If there’s a bigger (and more friendly) personality in the drinks industry than Illy Jaffar then I’ve yet to meet them. Even people who don’t know Illy Jaffar think he’s one of the biggest characters the sector is lucky to have. That’s the influence and impact he has. But with very good reason. For this is the man who can lay claim to bringing the phrase “experiential” to drinks before anyone knew what it meant. He even convinced his then employers, Pernod Ricard, to make him its Head of Experiential Marketing. A lot of experiences have passed by since then and he is now running his own drinks, management and brand consultancy, Kinetic Creative Communications, helping the likes of Iron Maiden along the way. But then he was once in his own rock band. He’s also one of our key panelists at March’s breakthrough One Step Beyond conference. Here’s the world of marketing according to Illy Jaffar and why we should never forget that if you work in drinks you are also in the entertainment industry.
If you genuinely want to think outside the proverbial box then you have to get Illy Jaffar involved. Richard Siddle tries to keep him in one place long enough to answer his questions.
This may take some time but can you give us a breakdown of your career in drinks?
So I came back from LA back to LA (Leeds Area) after living the rock n roll lifestyle for a year or so and thought I better try and grow up a little. I landed a temp job in the accounts dept at Asda head office. We were based across the road from the main office and would venture over for lunch – it was buzzy and terms like “trading floor, buyers, marketing, merchandising and model store” punctuated lunch conversations from tables around us.
It was a world I wanted to be part of.
A few months later it was announced that our function was to be closed. All but a handful of us were moved on and I moved in to the main office.
I spent time in bakery inventory management, then grocery and then into BWS and wine. The latter was steep learning curve – from stuff that could be ordered on a 24-hour delivery to wine from New Zealand that would take three months to get here, before taking into account bad weather and clearing customs. Factor in ranging cycles and it really was like spinning plates!
It was during this period that Nick Dymoke-Marr and I became colleagues and friends driven by our mutual love of great music. He was a real mentor.
An opportunity soon arose and I joined the wine buying team as buying assistant eventually winding up as a buyer.
As part of the role I became increasingly front facing in terms of media and press tastings and the legendary Alan Crompton Batt was hired to help build more direct relationships with the wine writers and soon I moved to London to look after the Asda account and spread my wings.
I moved to Focus PR to look after IWSA, Direct Wines etc, but then quickly looked to do my own thing in music and looked after a number of artistes including Mercury Prize winner Talvin Singh.
After three world tours I came back looking for something more substantial again. A few days after returning I received a call from a headhunter and in 2003 I joined Pernod Ricard.
How did you get the experiential role at Pernod?
I created it! I lobbied hard. I guess the seeds were sown when I was at Asda. I was responsible for our consumer stands at the BBC Good Food Show – we were so busy it was just a wall of people sticking out their glasses. Very little communication or ‘messaging’ about wine was going on.
I re-thought the approach to make it a walk on stand with lots of wood and barrels and an expert behind each wine pod. People then spent more time on the stand and learnt more. Couple that with music and canapés it became what we would now call “an experience”. We also sold a shed load of wine!
Pernod Ricard had some fabulous brands, but was also in a heavy period of acquisition. The Ricard empire was founded “on make a friend a day”, “put a glass in someone’s hands”. This had worked well but when you have brands with visceral provenance, a personality and an ecosystem you could truly bring these brands to life to an increasingly savvy consumer – think Havana Club for instance.
It instigated a mindset change – and we became an internal agency, a business within a business that was an integral part of the brand planning cycle rather than a reactive afterthought. It was much more strategic.
How do you look back on your time at Pernod and the role you had?
I have nothing but great memories of my time at Chez Pernod Ricard. I joined at a great time, worked with some great people, learned a lot, travelled and had lasting impact – I hope – well the experiential team still exists! I loved that two of their values was entrepreneurship and conviviality
What were the best and most effective projects you did there in terms of the experiential and consumer side of things?
(click on the below for the event that really influenced every drinks event that followed it. The inspirational Stolichnaya Rise Up – Jaffar’s masterpiece!)
There were many. I guess Piece of Havana – a six city takeover bringing Cuba truly to life (food, music, aromas etc) sticks in my mind. Chivas Studio and, of course, Stolichnaya Rise Up (which involved taking over and turning an old London music venue into a recreation of Russia – click on the link above).
Was it arguably a role that was a little too ahead of its time for what you could ultimately achieve?
Perhaps. If I remember some of the ribbing comments around my job title – but its now firmly embedded as a term at least in marketing terminology.
Could you sum up up your approach to marketing and going about creating a campaign for a target consumer?
Knowing and understanding that consumer is vital. It sounds obvious, and simple, but we’ve all scratched our heads at certain campaigns that have have left us wondering who they were talking to and why?
Digital is not a panacea – it should be part of the mix, but its not the answer to everything. Especially when you are trying to bring life to a wine for instance.
What are the USPs of Kinetic Creative Communications, your own consultancy business?
As a networked boutique consultancy we can deliver big thinking without the big agency overheads. I have an enviable black book which helps deliver over and above!
How did you get to work with Iron Maiden and what did you do for them?
They were one of my first clients when I set up I’m proud to say. I worked with the management team at Robinsons Brewery to create their five year strategy plan for TROOPER beer brand.
They are a well oiled machine musically and interestingly they have protected the Iron Maiden brand, so it remains an iconic brand to fans and non fans alike.
Tell us about your own musical past?
I was in bands since the age of 14. The band that supported New Model Army and went of to LA was called No Respect. Thank god it was well before YouTube so there are no videos around.
- Illy Jaffar’s Kinetic Creative Communications business is focused on helping brands and businesses that starts by helping them to truly understand who their customer and consumer base is. Developing strategies and marketing ideas that then help them to connect with those consumers in the most effective way possible. As Jaffar says the key is to always find a “fresh, agile and bespoke approach” rather than go back to the tried and tested. “We have a reputation for being unconventional, but also for being truly collaborative,” he says.
- Illy Jaffar will be speaking at The One Step Beyond 2020 conference being organised by The Buyer and Sophie Jump in association with the Wine & Spirit Trade Association. Its main platform partner is Emetry and it is also being supported by her 5 Forests, marketing and comms specialists.
- It will include specialist talks on breakthrough technologies such as voice and augmented reality from technology experts and examine what impact they are having on e-commerce, the subscription and experience economy and traditional retailing. Top industry figures will then assess how best to implement and make the most of these disruptive technologies in the drinks industry.
- The event takes place at The Other Palace Theatre, 12 Palace Street, London SW1E 5JA between 9.30am to 5pm on March 4. It will also include a drinks reception sponsored by Freixenet Copestick.
- Tickets are available priced at £195 per person (plus VAT). Places are limited to 100 people and there are only a few places left so early booking is vital. To register click here.