Today, we are delighted to announce a new series of columns from writer and former bar owner Nate Brown. This week he takes a not entirely serious look at how to launch a new drinks brand…
There has been an explosion of new products launched over the last couple of years. Every week we are introduced to something ‘new’. From so-called craft distilleries to the big boys, any excuse to launch a new expression will be hunted down and executed. We’re bombarded with whisky from TV shows (we definitely needed those), more pink gin expressions (really?) and so many cask finishes it’s a wonder there are any trees left standing.
There is one thing all these newbies have in common, and that’s the launch night. Get it right and the entire industry will be abuzz. Get it wrong and the entire industry, well, will be abuzz also. With so many launches to ‘enjoy’, you’d think the industry would have arrived at a fairly formulaic process: invite guests, show off, have a nice time. Everyone leaves a little wiser and a little happier. But oh no. No, no, double no. Again and again, a product launch party rolls around that makes my jaw drop, and not because someone is pouring something delicious. You’d think the hospitality industry would be better at hospitality. You’d be wrong.
To illustrate this, I have collated a few steps of how not to launch a product. All of these have happened. Most of these have happened more than once. Some are repeated again and again and for the love of Christ, I have no idea why. Please don’t try this at home.
Choose a suitable location for the launch. Chances are you won’t have bothered with your own distillery, and instead contracted out production. Without a distillery, the world is your oyster. How freeing! Choose your favourite zeitgeist bar, preferably somewhere in whatever suburb of London you live. Just make sure that it’s a blank canvas, or at least has an identity of its own that has nothing whatsoever to do with yours. You know how confused journalists get, must be all that drinking! A cunning trick is to send the stock as late as possible, or maybe not at all, to make sure those pesky bartenders don’t drink any beforehand. Sure, you could partner with someone whose brand story overlaps with yours, and they could bring a host of folks to your party, but this is your party, why let them steal your limelight? Exposure is measured in seconds, people!
It’s important to remind everyone of how cool you are, and how hard you’ve worked. This should be a party, and when do parties happen? Why, Friday nights of course! It’s not as if people will have anything better to do.
With your raison d’être, a date and neutral location sorted, next is the guest list. There are two schools of thought: one is to invite industry players, although bar managers, bartenders, bar owners are all too flaky to come to things like this. I mean, if they can’t be trusted to sack off the bar for a Friday party celebrating how hard you’ve worked and how cool your brand is, then to hell with them. What do they know? The second, time-honoured approach is to invite the stalwarts of the trade press. It’s their job to report on what you do, which makes it a doddle. They won’t even need explanations, hosting or entertaining, and they’ll still pop a lovely little mention of how cool you are and how hard you’ve worked online. Everyone’s a winner, especially you. Now that’s value.
One thing we can agree on is do not, under any circumstances, invite those with a social media presence. Sure, they may have thousands of eager followers who hang on their every word and buy the most ridiculous skincare placebos for buckets of cash, but they don’t work in the industry, so you’d have to spend your entire evening curating some sort of explanation of the processes behind your wonderful brand. If they don’t know how exactly a Coffey Still works they’re beyond help. Nah, just ignore them. This social media fad has no power and will never catch on anyway.
That’s the guest list sorted. Now the easy bit – the running of the evening. It’s a product launch; all your guests know the score and each other. Just have them turn up around 7pm and your work here is done. Better make sure they get some drinks, but this spirits game is an expensive business, so don’t go crazy. If you have a cheaper expression, offer them that instead. Bespoke cocktails are overrated. And bartenders all of a sudden seem to know their worth, so any Tom or Dick will do. Better still, just put an arbitrary cash tab behind the bar, that way your guests don’t even have to drink your brand. Remember, the slower the drinks flow, the longer the free bar lasts, the cooler this party looks. Simples.
It is wise to avoid looking like you (or anyone for that matter) are in charge. Keep people guessing, it’ll give the guests something to talk about. Otherwise, you’ll spend the entire evening answering questions and putting out fires. It’s your job to start the fires. Look hot. Maybe get your flirt on. Alternatively, have that one member of your team you dislike the most wearing a branded tee (you can get these done super cheap online). That way they can act as question fodder for the annoyingly curious attendees, leaving you free to chat up the cool kids and the hotties.
Do not even consider hiring a photographer. You want people to loosen up and let their hair down. Who wants that on record? No, in fact, don’t do anything that stands in the way of a boozy one. Think about instead confiscating people’s phones. We don’t want any embarrassing pictures online.
If you really must, make some sort of speech to introduce the brand. But personally, I wouldn’t bother. Who likes to have their evening interrupted with a speech? This isn’t a wedding. Besides, these hermit-like journalists probably haven’t seen each other since yesterday’s launch, and will have plenty of catching up to do without you sticking your nose in. Just get drunk, get your team drunk, and have well-deserved blow-out. Lead by example. Better for everyone to talk about that totally epic party you had than to walk away sober.
If things go according to plan, your guests will be so drunk that they’ll struggle to remember their own coats, so I wouldn’t bother with any takeaways or gift bags, they’ll only get left in the Uber.
By which stage, you’ve achieved what you set out to do. You’ve unleashed your product to the world. Leave the journalists to do whatever it is journalists do, then wait for the orders to come rolling in. You’re a game changer. It’s time to enjoy yourself. Get your friends to come, just make sure they get there before the bar tab has run dry. Maybe even get on the old winking app and swipe right a few times. You’ll never look so glamorous to a stranger as when you’re hosting your own product launch. Guaranteed lay.
And there you have it. At least until next week’s launch.
Nate Brown has owned and operated spirit specialist cocktail bars in London for the better part of a decade. He’s a regular speaker on industry panels, a judge for various spirit awards and has been known to harbour an opinion or two.