By Rob Allanson

Welcome to Whisky Magazine

I could hardly believe my ears when I heard that the three-man Whiskey Professor team had been given the chop and not just because we gave them the Icons of Whisky awards last year.

For those that don’t live in the US, the Whiskey Professors were Beam Global’s education team. They travelled across the country giving tastings and organising debates to highlight the differences and similarities between Scotch and Bourbon. We felt that this was an innovative approach to consumer education, hence they won the Global Whisky Ambassador award 2009.

Really we have to ask ourselves what is the price of education in a recession. I know that we have been going through one of the hardest economic times since year whenever, 1929 actually, but sometimes I do wonder about why these decisions are made.

The consumer surely needs more guidance and encouragement to part with their money when things get tight. We all like a drink and want to feel we are getting value for money.

I assume that the main rationale is to save money, but does that do the public any good?

What Beam had was a three man hit squad, an education team par excellence. While by getting rid of them the company saves money, where does that leave the consumer who wants to know more about bourbon and who, by being given an educated choice, may buy Beam’s products and increase the firms profits.

Being a curious journalist type, off went a swift email to see what the company line was. The response was fluffy: “As we work to “Build Brands People Want to Talk About,” it’s paramount that we focus on brand education and outreach with our trade and distributor partners. To achieve this objective, we have created one area of the company that brings all of our spirits ambassadors together to fuel best practices, stay on the forefront of trends and promote our brands through training, events and overall outreach. This newly integrated team, which encompasses one ambassador per spirits category along with two mixologists, will spearhead our efforts in the industry throughout the U.S.”

Now I know Bernie Lubbers has been kept on by Beam in this education role, mixing with the companies other brands and spirits teams, but the US is a pretty big place and there are bound to be some places that don’t see Bernie’s engaging style of liquid lessons.

I guess what I found really ironic was that a couple of days later Beam announced it was to sponsor the US curling team for the Olympics. Noble? Yes. Profile raising? Maybe. Educational? Not really, but a few journalists got the chance to try their hand at one of the most ancient of sports. Will this sponsorship deal be good for the brand? Curling is hardly a top-line sport in Scotland, far less the States.

I know that Beam is not the only company reducing its number of brand ambassadors during this period of cost cutting, but it strikes us at Whisky Towers that education is if anything more important during tough economic times. This is when consumers need to be educated and persuaded to part with their money. Cutting education now to save money in the short-term merely stacks up problems for your brands in the long-term.

In the words of a former British Prime Minister, we believe the emphasis.