Sophia Angelis, SVP Marketing Director B-F International, Brown-Forman Beverages
How did you get into the spirits world and when did you realize that it was the right industry for you?
As I look back, I would say the thread that runs through my entire career is of premium and luxury lifestyle brands, rich in stories and meaningful to consumers. I started my working life, working for two different 5-star hotels in Athens, Greece, followed by the Luxury Product Division of L’Oreal in Athens, and then in London working on brands such as Lancome, Armani fragrances, and Biotherm. Those formative years taught me the importance of creating valuable brands, for the company and consumers alike. I always found lifestyle brands inspiring, personally interesting, complex, and creative. When I moved to London twenty years ago, I saw a tiny ad in a magazine advertising a UK Marketing Manager role on Southern Comfort (formerly owned by Brown-Forman) and went for it. Imagine how happy I was when I then learned that Jack Daniel’s was part of the Brown-Forman portfolio of brands! Twenty years and eleven B-F roles later, I think the spirits industry is one of the most creative, exciting, fun industries to work in.
You run the marketing initiatives for half of Brown-Forman Corporation, which includes Jack Daniel’s, Jack Daniel’s Honey, Woodford Reserve and other brands internationally. What are some of the biggest challenges with that?
Brown-Forman International, which basically covers all countries outside of the USA and Canada, is a division of the company that covers sizeable geography, comprising 197 countries, and spanning across 27 time zones. Having a conference call where you’re trying to get Sydney, Louisville, London, and Capetown on a conference call is a regular challenge and requires flexibility and a certain level of compromise from all involved. Being based in London is actually a good middle ground. I’m never too far from an airport taking me to another part of the world. From a performance perspective, Brown-Forman is in the fortunate position to have continued and balanced growth both geographically—in the developed as well as emerging world – and from a portfolio perspective. The challenge with that kind of growth is primarily how we choose to prioritize resources. It’s a good problem to have.
What are some of the most rewarding parts of your job?
People. It’s really people who define and shape culture and this is particularly true of Brown-Forman. People here truly live the company values of respect, integrity, excellence, teamwork and trust—you wouldn’t thrive here if you didn’t. I had my first International Marketing meeting in November last year and, as I looked around the room at those 30 marketers who came from around the world I was both humbled and inspired by their diversity, experience, and intellectual caliber. It felt like a mini-United Nations convention and I couldn’t be more proud of this team. Traveling to different countries and spending time with the local teams is probably one of the favorite parts of my job. I consider myself incredibly lucky to be afforded this opportunity to work on great brands, travel, get to know people, and experience new cultures.
What are your thoughts on the progression of how spirits are being marketed to women in today’s society?
In the spirits industry, we are still finding our way. Marketers are trying to find the right balance between communicating and reinforcing the values and personality of their brands—traditionally and often more masculine in some categories—while also becoming more inclusive to women. Like with any other brand, if you go too far and overtly cater to one segment, there’s a backlash that comes with being patronizing and not understanding what your audience wants. We often talk about Jack Daniel’s as a case in point. Whilst the brand has a very clearly masculine personality, we talk about masculinity as a reflection of confidence and strength, thereby appealing to women and men alike. I thought the JD team did a brilliant job in a recent "His & Hers" social media post with the same bottle of Jack Daniel’s for both "His" and "Hers".
Favorite cocktail and why?
I have two! Gentlemen Jack Sour for when I’m out and about or pre-dinner. Smooth, balanced and complex, it’s a real treat and my favorite way of drinking whiskey. The other one is Finlandia Vodka Grapefruit & Tonic. Crisp and refreshing, this is my at home go to drink, particularly in summer.