6th April 2022

The Post: Brand Ambassador, McConnell’s Irish Whisky

The Post Holder: Sarah Kennedy

Strong communication skills are central to Sarah Kennedy’s role as a Brand Ambassador.

Give a brief outline of your career to date.

As an undergraduate I worked in both Retail and Hospitality. After graduating in 2015, I started an internship at Willis Insurance and Risk Management where I went on to become an Insurance Broker for five years. In June 2020, I became McConnell’s Brand Ambassador at Belfast Distillery Company. Since then, I have helped to grow our brand both locally and in 15 markets internationally, and we are currently planning to open our own distillery and visitors centre in Belfast later this year.

What was your favourite subject at school?

I enjoyed a lot of subjects but Sociology was my favourite.

Did you go on to further/higher education, if so what did you study and where?

I studied Business Studies at Ulster University in Jordanstown. I later completed a Certificate and Diploma in Insurance through the Chartered Insurance Institute, and more recently Level 1 with the Wine & Spirit Education Trust.

How did you get into your area of work?

In February 2020, I attended the launch of McConnell’s in Belfast City, and this is where I fell in love with the story and the enthusiasm the company had for the product and the brand. I was one of the first to sample the amazing five-year-old Irish blend and being from Belfast, I connected instantly with McConnell’s brand. The whiskey industry is growing rapidly and I was excited to be a part of it.

Is this what you always wanted to do?

My dad worked in sales in the milling industry for 25 years. He acted as a great role model and his work ethic and passion inspired me to study business. Although my role is different, there are so many similarities including believing in the product you are selling.

Were there any particular essential qualifications or experience needed?

Having industry experience is desirable, however any roles which demonstrate strong communication and organisational skills is useful. Social media skills and being active and effective online is also required.

Are there alternative routes into the job?

Before becoming a Brand Ambassador, you might be involved in product production, marketing, sales or even just be a loyal customer. With so many training courses and graduate opportunities available to enhance your expertise, there are many ways to prepare you for the role.

What are the main personal skills your job requires?

Personal skills are essential. You need to be a strong communicator and storyteller, with the ability to educate others on your brand and unique selling points. Being open to learning more every day, particularly all there is to know about your brand values and the markets you work in, is vital too.

Above all else, you must have passion for your product and a real belief in what you do. If you are enthusiastic about the brand you represent then that will translate to consumers.

What does a typical day entail?

An average day consists of brand education, visiting key stakeholders, organising trade shows and tasting events, engaging with customers, entering tasting competitions and awards, and working with the sales team, brand agencies and photographers to create advertising content and marketing material.

What are the best and most challenging aspects of the job?

Working with so many people is the best part of my job. I feel like I have hundreds of colleagues in a variety of industries all over the place.

I also love contributing to the brand campaigns and enjoy the travel opportunities. Sampling new products is of course a major perk.

Taking on the role of Brand Ambassador during a pandemic meant limited contact, so the biggest challenge was finding new effective ways of engaging with customers and consumers. Social media and Zoom soon became my best friends, to ensure customers got the best experience from our brand without needing to see them in person.

Why is what you do important?

Having an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the industry helps me bring McConnell’s Irish Whisky to life and tell the story behind the brand. In the alcohol industry, it’s also really important that we are a responsible business. Engaging with consumers on the history of the product and where it came from means it’s about much more than just consumption. It’s about enjoying the spirit in all its glory, understanding its taste and heritage.

What advice would you give anyone looking to follow a similar career path?

You can never know enough about the Irish Whiskey industry, and there are so many resources out there. My advice would be to educate yourself, get your name out there, join a whiskey club and be yourself.

If you weren’t doing this what would you like to do?

I think I would have gone into teaching. I love showing someone something new. That’s one of the best aspects of being a Brand Ambassador too.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to yourself on your first day?

Building brand awareness does not happen overnight. Be patient and relationships will form as long as you continue to work hard. Don’t let the knockbacks throw you off. Persistence and being personable goes a long way. And finally, have fun.

How has Covid-19 impacted your business/role?

My job involves a lot of travel, showcasing McConnell’s Irish Whisky at trade shows globally and visiting distributors to reach new customers. Limitations to travel and restrictions on our local economy meant we lost out on opportunities for physical interaction.

What adjustments have you had to make?

Working remotely, I had to meet with our new partners and distributors online and spent a lot of time couriering product instead of hand delivering. It’s hard to beat that personal touch but we made it work.

Describe your ideal day off.

A road trip to the Antrim Coast with my daughter. I would spend the afternoon on the beach and have a BBQ, and maybe a whiskey or two with my family and close friends. 

And finally, what’s the key to any successful job search?

Look for roles you think you will love. Don’t settle. If it’s a job you are passionate about then you will work hardest to get it. It’s also never too late to change your career path. If you find a role that is better suited to you ,then go for it.

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