“It truly is a travel show for foodies with a drinks hook rather than a niche show about one particular drink.” That’s how Helena Nicklin describes the marked difference and approach to how she and her presenting partner, Aidy Smith, have pulled together the content and tone for ‘The Three Drinkers in Ireland’ TV series that is now airing on Amazon Prime. As they film their third Amazon series (this time focusing on what France has to offer) we revisit this article from earlier in the year when Nicklin and Smith also give their advice to drinks brands about how best to present themselves on film and how the more you can tone down the corporate and company line the better.
The Three Drinkers are back for their second series on Amazon Prime (click here to watch). But this time there is a difference to the Three Drinkers’ line-up and approach to film making, as Helena Nicklin and Aidy Smith explain.
You are launching your second Three Drinkers series on Amazon – what is it all about it?
The Three Drinkers in Ireland aims to be an aspirational, gastronomic journey through the Emerald Isle. We touch on all drinks this time from cider to Guinness via Poitìn and Irish Cream and there is much more of a food and tourism focus.
Irish food and drink has come such a long way over the past few years, from world class, sustainable produce to Michelin-starred restaurants and everything in between. Like England, it often gets branded as being ‘simple’ because people don’t really understand it, so we wanted to shine a light on the more creative, quality-driven side. Post Covid, we also wanted to choose somewhere that was closer to home with lots of fresh air and green and open spaces. Also, to be honest, Ireland just seemed like the perfect follow-up destination to Scotland for those who came with us on our first journey too.
(Click below for a teaser from the new Three Drinkers in Ireland series on Amazon Prime)
How would you describe your approach to the programmes you want to make and get the balance between being educational but also entertaining?
This is often a tricky one, especially as our production model is branded content rather than external funding by Amazon. To get the balance right we do have our work cut out for us, but years of writing for consumers has helped. We’re also lucky that the brands we work with usually work with us because they’re keen to be showcased in the more lifestyle way that we have developed. We need to keep the brands happy with the right messaging while making an entertaining, interesting show, so it’s always a bit of a juggle.
Having the presenters get involved in something while learning about the subject helps strike the right balance and we are careful to include lots of editorial, tourism-based scenes around the more geeky stuff where we have free reign to do what we like.
What have you learned between doing your first and second series ?
We have learned a lot. The main change from series one came from us taking a good look at our audience and deciding who we wanted to talk to. We’ve realised that we want to be a voice for consumers rather than the trade in these shows, so we doubled down on that and decided to focus on all drinks and food rather than a singular spirit to geek out on. Now, it truly is a travel show for foodies with a drinks hook rather than a niche show about one particular drink. We will carry this on through to our future series too.
What we have learned about TV production is staggering. The two of us are involved at every step, from inception to pitching, creative scripting, location scouting and researching, through to shooting, approving the edit, voice overs, all the marketing and more. We are not just helicoptered in to present, which many people assume.
There is also a strong food element to the Ireland series – what did you cover and discover?
The food was a revelation. We caught and tasted the famous eels from Lough Neagh, learned how to farm oysters and mussels, discovered Ireland’s first ever blue cheese, filleted a giant monkfish and tasted first-hand why Irish beef is so darn good. What also really impressed us was the sheer amount of top end restaurants now available around the country, from Irish-Japanese fusion to uber modern, Michelin-starred, farm-to plate restaurants.
How much input does Amazon have in terms of the tone, content and direction of the programmes?
Absolutely none. Zero. Our relationship with them is for non-exclusive distribution only and we chose this route so we could hold onto our own vision for the show, sell it into airlines and other platforms globally as well as keep the IP. It’s much harder this way, but makes sense, especially now we can see series one flying around China and also, quite literally, on airlines. These other platforms have given the show a whole new lease of life.
How do you put each episode together – in terms of managing the content and what you include and want to get across ?
First, we build our itinerary based on the stories we want to tell and the places we want to go, having had numerous conversations with our funding partners and done a lot of research on the area. Each episode has a set amount of longer and shorter sections, with slots logged for in-car, A to B content, so when we have a rough itinerary, we then drop in the relevant segments. It’s like a massive, creative jigsaw.
How do you decide which drinks companies and brands to feature in each episode?
We start with a wish list of where we want to go and who we would like to feature based on our own knowledge and a lot of research. After that, we approach the brands we would like to partner with. They don’t always say yes, of course, but we’ve been lucky that most have seen the opportunity for what it is: a fantastic way of getting their brand seen in a lifestyle, non salesy way to a global audience.
From there, we make sure we support smaller brands that simply don’t have the budget to commit to a show like this, so we feature them on an editorial basis. This helps us showcase the wider story of the region and tell some wonderful stories that might have otherwise been missed. It’s great that the larger brands generally understand this and the fact that their involvement supports their industry as a whole, versus making it solely about themselves. It feels nicely collaborative.
You have a different concept for your “third” drinker for this series – who else are you working with and why?
This is true! We love Colin [Hampden-White] to bits and he is still very much part of the business. He even features in episode six of this series. With him taking over the whisky world and being less available ,however, we saw this an opportunity to do something that really appealed to both of us in this new world, and that was doing our bit to make the drinks trade a more inclusive place.
Nowadays, the ‘Three Drinkers’ concept is Helena and Aidy with a deliciously diverse roster of guests to allow for a wider range of stories to be told. This is now our focus with the podcast as well as the TV series. In Ireland, we welcome two guest presenters: Irish sommelier and co-founder of ‘Drag & Wine’ Beth Brickenden and American lifestyle writer and influencer, Eulanda Shead-Osagiede.
What advice would you give to drinks businesses when looking to make good, strong, engaging video content?
Stop with the swirling glasses and flowery tasting notes and show the drink in a more lifestyle setting – as they are meant to be taste. Make sure there is laughter and a light touch. Be a personality versus a corporation and have a voice that you believe in and something you stand for. Appeal to the hedonists. Booze is a luxury product after all, not something everyone wants to sit an exam in to enjoy. Ultimately, talk to your audience in a way that they understand and relate to, build an emotional connection with them because you are willing and want to understand what they are all about. Listen to them and react.
What are the big lessons you have learnt personally about the type of content that works and how you go about producing and presenting it?
Irreverence is appreciated and we can see that with everything we make. Having a mix of more fun, lifestyle content with deeper dive, educational things works too. The engagement is different but you need to mix it up. We all know regular content does better too, but it’s not always easy to make sure that happens.
The biggest lesson has been to pay attention to our audience, because that is what matters with the content. For years, we worried too much about what the wrong people thought and often steered content so they would like us. We’ll always have people who don’t like our style and there will always be trolls, but that is ok. All the bad times have just made us focus more, keep growing and do better.
What next for the Three Drinkers?
There will be a drinks product launch to celebrate the Ireland show and we’re already in pre-production for series three. There’s no stopping us now.