Is brand ambassador the gig for you? Ask the experts


Have you thought of getting out of the bar to become a brand ambassador? This month, in our Ask the Experts section of the magazine, we spoke to seven of Australia’a leading brand ambassadors to find out how they got the gig, what the job is actually like, and how they handle the know-it-all bartenders when they’re conducting training sessions (you know there’s always one). In the first part to this story we speak with Monkey Shoulder brand ambassador, Mitchel Bushell, Monin’s innovation and brand development manager, Tomas Vikario, and Club Suntory ambassador Justin Strzadala.

Check out their stories below and stay tuned for part two, with Ben Davidson, Sean Forsyth, Gee David and Sarah Miller.

The Expert: Mitchel Bushell
The Job: Monkey Shoulder Brand Ambassador
Length of time in role: Began this year.

How did you land the role? What did you do to get there?


I had been working deep undercover, posing as a bartender to better understand the native Australian drinker; their habits, psyche and mating calls. My study and further journal ‘Get It Down Ya’ was widely received as total gibberish and made me the ideal candidate to clear up some of the stuffy misconceptions surrounding Scotch whisky.

What does a typical day in the life of a brand ambassador involve?

Typically I will spend the morning in an email-induced trance. From here my day can go any number of ways except backwards as I am yet to unlock time travel. Days can get completely flipped on their head following a singular text message and this is the exciting part… you have to be able to think on your feet and trust your experience to react accordingly.

Brand ambassadors train bartenders a lot. How do you keep people of different skill levels interested?

I don’t really do trainings, I do stand-up comedy about whisky and cocktails. Training died when Dylan Howarth and Jason Crawley stopped training — they were the Rolling Stones of bar training whereas I’m trying to be the Bill Hicks.

What advice would you give to bartenders wanting to get into a brand ambassador role?

Make sure you love the brand because it’s going to kick your ass day in, day out. If you can’t look at that bottle and feel a similar love to that you would feel for your firstborn child, then people are going to see right through you.

And don’t forget where you came from. Remember, as much as you are representing the brand to the people, never forget you are representing the people to the brand.

So do things that you enjoy, take advice and criticism with grace and don’t always think you are right (no one is). Shake hands and kiss babies but invest time in the next breed of bartenders too. It’s all well and good to be down with all the cool kids but the younger crew coming through are just as much fun and most importantly, they haven’t heard all your stories yet.

Do bartenders play “stump the brand ambassador” with you much? What’s the toughest question you’ve had, and how did you deal with it?

No. Anyone that knows me, knows that rubbish wouldn’t fly… and anyone that doesn’t know me, finds out pretty quickly.

This industry is stacked with alpha males and females alike, you learn the hard way that there is always a bigger fish. If someone wants to be a hero, then let them. I cringe at some of the things I said when I was younger… everyone will experience that moment for themselves.


The Expert: Tomas Vikario
The Job: MONIN Beverage Innovation & Brand Development Manager
Length of time in role: 10 years.

How did you land the role? 

After graphic school diploma and couple of years in the navy as a diver I started bartending at the age of 19 and never looked back. After years of working behind the mahogany, managing my own bar and some of the top fancy venues back in native Croatia I picked up a degree in marketing, then quickly spread my wings to become a brand ambassador and marketing manager for MONIN brand. Next to MONIN I also managed brands like Fernet Branca, Camus, Grand Marnier and for Diageo, before moving my life to Australia four years ago. I was invited by MONIN to join their team which I did and never regreted that decision. I was hired for my local fame (at that time), credibility and contacts among other bartenders, managers, and owners, as well as for my skills in training bar crews, developing signature cocktails and organising massive events. An ambassador must not rest on his laurels after becoming an ambassador, which is why I invested a lot in my education and courses (from brand marketing, barista courses and public speaking to sales processes). My time and money that I invested in education is paying off.

What does a typical day in the life of a brand ambassador involve?

Brand ambassadors do a lot of things — teaching seminars, organising events and cross promotions, giving interviews to the media — but the bottom line is making the brand better-known and better-liked so that more bottles will be sold. An ambassador’s first responsibility is to increase the fame and regard of his brand, which means having good relations with bars and customers that sell lots of liquor or other types of beverages, or are just prestigious. Next to that a good ambassador needs to keep re-inventing himself, learning new skills, creating new drinks, applications, and techniques, and building a media profile and generally maintaining and extending his position as a mover and shaker in the industry (that last requires a lot of extra after hours – which do not count on the payroll). It is not possible to be a good brand ambassador and work nine to five. The purpose of classic ambassadorship is using personal charm, diplomacy and friendliness to smooth over underlying clashes as well. A good brand ambassador should know every significant bartender plus a heap of up-and-coming bartenders, loads of journalists, bloggers, event managers and marketing agencies. Like in any profession, it takes time to build up a quality network, so all other things being equal, brand ambassadors get better at their job the longer they do it. My role is a bit different since I do not work for spirit brand and have customers in coffee and the food service side of the business as well. A bit less luxurious than some roles of my spirit colleagues. Next to everything mentioned earlier, this allows me to spend more time in office and studio working with major clients and café groups.

Brand ambassadors train bartenders a lot. How do you keep people of different skill levels interested?

I typically conduct a lot of trainings for bartenders, baristas, wholesaler’s reps, hospitality store staff and sales and marketing teams; the training might consist of brand information, brand history, production techniques, tastings and cocktails. Of course, I will only include enough “branded” information to get this point across, using the “bait” of objective, useful information to draw listeners in. An over-branded presentation is both tiresome to listen to and tiring to give. One of the major MONIN strengths is that it can be used in many applications so I have wide range of themes and flavours that I can talk about and various applications to show and give to taste. Bartenders like to hear what is new in world of trends and flavours globally so I like to include that part of education as well. Twists on classic cocktails work well always. Wholesalers like to hear more about how to sell the product and brand benefits, technical details. There is something interesting for anyone there.


The Expert: Justin Strzadala
The Job: Club Suntory Ambassador
Length of time in role: 2 years.

How did you land the role? 

I landed the role after working with Suntory for about 1.5 years as a CBD on premise sales representative, I moved up from Melbourne to take the role which I thoroughly enjoyed, especially  the challenging customers (pretty sure I knocked on your door a few times Sammy). After spending most of my time in on premise sales, an opportunity sprang up to jump on board with the cool cats of the company, Club Suntory, so I seized the moment and I haven’t looked back since!

What does a typical day in the life of a brand ambassador involve?

A typical day? Wow… that’s the beauty of such a role, no two days are ever the same, it’s organised chaos and I love it. Training sessions with great bartenders around the country, trade events, cocktail competitions, retail and consumers activations, this job has it all. There are some days (and weeks) whereby I sometimes need to have a quick look out the window in the mornings (mostly after a big night out) just to remember which state I’m in.

Brand ambassadors train bartenders a lot. How do you keep people of different skill levels interested?

I try and research as much as possible, keeping up to date with trends, new products, championing and literally ‘living’ a diverse portfolio and an even more diverse group of keen bartenders throughout Australia who always keep us on our toes. I always treat trade guests as I would like to be treated, I want to talk with bartenders, NOT at them, I don’t know everything, I just like to encourage collective ideology and understandings about what is really important for each individual in this forever changing and evolving industry, and having a few great cocktails along the way is always a bonus.

What advice would you give to bartenders wanting to get into a brand ambassador role?

My advice is simple, don’t ever forget that we are in the hospitality industry, and that your attitude IS everything.

Do bartenders play “stump the brand ambassador” with you much? What’s the toughest question you’ve had, and how did you deal with it?

The best part of this role is meeting so many great people around the country in the best industry going around, one thing that I had to learn very quickly was to identify the ‘ego boosters’ in every type of training session that I deliver. There is an ‘ego booster’ in every class, both trade and consumers, and tackling these people is actually something I enjoy handling every time, but always handled with my full respect and in a way that ensures nobody is left ‘red faced’

In a recent Suntory, the art of Japanese Whisky tasting class, I was asked, (insert assertive almost aggressive voice) “so, how can you guarantee a consistent line of product in 60 years time?”

My reply, “well, if we are not all living in the Caribbean on our own islands in 60 years time, living off rum and ‘Conkies’ (a Barbados favourite) I don’t think my 92 year old palate will be able to tell the difference between whisky and liquid Viagra, so I can’t guarantee anything”

We all had a laugh, and it think that’s what’s often missing in our industry all too often, I’m no rocket surgeon and I’m the first to admit that I’ll never teach you how to make ‘sea urchin bitters’,  but I’ll sure as hell keep you grounded and make sure that everyone has a great time, period!

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