Welcome to this edition of the Shared Spirits Industry Influencer Interview Series. This weekTony Bagnulo is our featured guest and we’re thrilled to get a chance to visit with this US Army veteran and 14 plus year spirits industry professional.
Sherman: Tony, welcome! You’ve been active in the spirits marketing and brand activation business for 14 years now. I’m excited to hear more about your views on this important part of the industry. You’d have some street level sales roles in the past and have made some pretty quick progress in the career path to agency ownership. Share a little about what moved you into the industry in the beginning stages of your career.
Tony: Thanks Sherman. My career journey began out of being in the right place at the right time. The abbreviated story, is that my brother-in-law was founding a beer import company, was telling me all about it and I jokingly said “That’s great, when do I start?”. I had spent a lot of time working in bars and restaurants in my home town of Atlanta, so I figured I had the experience. He called me a few days later and asked if I wanted a job. In less than a year after that conversation, I found myself living in NYC selling import beer up and down the streets of the East Village. That was more than 15 years ago and since then I’ve been able to work on a wide array of beer and spirits brands on a local, national and global level. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Sherman: You’ve built a company around the tasks of brand development, management and more. What are the biggest needs in the industry right now? What do you perceive to be some of the industry’s biggest challenges?
Tony: My agency is focused exclusively on boutique, independent and craft beverages and the word on everyone’s mind now is “consolidation”. As the big distributor houses consolidate many smaller brands are concerned about finding space in the distributor’s warehouses and getting share of mind once they gain listing. One of the biggest challenges will be how to break through that, in order to find space on the shelf and in the consumer’s drinking repertoire. The biggest need to address that challenge is no different now than it has ever been. You have to have great creative, great marketing and a well-executed plan. It was that way before consolidation and it will be that way long after we’re all gone.
Sherman: Share with us your point of view around brand activation. I’ve written some articles around the shortcomings of agency work in that area and how brands aren’t being served as well as they should be. Would you concur or is that a smart spend for brands in its current form?
Tony: Brand activation is critical. Even with the ever evolving marketing landscape, there is nothing more important in adult beverage adoption than trial and association with unique places and experiences. I would agree that there are many brands aren’t being served well and that many brands default to the traditional sampling model, but I also believe that driving sampling and execution is critical to brand adoption and ultimately creating account and consumer pull.
Sherman: When you and your agency are serving the clients you want most, what types of clients are they?
Tony: Most of my clients are smaller independent brands. We currently run the gamut from a small craft whiskey distillery from the Upstate of South Carolina, to an Ultra Premium tequila brand part-owned by one the most famous Hispanic celebrities in the world. Most of our clients are looking for powerful marketing, but more than anything they are looking for a voice with distributors and representation in market.
Sherman: What are you seeing coming next for the spirits industry oriented agency?
Tony: You see this throughout the marketing world, but I believe the traditional agency model is dead. Brands and clients want powerful creative, executed at hyper brisk speeds, without the cumbersome overhead typically associated with marketing and advertising agencies. Spirits marketing, in particular is notoriously behind the times and I think that agencies that can be fast, effective and hyper re-active to consumer trends, while driving sales will be
Sherman: Tell us more about your work with the Dedicated Brand Rep Network mentioned on your site. What’s that all about?
Tony: We believe that representation in market is critical, but hiring sales reps can be cost prohibitive for many smaller brands. Given that, we provide a shared market resource that minimizes cost for representation, while ensuring focus in market. We are basically your distribution, sales and in-market ambassador arm. We’re different than most broker models, as we are brand focused and we approach everything from a consumer and account perspective. Our job is to build brands, not to just push cases into market and we pride ourselves in our ability to do just that.
Sherman: What have I missed Tony? I know I’ve not asked the question you’ve most wanted to answer. What else might you want to share with the spirits, wine and beer world?
Tony: That should about cover it. I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to share a bit about my background and what we do.
Sherman: Tony, this has been great. Tell our readers how they best connect with you and your company? Any socials or profiles or links you wish to share?