We hear that big tings a’gwan for you Ms Montague. Tell us about your recent, very fabulous appointment?
I’ve recently been appointed Head of Advocacy at Edrington UK. It’s a newly created position and as soon as I saw it, I thought “that’s a bit of me – that’s definitely something I can really sink my teeth into!”
We agree! So what does your new, ‘something I can sink my teeth into’ role entail?
Edrington has such an incredible wealth of brand ambassadors, whisk(e)y and serve specialists and essentially, I’ll be bringing all of the different programmes across all of the brands together. That’s everything from bartender engagement to consumer platforms, marketing and London Cocktail Week, I’ll be pulling them together in a best-in-class program for advocacy and I’m really, really excited.
That’s onehelluva remit. How do you even get started with something like that?
I’ve given myself 100 days to understand how everything works. That includes getting to know the brand ambassadors better – finding out what drives them and where their areas for self development will be. I also want to grasp the various programmes, such as the DOJO initiative, Maker’s Mark Nomadic, and the new Laphroaig programme that will be launching. I want to know how we can tie everything together to really showcase what we do as a company, rather than individual platforms. Everyone knows Maker’s Mark, and Laphroaig but they don’t necessarily know that they’re under the same banner.
Once I have a steer on that, I can start putting a programme in place that helps them elevate the programmes that already exist.
And how is it going so far? A little birdie told us how energised the team are feeling with you on board. How does that make you feel?
Absolutely brilliant! The team are fantastic and couldn’t be friendlier. Everyone in Edrington has been so supportive, they’re like a second family.
As for the role itself, it’s been a long time coming for me. I’m really enjoying shaping the team and letting them know that I’m here for them, to support them with what they’re doing. I’ve been a brand ambassador and run teams for a while and because of that, I understand what they do on a day-to-day basis and I’ll be drawing on my experience to help them to progress in their careers.
On a personal level, I know how you can get very ‘tunnel vision’ about your brands and priorities and forget that you have a wonderful network of support around you. So I want to bring everyone together as a team and say, “this is how we show up to the community, the bars, and how we show up when we do events.” As a result, you’ll see a lot more of us showing up as a team.
We know that you’re a huge whisky lover, so what has it been like learning about the other brands in the portfolio?
As you say, I’m a real whisky lover so I’ve always kept an eye on Edrington, particularly its whisky brands but The House of Suntory has been a huge surprise to me – I’ve never really looked into the intricacies of it and now that I have, I realise that it’s going to take me a lifetime to learn about it! James Bowker does a wonderful job on that front. He actually lived in Japan and has all of those little nuances and rituals down. So yeah, that’s the one that I’m trying to learn a little bit more about.
Tell us about the team.
Currently the team is made up of nine people but that will change as we’re currently recruiting. Right now, we have Brad Price and Kevin Carr who are our serve specialists. They create cocktails for big groups, people who don’t have their own drinks programmes but look to the rest of the country for inspiration. Brad and Kevin harness the trends and work with these bars and groups to create drinks that are relevant to them and their guests.
Then we have our whisky specialists: Teddy Joseph, Michael Green and Joe Ellis. They really know the portfolio, and they cover our American, Irish, Scotch and Japanese whiskies, which means they can literally go around the world and teach people about whisky, but they also cover the other brands. Our brand ambassadors are Jamie Campbell who looks after Brugal 1888, Aaron Masonde who works on The Macallan, Nicole Sykes on Maker’s Mark and David Miles, our whisky ambassador. As I said, the portfolio has grown, the ambition for advocacy has grown and with me in place we also need some more brand ambassadors and whisky specialists on board as well so the team will go to 14.
Is there a pivotal point in your career that’s led you to where you are now?
I’ve always said, if you cut me, I bleed advocacy. I’ve always been a champion of education and getting people to understand what brands are about, so I’ve always wanted to run a team and have best-in-class programmes where we can really give back to bartenders and get them on board with the journey that we have with the brands that we love. I know that it sounds really clichéd, but I feel like everything I’ve done leading up to this has been advocacy. I’m exactly where I want to be.
Speaking of advocacy, what does it mean to you?
For me, advocacy is bringing brands to life in a way that excites and educates people and brings them on a journey with you. It’s bringing the brands alive in a fun, engaging way for consumers, bartenders and owners to really understand the core values of the brand in a way that really makes everything ‘pop’.
What’s your superpower?
Talking! No, seriously, I’ve always been pretty good at bringing people together and being really passionate about what I do. And I’m also a pretty good cook!
After your initial 100 days are over, what are you really looking forward to getting your teeth stuck into?
After 100 days, I’m going to present back with a more joined up, more coherent and streamlined way of working so that everything we do plugs into sales, PR, marketing and the commercial sides more efficiently for everybody. It’ll still focus on what we do best but elevated.
That aside, I’m really looking forward to London Cocktail Week (13-23 October). It’s always been a big thing for us, we did Tending To The Tenders for the past couple of years and we’ve got the House of Dojo and House of Suntory’s DOJO programme kicking off in June. We’re also thinking about the possibility of a bigger piece, where we bring everything together under one umbrella, almost like the Rookie Program, but it will be a 2.0 version, where I can bring the skills of all of the individual brand ambassadors under one umbrella and they can really showcase something that they’re passionate about.
We can’t wait! One last question, can you tell us three people who have inspired you at different stages in your career?
First and foremost, John Gakuru. He took the chance on me and took me under his wing when no one else would. I worked in Lab bar with him and he had a vision of where he wanted to be but he wanted to do so much more with his time and to give back. He’s just always very, very lovely.
Next is Rebecca Dooley. I worked with her at Callooh Callay, and we had this mantra that it’s not good luck, it’s hard work. We came to work together from very different backgrounds and different aspects of the industry, but we created some really magical things together and really pushed each other. She helped me become better at the things that I wasn’t good at or paid much attention to, like, answering emails etc, and I helped her to get better at public speaking. We worked really well together.
Lastly, Shervene Blackburn, she was my head of advocacy in my previous role and she just she’s an absolute powerhouse – she really inspired me and continues to do so. She has so much passion and the amount that she gives back to brand ambassadors is absolutely incredible. She was the person that truly inspired me and made me think that I wanted to walk in her footsteps. Now I’m absolutely honoured to be doing just that as Edrington’s UK’ new Head of Advocacy for the UK.