Todd Richman is a former Brand Ambassador for Frederick Wildman (2009-2011), Sidney Frank Importing (2011-2013), Diageo and Diageo Reserve (2013-2018). In 2013, he was awarded Tales of the Cocktail Best American Brand Ambassador.
What are your top 3 tips for building relationships and working with influential accounts?
1) Listen first and foremost.
2) Connect on a personal level with everyone there outside of talking about cocktails, brands, wine and spirits. It was always fun to learn what I had in common with members of a bar/restaurant.
3) Respect their schedule. If you drop a business card unsolicited on a Friday night when they’re busy and ask for an appointment, that card will go in the trash the minute you leave. I’ve seen it firsthand.
What strategies or approaches do you find most effective when building relationships with influencer accounts?
Todd Richman: When I was a brand ambassador I never led with recipes, products, or business cards. I’d make it a point to learn about their program and the spirit/ethos of what they’re trying to achieve.
I would stop in, get a drink, say hi and chat with the bartenders and operators early on in their shift. I’d show up when it was busy and bring friends, say hi, and order a drink. If I wasn’t drinking, I’d straw taste it and say “I’m not drinking, but wanted to see what you’re working on”
Additionally, if I was doing an event in the area, I’d invite everyone there. Only inviting the head bartender, manager or owner is a bad look and shows that the rep only sees everyone else on the team as assets instead of people and as a means to an end.
Featured Resource: The Ultimate Guide to Working with Influencer Accounts
What are some common mistakes or pitfalls to avoid when working with influencer accounts?
Todd Richman: Be mindful of how you represent yourself. You may be working with some of the best and most sought-after brands in the world, but if you behave in a way that isn’t appropriate or ideal, the brand you work on won’t matter. I’ve seen it happen and have (embarrassingly) fallen into that trap in the past.
Don’t ever think that because members of the team like your brand individually, the bar will automatically carry it. When I worked on Jagermeister, bartenders at a few influencer accounts loved a shot or two after their shift at their local bar, but the bar they worked at didn’t carry it because it didn’t fit the spirit of their program. Sometimes your brand, in spite of the relationship, is not always a great fit.
Don’t Rush the relationship, these operators take a whole bunch of meetings from people they may have known a lot longer than you and may work with executives from distributors and brands as well. These operators run some of the best bars in the country for a reason and have taken more meetings in their careers than you can imagine. Coming off too needy will be seen a mile away.
Once you’ve secured shelf placement, how do you keep your product on their shelf/menu?
Todd Richman: Stop in and buy a drink at a bare minimum. Obviously go beyond that baseline as well. Come in on slow nights as a guest and get to know everyone. Come in on busy nights and don’t talk shop. Bring your friends and members of your company to see what the staff is doing with your product. Take the wholesaler by the account so you cement your relationship with the distributor as well.
Plan an event around the brand, a dinner, tasting, seminar, etc. Bring the distiller, global ambassador, or owner of the brand in to say hello. Show interest and most importantly, say thank you above all else.
Training, training, training. I cannot stress this enough. Executing impactful staff training is an incredibly important part of any brand ambassador’s job. Education is incredibly empowering and creates immediate advocacy, so button up your messaging and training so it comes across in a digestible and entertaining fashion. Keep in mind that some restaurants and bars close at 2 am or later. So if a bartender or team member is going to come in early or on their day off, respect that and make it worth their time.
Post your training on your social media where/when compliant to do so to show the rest of the trade what you’re up to.
In terms of staying updated on emerging trends and generating fresh ideas, what are some ways you do this?
Todd Richman: Since I ended my time as a brand ambassador in 2017, the amount of information has become exponentially more accessible, there’s so many books, articles, blogs and even short videos about what is happening in the world of cocktails, wine and spirits.
When I was a BA I read a lot of publications. I took notes on what the trade was doing, went to events, and attended seminars but most importantly I let the bartenders tell me what was going on in the industry. There was a lot to learn just by showing up.
For our brand activations It was a collaborative effort between the marketing departments and the brand ambassadors. We’d find the right theme that showcased the brand in the best light possible and made it really fun and memorable.
Are there any emerging cocktail trends or products that you’re keeping an eye on?
Todd Richman: Frederick Nietzsche has an idea of eternal recurrence, saying “time is a flat circle” with everything that has been done, will be done again and again. This is partially true for our industry as bartenders and brands are expanding on what has already been done before, with some slight tweaks and exciting developments. Everything old is new again, and again.
For those of us who live and work in this space, we know this familiar tune. Bars making formerly sticky sweet drinks more balanced, while not ditching the blender or the slushy machine. Ironically unironic jello shots using Amaro and Mezcal. The 80’s and 90’s cocktails are now enjoying another renaissance. We are beyond the dirty martini (a personal favorite) to seeing saline solution and MSG in martinis and pickling all kinds of garnishes.
It’s both familiar and new at the same time which provides excitement to the consumer as well as the experienced industry veteran. What seems so easy in the glass requires a lot of steps behind the scenes. That coconut fat-washed negroni in front of you took effort that started long before the guest sat down. Bartenders study spirits and ambassadors provide training on the understanding of how to use Charanda.
Today’s bar curates their music as much as their spirits list just like they always have. Natural wine sits next to High Life in the cooler and for a while now, the snacks have been held to a higher standard to match the quality of the drinks. Non-alcoholic spirits give the teetotaler and sober-curious drinker space to enjoy something beyond a deluge of juices in a glass with an excessive amount of garnishes or the ever-present bitters and soda, which I have and always will love.
As cocktails and high-level bartending continue to penetrate the zeitgeist (see Drink Masters on Netflix) the curiosity for better drinking is continuing to rise for the consumer, but never at the cost of hospitality or warm, welcoming inclusivity to all drinkers from all walks of life.
How do you use social media to engage with influential accounts and expand brand reach?
Todd Richman: I posted and threw a lot of pictures on my feed. In one of my prior jobs, I had a separate Social account just for my brand work. I made it a point to showcase the brand(s), cocktails and staff at various restaurants and bars. Also to increase brand reach, we’d often post about the brand itself. Providing some fun facts on how it is made. I’d rarely post any cocktail recipes created by our company as it was more valuable to showcase what the trade was doing with the products I represented instead.
What are some strategies for fostering brand loyalty or long-term partnerships with influential accounts?
Todd Richman: From an operational standpoint, learn how these accounts do their events and menu calendars. There’s a lot to gain from scheduling programming that helps their sales and yours. Work to plan events around specific holidays or special occasions throughout the year if applicable. Plan your educational programs with these accounts quarterly. Offer to host R and D sessions with your brands ahead of their next menu development session. Plan events on their slower nights. There’s a myriad of ways to work with accounts. Not every plan will be a perfect fit, so find common ground that fits with the schema that the operators create and go from there.