of a renaissance Smirnoff Ice. So I think well, just because it’s interesting, because if you think about consumer behaviour at the minute and what people are doing, they’re in lock down, they’re looking for convenience. And so that whole segment is really growing. So ready to drinks premix in a that you can just take a one and and crack open and they’re they’re having a bit of a moment. So Smirnoff Ice is actually quite high on my agenda.
Excellence alone may continue to make a couple of weeks ago, months ago probably now, we had Casey Jackson from TBWA, the agency in London. They launched a brand line, which is a pre-packaged wine council. And they launched it was, I think, two weeks after the first lockdown came and they pivoted and changed the whole communications plan to because they lose about door and they went with it anyway. And she brought the message in some really quirky things like that.
So I hate having to trust the court with questions on the podcast. But I think it’s interesting what you’ve done it from a global level. So with buzz shutting down across the world, people being locked down, I imagine that kind of really impacts sales for at least some of the time. But what was what did you change? What was say and what will?
Yes, it’s a really good question. It’s been a whirlwind of a year, to be totally honest, for us, all over a year or nine. But I think the pivots that we needed to make very quickly and we did that. So a couple of things that spring to mind which really worked, were taking that more short term view. So, you know, in in Diageo, we don’t really think tactically as a global brand teams. So it’s a lot of it is setting a five year vision for the brand.
And where are we going next? Not where we are right now in the next two or three months. So I think the biggest pivot we’ve made is really looking at on a quarter to quarter basis what what do we need to be doing? What do we need to be changing? So it’s really changed the pace. We’ve always been fast, but it’s really been interesting to be involved in that year where we are thinking more tactically over the next three months while also keeping one eye on that future.
So I think that’s been really interesting to just focus in on that time and then the obvious things, which is, you know, people are drinking at home. They’re not in bars anymore. So we’ve really focussed in on how can we make sure that we optimise the channels where where they are going to see so, you know, investing more in digital media and, you know, pushing away from of home, as she said, and all that you’ve heard from from other brands.
So really focussing in on that consumer. And obviously, e-commerce has become has always been a big part of what she does. And we’ve been doing it well for a number of years. But it’s really put the focus on that for the global brand teams as well. And just making sure we’re reflecting the occasion that consumers are in. And that doesn’t mean we want to show people sitting on the sofa in their pyjamas, but it just means that we’re more relevant in our coffee lines and how we reach out to consumers and make sure that we’re recognising the current situation that they’re in.
So I think obviously that’s been a big focus on the shift to the off trade forum on trade, which is the most obvious one. So making sure we’re optimised and and the retailers and that that’s that’s happening. And I think it’s been interesting for me because there’s a lot of different markets that have had waves in different times. So where when markets opened, another one’s closed. There’s always that opportunity to to still be focussed on the on trade in some markets.
But yeah, it’s been, as I say them for the last year.
You’ve not been stuck with your feet below. Exactly. Yeah, no, I think we’re really in our stride now. I think from from Cuba, because at the start it’s always it was a bit of a shock for everyone. And everybody had that shock at the start. But I think we’ve kind of hit our stride now with them, with the activities that we’re doing. And, yeah, just one eye on the long term, but also looking at the short term as well.
It’s really very important for us, hopefully from those personal questions. I’m looking at how my efficiencies changed and being able to do back-to-back meetings and works and and more workshops in of time. And I look to the future thing. I don’t know how I’m going to stay as busy as I am. I can’t juggle as many clients if I’ve got to fly to Newcastle for a workshop there and I’ve got to be in London the day after to do this. But I don’t want to go to jail if I can’t use the box about Zuzul as a concern for you in terms of your workload.
And yeah, I think it’s it’s interesting in that we so I’ve done shot TV ads on Just by Zaim, you know, where I’ve just as a client logged in to zoom and watch what’s going on in a world where covered. I would have had maybe ten days in a country and a market to shoot a TV set and being there and probably not be needed for half the day and just been sitting around and also just watching what’s going on. So I think there’s officiants.
That we’re going to get out of this year, that probably will go away. So I think there will be more online shoots that we’ll be doing and also things like research. So, you know, when we had research groups previously, you would have showed up in real life. And I can just log on and see them so I can log on to research groups wherever they are. And of course, that that ability was there before, but it just wasn’t the done thing.
So I think things like that will say. Personally, I think I do. It’s been a hard year. You know, it’s been hard work. So there is a concern about ideas come out of this. And, you know, how many hours are you going to work? Because maybe on a personal level, I find that I’ve gone deeper into work. I’ve really used it as my outlet in a way. And I think up until last year, I’d probably have been scared to say, you know, work as an outlet for me.
And I would have shied away from that and said, oh, I need to give myself a break. Whereas I’m sort of in the headspace now where I’m happy to put the hours in and just do it because I get so much enjoyment. It sounds cheesy af I know, but I’m getting so much enjoyment out of what I’m doing that actually, you know, yes, it’s work, but I’m just I feel like I’m learning every day and I’m doing so much stuff that I love that yeah it is an outlet and that’s where I’m most comfortable.
So you know, this is as beautiful as it is where you where you live. There’s always so many songs you can walk up and down those canals.
I know it is very. So it does. It passes the time, doesn’t it? I just don’t I don’t think we talked about what you want me to relocate to Amsterdam. Yeah. This part of this job as well. So in the middle of academic year, I could see from social media exploring various local shops and walking up and down some beautiful scenes is up. That’s about your life, isn’t it? Yeah, absolutely. It’s been really nice.
You know, when we came over here to Amsterdam in September and things are a bit more open here than they were back home. So it was nice to be able to go out and and do things that we couldn’t. But it was pretty short lived. You know, the lock down here is the same as what it is back home, but it’s been nice just to be. A change of scenery is just as good as a brick, I think.
So it’s been nice just to be here and experience something different when the possibilities are there in great city as well as Amsterdam. Yeah, it’s really good. It’s been fun. We’ve really enjoyed it, but it’s super quiet. Obviously at the minute there’s no tourists. Like there’s only around eight hundred thousand people actually live in Amsterdam. So the majority of people you see when you’re here are tourists. So it’s been really quiet, but it’s been a nice way to experience the place.
So really, really enjoy them.
Excellent. Let’s talk about training a little bit. You kind of mentioned you enjoy your work there. And the theatrical culture is built heavily around trading and investing in people. I think we’ve spoken before, not on this call, obviously, but about the. It’s not just the level of training and the ability to tap into lots of different training. So tell us a bit about that and how it works. Yeah, I guess there’s a couple of things, so we have our own internal training programme programmes, so there’s the Daschle way of brand building, which is one of the core programmes that every marketer in Diageo does.
So it’s internal, not self-taught, but, you know, its leaders in the business and people in the business that are teaching us. And it makes it super relevant to Diageo, but it also means that everybody’s on the same wavelength. So it’s just a huge training programme that we do. And then internally, we also have like a learning hub, which is an internal learning hub with every topic you can imagine. So if you have you know, for example, when I joined the company, one of the projects I had to do is like an innovation project and I hadn’t done innovation in.
Diageo, of course, has done an external. So I was able to go on to my learning hub and find the innovation courses. And there was everything from a two hour course, three to a week long course, where you could just do it online. So it’s really great in terms of what they have. And then also you’ll remember from your time in on the Masters, but we also get access to a lot of articles like you do when you’re at uni.
So, you know, if you’ve got an interest in some part of marketing and you go in and you search, you can basically find all the relevant articles that you’d have to pay for otherwise. So it’s a really, really good programme. And it doesn’t just focus on the marketing side and what we’re doing. It also focuses on like inclusion and diversity. We’ll have specific modules on that and lots of different types of things that that you wouldn’t necessarily expect.
There’s mindfulness courses on there. I think it’s just, yeah, it’s a really good system. It’s less about external training and more about what we can learn from each other, what we can learn from sort of senior leaders in the company, but also external people that they’ve brought in. So they bring in someone and they do a course for one group. It gets uploaded and then everyone can have access to it. So it’s really a great system.
And then you’ve just the on the job learning is incredible. You know, I’m just learning so much every day. So it’s just it’s hard to explain when you’re not in the system, but it’s it’s just yeah, it’s the opportunities to learn. There are massive just the systems and the programmes we have, you know, things like marketing effectiveness where, you know, before probably before I realised when I joined Diageo that before I probably didn’t have that much of an idea of what is the most effective channels to use for each brand that I was managing and all the other companies or, you know, what makes it more effective or what’s the return on investment on one channel versus the other?
Where does the brand come and where the seasonality come in? I didn’t know that much, to be honest. You know, when I think back versus now, we have internal programmes where you literally know everything about every penny you spend, you know what it’s doing. So the level of knowledge you’re getting just off the back of that system is incredible. So I just feel I’ve learnt so much in terms of what’s the most effective channels and how you can make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.
Basically, before that, you’re obviously invested in your own education. And this is why it’s come back to have said stop when you said, oh, you just happened to be lucky because I’m calling bullshit. You’ve got a lot of effort into all the jobs that you were surprised this and you put a lot of effort into your role, education as well. So let’s talk about the amnesty, because that’s what the programme. Yeah. It’s about. I ended up.
And so that was your first come back into education?
Yeah. And I think, you know, because I’ve done I did law whenever I was at uni. And to be honest, I didn’t love it and I got my degree, but it just wasn’t a passion. And so whenever I got into marketing and I was there and I had experience, but I just felt like I needed something more, something like tangible to show that I was I was good for these promotions and other jobs that were going to come up.
So I think the MSA was like, I don’t know what you think, Andi, but I think it was like a really great base. You know, if you want to get into marketing or if you’re already in marketing and you’re maybe a brand manager, senior brand manager or even like a marketing assistant and you want to really take it to the next level, or if you’re thinking I’m in a marketing job but I want to run my own company, then I think the MSA is the perfect course.
To be honest, it really helped me. And I think you’ve said it yourself. It’s helped you. I think it’s great as a business, but I think there’s other stuff on top of that probably that you can do that I was less aware of, again, you know, until the last three years or so in terms of other opportune. It is that might be available outside of that sort of propel you forward a bit more. So I thought about going forward and doing the MBA as well and an all star.
So I, I started it and I did like a few of the modules, but I didn’t finish it. And deju came up and I went for this job and it sort of meant I didn’t have the time. But also it sort of once I was in the company and the rule I and I feel like if you’re going to do an MBA, you should do it through one of the bigger scales. Just being totally honest, like I think the Masters said Jordan or elsewhere is brilliant.
But if you want to then go to the next level, I think it is either you have to go and pay a fortune to to do an MBA or there are a lot of other programmes out there that I just wouldn’t have been aware of that are free that you can apply for as well. So one of the ones that I’ve actually applied for at the moment is the marketing academy. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of it, but basically it’s a UK Angas programme and it’s an 18 month long programme where you can basically learn from some of the leaders of the biggest companies in the world, biggest companies, more or less in the world.
And they have two levels that they have level for people like me who would love to get to a board level position in the future. And then they also have a course for C C ammos who would like to get into like C positions at two levels. And that’s something I just wouldn’t have been aware of before. So I’ve applied for that this year and I feel like that is more in line with where I need to go next versus the MBA.
But yeah, I think that the Ulster course was a grinding.
What do you think I looked at? I would say a third of it was kind of basic grounding and stuff. Good reminder to refresh with a marketing background, if you ask me. At the time, I was probably a little bit irritated at going over that because there was a lot of people without a marketing background doing it. But I think with a little bit of time between when I finished it, it was actually really good reminder of the time I was actually absolutely back.
It’s a good reminder. A third of it I thought was brilliant. On a third of it I thought was a little, but I’m not so sure about all.
I recommend it to people all the time. You know, overall, I think it’s really solid because and what it did for me, I sort of I had a spot management and marketing degree and I’ve been working in marketing for a lot years. Well, I was very, very tactical. You know, I could sort of feel what was working for the companies I was working for because I was embedded when I was struggling a little bit in some agency stuff.
I didn’t feel I could really connect with the projects I was working on. The ideas didn’t quite flow and it was just tactical. That’s all it was. Yeah, having structures and systems and processes in place following the degree. And then there’s a way to a process for this. Suppose you get through the process and that’s kind of what I do now is just go through the process from people. I thought it was interesting you say that, you know, because you felt as though the basics or, you know, with the fundamentals, the but you already knew.
And that always kind of impressed me about you. I think when you said to me, like, I knew I knew all of that stuff because me coming from a background in law and then getting into marketing, those fundamentals didn’t come as naturally to me. So, you know, I didn’t know all of the big names of marketing in terms of literature, which you did. But I think a lot of people you would be surprised how many people maybe didn’t know that, because I think you you were just kind of you know, you were into that side of it.
You knew the background, the literature. I think for me, it brought the course, brought that to life for me, where I maybe wouldn’t have had the same levels of knowledge around that. So different things for different people, doesn’t it? Yeah, it definitely does.
And I think one thing that I, I’m not going to give away your age and Mr. But I think the fact that you do this but I think the fact that we did it with a few years, a few miles and drop out, I mean I, I look at the and the I referred to them as the kids because I was in my thirties when the calls to come straight from a degree straight into doing the MSA. See, I always worried that some of those people were just learning what the book said.
And actually what I liked when we talked about it was I got the sounds. Let me just stuff is pouring coffee meetings where we talked about marketing literature. We did what we talked about. We understood what the literature could mean in a practical way to implement it rather than just saying the literature says this, which is what I felt some of people were coming straight from an undergrad institute. Just learning things like it, which is a bit different. Yeah, I think it’s really interesting, like educationally high, you know, people night.
There are opportunities for people to, like, get work experience rather than go to uni even. And I think it’s really interesting because I agree with you. I think once you’ve got that on the job experience, everything clicks into place. Like I would far rather see someone coming that had a degree and then hadn’t done their masters for five or six years. Then someone coming. For a job that had done for back to back, because I kind of I agree with you to I think it’s sort of pieces that together when you’re already in the market and you’ve got experience.
So there’s a lot of people in marketing circles who would tell you that formal education degrees, postgrads and marketing are not relevant. And I’m always wary of being the guy with the cost cutting defensive posture.
But actually, I genuinely think I know when I go into a company and I’m working with them, I know when I’m working with the team, the people have got formal qualifications and when people just learn on the job and that’s not to say you just let them to be absolutely sure. I don’t understand. The universe shouldn’t teach, in my opinion, like textbook SEO, PPC, some university. But no, that’s not what you should be doing because it changes too quickly for them.
But I think there’s a place for both. What I’m definitely against the movement of you don’t need a degree to which the time to waste.
It’s interesting. I think it depends on the person because. You know, it depends on maturity levels as well, I think, but again, in the company of men and in the job women, I’ve managed people that have come straight out of uni and they are, you know, dojos their first job. So there may be an assistant branch manager. And some of those people for me have been incredible, like really, really good. And I don’t know what it is.
I look at them and I go one or two people in particular come to mind. And I look at them and I say, gosh, you know, they have a mind that I didn’t have at 30 for whatever reason. And I don’t know if it’s because of the university they went to or their upbringing or what that level of maturity is just there. And I think especially in the bigger companies, you have a range of marketing rules, obviously, and I think there are marketing rules where like creative rules, where is that formal education really needed?
If you’re a creative, like, it’s really hard to know the answer to that, because I think there are situations where. Yeah, I’ve worked with people with. No real experience, real experience in marketing, but they have been better than people I know that have got 10 years experience. So I think it depends on the situation you’re put into once you get into a job. And also like what maybe what you know, you’ve been to or I’m not sure or maybe the younger generation are just smarter than us.
And I don’t know. But the mantra is me that the kids are all right.
I mean, this I’m doing some lecturing. I think Liverpool you and some of the some of the people in the mountains that blow you away of don’t. But it’s also worth saying.
But I think it’s always been the sheep. You get to a certain age that you start thinking that it’s always better when you were a kid. It wasn’t a good fit. It is a little bit of shit, but people are like, oh, it was much better then.
And it’s true.
So as we’re talking about the good old days, let’s roll back a little because you’ve got you’ve got to see that would make most people’s eyes right. And you want to play all the time. But you would. But I’ll let you talk about it. So let’s talk about your time attendance. What did you manage there? And then I want to talk about Viso.
Yeah. So it was the beer brands that I managed. It was tennants, obviously. But we also had the distribution rights for Abai Brands and in Northern Ireland. So that was Budweiser, Beck’s Corona. We also launched a few brands like Come In and Heverly. So they were a couple of brands as well. But all beer at that time.
Yeah, and attendance is a bit of an institution in Northern Ireland. It’s a brand people love, you know, it’s yeah, it’s an interesting drink, but there was a bit of an issue. Subtenants Vital was a huge concert in Northern Ireland and that’s why it was like the big outdoor gig of the summer that was brought back. I think you brought it back to kind of it was here for a few years, disappeared.
And then you used to be called I think it was witness originally and then it was brought. Pakistan is vital. And then we had about a three year Romona, I think at the time.
And I’m sure we had a conversation and I got to the agency and sat around the front, which is where we met and. It was issues with tenants meant to people in Northern Ireland, is that right, for the Browns to be investing more in this big move to bring tenants, for instance, people’s lives?
Yeah, I think it was, again, looking at the younger generation. So thinking about LDA plus consumers, what what were they into? Because it was an ageing brand in terms of the core consumer was, dare I say, a 40 plus and Iran’s leaving a little.
And the younger generation just weren’t. We weren’t recruiting enough of them, so it felt like, you know, that recruitment just wasn’t there and this was an opportunity for us to recruit younger consumers, bring them into the brand and and really talk about something that was a passion point for them. So, again, just looking at what is culturally relevant and what are those passion points for young consumers. And obviously, music is always going to be a big one of them.
And no, Brown was really owning that in Northern Ireland, I think in the south. And that’s going on where you have Bacardi with their bar, which was me as inactivation as well. And you had Backes doing some stuff in the South, but we haven’t really got anything like that in Northern Ireland. So that was the opportunity for us to really focus in on the younger consumer and, you know, talk to them on a passion point that that they were that they had.
And I think the great thing about it was it was anything like that. If you’re going to spend money in the sponsorship, you need to make it work really hard. So the in-store promotions, the stuff that came off the back of quite well, I think were the strongest part we had before, vital parties. And we had competitions to win tickets. You know, those were the pieces that really worked extremely well. But yeah, it was you know, we had some interesting acts there.
We had a venue which was was one of my favourites. We had Calvin Harris. He asked, did we have any samples for me? Yeah.
Yeah. So it was it was great. And I think, you know, it did help us to recruit consumers, but also it built a lot of confidence with the with the pubs. So those pubs that, you know, that we have partnerships with. It was a big part of their year. So that was the strength of it. Yeah.
You needed a thick skin as well, because I’m going to I don’t know if you remember, but this comes up all the time and I talk about it all the time. Kings of Leon, we’re at the height of their fame with whatever that big album was that it was smashing and everybody was huge.
And you told me with a bunch of launching on this thing, Kings of Leon Hyppolite, not I hope this is big news. This is the biggest act in the world at it’s 10:00. Whatever it was, we went out, we put out a big announcement, the Kings of Leon. And the first comment on Denise, the first with Kings of Leon. It’s just take that with Gitanes. You just can’t please everyone.
We just got yeah, I’ve seen that a lot. You know, like social media, keyboard warriors. It’s hilarious. It’s just part of the job of marketing. But, yeah, you always got the what is the consumer going to think of these acts? And you always had people that were complaining and not happy about it. So, you know, and I’ve seen that again, you do need a thick skin, but sometimes when you’re creating some of that controversy, it’s a good thing.
You know, we did like a Smirnoff, we did a promotion with LA Bible, our partnership. And it was really to redefine what it meant to be a lot. So if you can imagine, a few years ago, the Bible was seen as really loud. And, you know, there wasn’t really a space for gender equality in that world, etc. and no one inclusive Andi agenda whatsoever. So we did like a programme with them where we showcased different people within the bar industry, such as a transgender bar man or some some other people as well.
We got similar reactions. You know, we had we have put that content. I the first one hundred comments were just horrendous. But actually, after a certain time, we find that it’s self regulate. And so people came in and started to support it. And that was what I was really nice to see that we were actually making a difference.
Sometimes when you’re making big moves or brave moves, you need to be upsetting some people. If nobody’s upset by what you’re doing, you’re probably not doing the right thing. You know, if everyone thinks it’s OK. Yeah, please, everyone. So you just have to do what you know is right. And I think that’s that’s a really important part of it. And I think especially when it comes to topics of exclusivity and diversity, I think, you know, you have to know what’s right and be prepared to do that and have a voice.
And like, a lot of the time, you will get support, not all of the time, but a lot of the time you will get supported. You know, although when you go online, there’s a lot of initially you might think, oh, there’s a witch hunt here or there’s certain negativity. I find that it does tend to self regulate and you see people coming in with positive messages. And and that’s that’s therefore what it’s all about.
It’s just trying to change those perceptions to even have something like that on the Bible alone, even if someone put a negative comment. You are broadening their mind whether they like it or not, they’re seeing something that they’re not expecting or on that channel. So I think it’s it can only be a positive. But the tennis fight long was kind of a lighter, much lighter version of that.
But, yeah, it was quite fun and it was a great event. And I think it’s sold out on a particular day. So musics like that, wasn’t it? But I do love the work this man has been doing and challenging it and changing people’s perceptions. And he was this huge mural in the cathedral culture as well. It’s called the local exhibition. Yeah. But really pushing people to change sections. And you’ve got platform and you stand for something which I think is great for the city as long as it’s authentic, which it is possible when you kind of have to you know, we all have a role to play.
So like, it’s not even a choice. It’s just something that, you know, you have to do. It is the right thing to do.
So, yeah, totally and utterly grounding in global brand. So that’s very much the sort of island based after that you do with Limbert’s, which was selling in various different countries. And so you travelled a bit with that, including a stint in Iran or a trip to Iran, sort of evidence that sort of culturally very different from Ireland. So how do how did you make a brand like Littlewoods working in a very different market like Iran? Probably not the budgets that you’ve got.
It was yeah.
It’s like Linowitz was just again, it was a great job. And it just broaden my horizons in terms of the different countries that I visited. And that trip to Iran sort of lit a fire in me. I think that I wanted to do more of that sort of global travel and do a bit more. And I think, yeah, consumers are not the same, but. You know, there’s similarities in consumers worldwide. And I think as long as you’re focussed in on the behaviours in that market, as I said, the occasion, that is most relevant.
So for then would start with breakfast and and then try to just align the product to what is the breakfast that people are having it around or what are the occasions where they would sprinkle seeds onto their foods? And it was using that. But then we just got back. So it was still using like the core of our product and, you know, the core occasions for our product. But they’re just leveraging those for the Iranian market. But it was just an amazing trip because it’s not somewhere that I had thought I would be going.
And that was very last minute. So sort of get a call from the boss saying, can you go to Iran? And I’m just one of those people that I am a yes person anyway. So it was like Yalgoo.
And all I’m saying is I was just about right.
I know. And it was such an eye opening experience. Like the people were so friendly. They just you couldn’t understand why this blonde haired Irish lady was was coming over to Tehran and why I was there and even going through the markets. You know, people were coming up to me and asked me why I was there and offering me they have a very they’ve got like a gift in culture. So if someone meet you, they will give you a gift a lot of the time, you know, if you have any type of relationship with them.
So some of the shopkeepers where I came home with an extra 20 kilo bag because I’ve been giving so much stuff, so just like little treats or little snacks and things that people saw me walking three with, with some of the distributors, I’d come over with stuff. So I just thought it was it was really eye opening. And, you know, it’s the same everywhere when you go when you speak to people that are just on the street and your regular everyday people that are there, it’s just the same as anywhere else.
So I find everyone really friendly. And yeah, it was just a really interesting experience. I’m very jealous as well. So I was the place within the cultural history of the world pretty much in and around Iran and the world around. So it’s so one day I’m going to go in and look around and some of the architecture and stuff is really cool.
And even seeing, you know, it’s kind of mountainous there. And apparently they have a lot of big wineries, et cetera, up in the mountains that you can go up to. So at the time I was I was really thinking I’m going to go back for a personal trip. And I think, you know, if you were going to go, you can you can get a guide, which I had. So I had someone there who was Iranian but living in in England.
So they had met me and taken me there. So I would definitely recommend that just because it’s so busy and hectic and know there’s no street signs, you don’t know where you’re going. I’d love to go back again sometime, definitely.
And then just all the time. So let’s quickly take this right to the beginning of your career. A Coke, you started working with Coca-Cola to get a hold of the guns. There you go. What was that like sort of first marketing job for you and sort of entry level? What was the first part of you? Remember, that was being a full time? Yeah, it was good.
I think the interesting thing about Coca-Cola is, you know, you are again, I wasn’t part of the global team. So you’re in the bottler. Obviously, Coca-Cola, Ireland is the bottling side of things. So you don’t get as much ownership and leadership over the the marketing comms. You do get a lot of ownership of what goes on in store at a retailer level. And the message the message is you’re pushing the local market. So there’s two big things I think I took from the time a Coke.
And one of those was how to do in-store execution. Really well, and so in terms of excellence, they are top notch when it comes to schopper execution and how to show up in store. So lessons that I learnt there, I’m still using today in terms of that. And then the other thing was my first TV shoot was was with Deep River Rocks, with Water Brand. So when I was a brand manager on De Bergerac, I got to go along to the shoot.
And that that really instilled a passion to me to be working on CALM’s because it was just it was amazing. I loved it. So those are kind of some of the the key things that I took from it and wasn’t there for that long. But definitely some good lessons on I think the Olympics and the Euros were both on one of the years that I was there and I was sort of in charge of the retailer activity. So, yeah, that was that was mega because they just have big budgets to spend on everything on retailers.
So it was it was a fun time. If you can compare and contrast it quickly, the first time you were on the big river compared to the last person you went to with Smirnoff. What were the differences between those two shifts?
I believe the budget would be the first all probably was the whole.
Yeah. So I just think one of the the key focuses and and Diageo and one of the things I’m really focussed on personally and for my own growth is creative excellence. And despite us being a huge business where, you know, there’s a lot of programmes to ensure your you’ve got effectiveness in your marketing and you’re getting a return on investment, et cetera. In reality, they still have creative creativity is king. So that creative excellence is is really important.
So I think the quality of the cars that we produce is just second to none. Our latest TV TV ad, our infamous Campean Ecomm, you know, you can make a film from that. It’s full of great quality in terms of the look and feel. So I’ve just learnt so much about what creative excellence is and how to try to make sure you’re always sticking to those high standards. And a lot of it’s just down to making sure you put the time, you know what you put it right.
So making sure that it’s well thought out. You’re working with the best agencies possible. I think that’s one of the other things I’ve really learnt is that go with the biggest, best agency that ecomm for columns and then everything else. You know, it’s not as important. But I think for the column side of things, we went for the four, the biggest agencies that we could. And that’s something that I’ve learnt from that perspective. And then just making sure you’ve got like agencies within the local market as well that you can rely on that are more specific to the market.
So we would have localised agencies and in Ireland and then in Europe and across in Africa and like so making sure that we’ve got the right the right agency, Max, I think is really important for us as well. Not what I understand. People spend what you can afford. So what size business? You don’t try to be picking an agency to create whatever you spend, what you can afford.
You know, I, I totally agree because there’s no point doing something if you’re not going to spend the money. And, you know, I learnt that we’ve probably had these conversations in the past, but, you know, we got kind of like a smallish budget. You’re thinking, oh, well, I’m I’m going to squeeze this person. I’m going to try and get as much as I can out of this agency. You will not get the best work from an agency unless you pay them fairly.
And that’s just the bottom line is all you want, but you’re not going to get what you want out of it.
So that’s a the problem.
It’s not only that it’s important to invest in what matters. And I think there’s no getting away from the highest or away stuff that you can do is the big stuff. And if you can afford to do it, then then do it like I live in Northern Ireland when I’m home, when I see, you know, a local company has has got has put themselves on TV, whether it’s a gem or a pizza company or whatever it is. I just love seeing that because I just think, you know, it it is still working and you’re going to get the return on investment from that.
And so, yeah, really important what we’re coming to the end.
So I’m going to say just two quick questions for you. Recommendations, folks, focus. What is it? What do you listen to what you read or just give us some examples of things people should check out?
Yeah, I think one of the aspects of RAD over the last was probably a dogs, and that’s the story of Nick. So if you’re into branding marketing in any way and entrepreneurship, I think it’s one of the aspects that’s out there. I really love that book. I think it’s great. So I’d recommend that one and then the other big I think I like to not always I know a lot of people say, oh well, I listen to a lot of marketing stuff and I read a lot of marketing books.
You know, that’s just not who I am because I’m spending so much time on the job doing marketing anyway. So, yes, I read the odd brand or marketing oriented book, but I love some fiction as well. So the other work I would recommend is actually Dogs of Dogs of War. And it’s a book about A.I. and the use of A.I. as war machines in the future. So it’s really interesting. Read about, you know, ethically about I on what that could look like in the future.
So it’s a really good read for something that is not business orientated as well.
I like the I like to go some Facebook recently. And he was like since I stopped reading business books and when books got districts in Detroit. And obviously you only need reasonable marketing focussed.
And I know exactly what you. There you go. So I don’t know. And lastly, the question. Were you expecting me to ask the harbourmaster?
There’s one I’m really glad you didn’t ask me. And that is what’s it going to be like in the new normal?
Oh, I’m not going to get to this question. I’m like, great. Well, you can answer that. But no such a question then. Yeah.
Know I know it’s my most hated term.
Please, let’s leave the term new normal. And I was hoping in twenty twenty but let’s leave it in twenty twenty one. People are going to want to get back out and do the things that they used to do. I don’t believe that, you know people are just going to change their habits. One hundred percent like they’re going to want to go out, they’re going to want to party, they’re going to want to go out and have a nice Smirnoff cocktail.
You know, people are just going to want to do that. So, yeah, that’s me.
Well, that’s the normal. Looks like Smirnoff. That’s the one with the Blissett.
Sarah, thank you very much. I’ve loved every minute of that. And yeah. Thank you for being on the show. No worries.