Name: Brent Lamberti
Brand Represented: elit by Stolichnaya
How did you first enter the bar and nightlife industry?
The summer before my senior year in college (2000) I was interning at Sony Music. As summer was coming to a close, so was my internship and my boss at Sony had the great idea to get me a bartending gig. I had zero experience and I’d never even had a drink before. He knew a couple that owned a restaurant down the block from his place in TriBeCa. After a few minutes of small talk and a few lies I got the gig.
How did you become a brand ambassador representing one of the most exclusive vodka brands in the world?
Two acquaintances of mine, Willy Shine and Aisha Sharpe, were running a consulting group, Contemporary Cocktails. They were looking for some new bartenders to join their burgeoning company and I made the cut. While working with them I made friends with a fellow who ran an experiential marketing agency that represented elit. He thought I would do a good job representing the brand locally and he offered me the NYC ambassador role.
Everyone takes different paths to their career and building their resume in the industry, but what is your best advice to anyone interested in becoming a brand ambassador?
You need to have passion and the desire to be engaged with your brand and audience. Honestly, there is no direct path; anyone can make a Vodka Tonic. You need to be able inspire others to make a better version of that Vodka Tonic.
It would seem that specific types of personalities work best in a brand ambassador role. Would you say that’s true?
It’s funny because before I had this role, I never thought I could do something like this. I went to school for broadcast journalism, so I always had aspirations of being on television. I used to watch ambassadors and would think, “I could never do that,” but in many ways it's an extension of my journalism degree. I also do a ton of research on the topic I’m presenting about and then I boil it down to a digestible format for my particular audience. In terms of personality, it doesn’t hurt to be outgoing and confident. Honestly, it’s like anything else – the more you study and know, the more confident you feel.
What’s one thing you wish you would have known before you began your career as a brand ambassador?
I wish I would have learned to use PowerPoint and Excel better. I’m always giving presentations and I like having a visual aid to accompany what I’m saying. For sales work, everything is done in Excel; it really helps to know shortcuts and tricks when working in spreadsheets.
One of the greatest things about working in bars, nightclubs and restaurants is the various perks. What are some of the perks of being a brand ambassador?
The greatest perk is all of the people you get to know. One of my mentors, the late and great JP Frosina from Empire Merchants in NY, told me my greatest assets were the contacts in my cell phone. He was right – people and relationships are the key to everything.
What are some experiences you’ve had being a brand ambassador that stand out?
A lot of things pop into mind because no two days on the job are the same. Some that stand out include: taking a helicopter out to the Hamptons, being asked by Francesco Lafranconi to lead the Vodka portion of SWS LV Spirits Academy, visiting Moscow, Tambov, and Riga, our PWS launch events, the Billions TV premiere, elit Ibiza bartender weekend, and being a presenter at TOTC. All pretty amazing!
Obviously, a lot of people want to know you, and many of those people want things from you. What are a couple of the oddest, most interesting, most rewarding or flat-out most challenging requests you’ve had from an owner, operator, manager, bartender, etc.? And were you able to deliver?
The people I work with are actually very reasonable. Most of the times it’s an honest relationship that we continue to build upon, not an outright request. I’d like to think I’m are ahead of the curve in terms of requests and like to think out situations completely so that nothing is too unexpected.
Speaking of being asked for things, what are brand ambassadors prepared to do for operators in their territories?
That really depends on the operator, but various jobs include: sales support, staff education, consumer interaction, spirited dinners, cocktail development, event support, and guest bartending.
Let’s say I’m an operator about to open my doors. How do I get in touch with brand ambassadors so I can start things off right?
Usually, one of the bartenders would know a brand ambassador! If not, speak to your local distributor who represents Stoli; they would have the best access to us.
Point-blank: What should a great brand ambassador be prepared to do for an operator?
You should be prepared to be a support system and a problem solver. One of my greatest pleasures is helping operators and their staff on a slow night. I love to brainstorm ideas or programs that will bring customers through the door and in turn drive some consumer sampling of our great product.
Do you have any tips for operators when it comes to truly maximizing their relationship with a brand ambassador?
Just be real and follow through. My name is my reputation and I expect the same from you.
What can bartenders do to maximize the relationship between a brand ambassador and the venue for which they tend bar?
First of all, bartenders are the best. I would say to just keep an open mind. I work for a vodka brand, I know it’s not the coolest thing to bartenders. But vodka pays the bills and there is such pride and passion behind vodka in Eastern Europe. Be open to letting me show you some of that passion.
Is the relationship between a brand ambassador and a venue limited to operators and bartenders?
Of course not! I have and facilitate relationships with consumers, distributors, friends, and family. They are all fair game when it comes to education and brand advocacy.
People make mistakes. What are some of the things operators have done or do that you wish they wouldn’t?
I’m happy to say that almost all of my operators are true to their word. I understand the ebb and flow of business in the nightlife space but as long as there is an open dialogue, we’re good.
Can you share anything with our readers about exciting new products they’re going to want to get their hands on?
If you have the money and you are a vodkaphile, definitely try our elit Pristine Water Series Andean Edition. It’s an amazing vodka!
We’ve pointed out before that brand ambassadors are often exposed to and educated about trends before they really take hold. What are your predictions for what we’ll see and what will be hot in 2017?
I'm not a big fan of the word “trend” because trends come and go. Quality lasts a lifetime. There are tons of great bars and bartenders doing fantastic things all over the world. I'm not just speaking about cocktails, I'm speaking in general about the hospitality space in general. That's what gets me excited. New and innovative ways to have an amazing experience.