On the brand ambassador lifestyle

What being a brand ambassador is like the other half of the time. Photo from N. Huisman, Dubai Airport.

For the past three years, I’ve had one of the most fun jobs the hospitality industry has to offer: brand ambassador for a major spirits company. Being a brand ambassador means you get to be a bartender without committing to actual shifts. You get to be a salesman without having to actually do sales. You’re paid to combine the roles of educator, enthusiast, and bon vivant. You travel. You visit the best bars and bartenders around the country, try their drinks, and put the tab on the company card. The job’s got its perks.

My work as a brand ambassador was strictly part-time. I expect that doing it every day would have taken too destructive a toll on the body, like being a professional athlete but without the ennobling physical struggles and achievements. Unfortunately, my role was scheduled to change in July. The company was growing and it was decided that ambassadors would need to leave their other work behind and take the job full-time. I was naturally in line for the position, which offered the kind of compensation I haven’t enjoyed since leaving DC to make drinks and write for a living. A salary! Benefits! Paid vacation!

It was certainly tempting. But I’d already become frustrated with the extent to which my professional life was tied to alcohol. When your job involves spending a lot of time in bars sampling tasty cocktails, complaining about long hours isn’t the sort of thing that earns one sympathy from friends in more traditional lines of work. And I’m not going to lie: Having experienced both, a bad night at the bar is generally better than a good day at the office.

Even so, work is work, and it’s more satisfying when it’s doing something productive than when it’s simply logging hours. At times the brand ambassador job can feel like the latter. Regardless of whether the activity will accomplish any concrete objective, one feels the pressure to visit accounts. When there are more fulfilling ways to spend the time — writing, reading, cooking, being at home with a significant other — this gets to be a lot less fun than it sounds. But hey, it beats digging ditches.

Nearly every source of income I’ve had for the past few years involves some amount of drinking. The brand ambassador position does, of course. So do managing a quality bar program and writing about spirits and cocktails, both of which require tasting at the very least. This combination clearly wasn’t sustainable for the long-term, and going full-time into the most consumption-oriented job of them all would have been much worse. I could already picture the weight gain, the frequent meals in restaurants and airports, the late nights and groggy mornings. Some people manage to pull it off while remaining in reasonably good shape, but I doubted I’d be one of them. I figured I could do it for six months, max. Long enough to pay off some debts and maybe move to a new city.

That was my intention going into what should have been a breezy phone call to work out the details of a position that I’d already been essentially offered. But over the course of the conversation it became clear that what I wanted from the job and what the company needed weren’t in alignment. I mentioned my concerns about balancing health with the demands of constant travel and time spent in bars. I mentioned the book proposals and other projects I had in the works, and the priority they would take if they go forward. I’m not really sure whether it was excessive commitment to honesty or unsuppressed desire to tank the interview that led me to bring these things up, but bring them up I did. They needed someone more committed. The conversation went south. I knew, hanging up the phone, that I would not become a full-time brand ambassador. This was financially challenging. It was also a relief.

Having the job for a few years was a fun ride that took me all over the US and to Amsterdam and Sri Lanka. It was great while it lasted as a part-time thing, but taking it on full-time and exclusively began to be, despite the perks, a prospect I greeted with considerable ambivalence. I’m glad to be moving on and am already feeling healthier from easing out of the role the past few months.

The company and I parted on friendly terms and we’ll still work together on occasion. And lest this post sound too preachy, I’ll note that I’ll be working with some other brands and beverage-related products too. I’m not leaving the business (and I still like to Bone Luge — I’m hardly one to rail against excess). However my work going forward will be much more focused on discrete projects and events; these are the most interesting parts of the job for me anyway. And when I’m off work, I’m really off, so I’ll be free to devote more time to projects outside the industry.

In the months ahead I’ll be more often on the non-drinking side of the bar. I’m still running the cocktail side of things at Metrovino, and also picking up one night at week at my friend Kyle Webster’s new spot, Expatriate. I’m currently working with six different companies in the drink world on a variety of projects. Recent forays into street performance have reignited my enthusiasm for magic and led to actually earning some money from it. And as mentioned above, I have book proposals in the works, so if all goes well I’ll be having to write furiously in the not too distant future. For now I’ve narrowly avoided full-time employment once again, but this is more than enough to keep me busy and may even loosely resemble a career.


4 thoughts on “On the brand ambassador lifestyle”

  1. Interesting! I had no idea what that job entailed (other than probably drinking). Sometimes, you gotta let your gut talk (no pun intended). Yours did. I doubt you’ll regret the decision.

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