Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Whisky Profile - Cara Laing, Head of Brands Marketing at Douglas Laing & Co Ltd

Whisky Profile - Cara Laing, Head of Brands Marketing at Douglas Laing & Co Ltd, she said...

Part of the ever surprising whisky journey I'm on involves meeting people like Master Distillers, Ambassadors, Bloggers and so many more.  One of the things I'm always fascinated by is how did they get to where they are?  What exactly prompted them to end up in the field of whisky? Do we really know what a "day in the life" is really like? I set out to find out.  Over the course of the next 12 months I'll be profiling several people and some may be a bit of a surprise as I don't plan on focusing on just the "famous".  I really want to talk to the people who are responsible for whisky from ground to consumer's whisky cabinet.  So...

I am very pleased to have Cara Laing as my first profile subject for a few reasons: 1) The recent split of the two brothers Fred & Stewart Laing.  2)  She is one of the upcoming and bright faces of the next generation of whisky personalities, 3) Her decision to leave Morrison Bowmore to join her father Fred at Douglas Laing & Co. and 4)  Marketing... a little known avenue for me personally. What better place to start.

So why did I consider the split between two brothers when choosing Cara?  As I watched the twitter feed on the day everyone was posting the news release of the spin-out I noticed people seemed to be very interested in talking to either Fred or Stewart and if you follow twitter at all you will have noticed many did just that. A writer/friend and I were talking and he strongly suggested I approach Cara.  "Totally different perspective and a fresh look when you think about it", he said.  I quickly took the advice and I'm thankful to know such a brilliant journalist because Ms. Laing did not disappoint. Here is my interview:

Q1: Of course, tell me a bit about yourself.  Who/what/where/when and why the whisky world?

A: My name is Cara and I was born in 1982 to Fred and Ann Laing. I am engaged to Chris Leggat also a 2nd generation whisky maker/producer, and getting married in October.  Growing up I was fortunate to know some key "movers and shakers" in the Scotch Whisky industry well enough to call them "Uncle". As such, from a very early age, I heard about these magical distilleries around Scotland as well as terms like Blended Scotch, Vatted Malt, Single Malt. My dad would also be jetting off around the world for weeks at a time meeting distributors and customers coming home with gifts for me and amazing stories. I'd be lying if said by age 5/6 I understood it all but I certainly picked up on the excitement of the world of whisky! 

Through school and university I focused on business but whisky was always there and very much part of my life. It was only when I started at Whyte & Mackay in early 2006 as the Jura Brand Manager that I really started to truly love whisky.  My dad often said to me:  "It's in your blood!"

Q2: I don't know many 5 year olds that say I want to make whisky when I grow up so how did you get to where you are now? 

A: After university I worked in an advertising agency for a year and that's when I realized I wanted to move to 'client side' marketing. I heard Whyte & Mackay were investing heavily in their Malt brands with new packaging and marketing activity so I got hold of the Marketing Director's contact details and harassed him until he agreed to meet me. The rest is history! 

I had 3 wonderful years as Jura Brand Manager - working with great people like 'Sir Richard Paterson', tasting some incredible whiskies, spending half my life on Jura and ultimately learning about whisky - how it's made, how to taste it, how to market and sell it.  In January 2010 I took a position with Morrison Bowmore where I totally fell in love with Bowmore and Glen Garioch.  It's also where I met Chris!

BOWMORE alchemy...
I started as Brand Manager for Bowmore and then went on to Marketing Manager for both the Bowmore and Glen Garioch lines. It was an amazing period where again I learnt so much and worked with many great people. I was lucky enough to get out to Islay regularly and never got tired of visiting Bowmore's legendary No.1 Vault warehouses or tasting Bowmore spirit straight out the cask! Truly magical! 

I would have very, very happily stayed at Morrison Bowmore but Douglas Laing was always my first priority. It's the company my grandfather Fred Douglas Laing established 65 years ago in 1948 and my dad (also Fred) has driven and developed since before I was born so when the big changes in the company began to take place it was ideal timing for me to take all the experience and knowledge I've picked up over the years and join the family business. I'm only officially a month into my role as Head of Brands Marketing but so far so good - I'm loving what I do and really enjoying learning from & working with my dad.

Q3: Do you think having your last name helped you along or did you find yourself feeling pressure to find a path of your own (not in the shadow of your family name)?
A: We're not big enough I don't think for the Laing name to have much bearing either way. I certainly never used industry contacts to progress my career. I didn't want favours from Fred's industry friends or associates. I wanted to do it myself.  I only clarified the Laing link when I was offered my roles at Whyte & Mackay and Morrison Bowmore as I felt I needed to make them aware of the association - thankfully it was never a problem!

Q4: How do you manage to stay balanced in your life? From what I've seen from friends with this type of career, it seems to involve many sacrifices and little private down time.  (I have received emails from them working at 11:00pm on a Friday!?) 

A: The whisky industry definitely demands a lot of your own personal time - I am regularly on emails late at night or attending whisky shows over a weekend but it's fun thankfully.  I'm also lucky that I have a great group of friends so that certainly helps give me balance as I make a point of making time with them or specifically not discussing whisky.  When catching up with my parents, we now have an agreement of no whisky chat! My poor mum has heard a lot of work discussions over the last 6 months, so now nomore! 

Q5: I love my mum & dad, BUT I could never work with either of them. How much thought or preparation went in to making this type of directional change in your career? Did you have to think about it or didn't even hesitate to say yes to?

A: We are lucky as we do have a great relationship.  Fred & I are very similar in terms of personality and views on the business so it works. For a long time a lot of people just assumed I would go directly into Douglas Laing however I wasn't so convinced I would. I always liked the idea but I really enjoyed the jobs I was in. That said when the question was asked, it was not a tough decision to make - it didn't require any thought. As much as I loved working at Morrison Bowmore it was an immediate yes when Fred asked me to join the family business.

Q6: What does a day in the life of Cara Laing look like? 

A: I get up at 6:00 and run 6 miles with my marathon partner and great friend Claire. I arrive at work around 8am then it can vary massively... It could be doing anything from briefing in new packaging concepts to our design agency, number-crunching, meeting customers in our sample room, organizing events, updating our social media activity to circulating press releases. 

One day varies to the next and that's hugely satisfying. I then head home, catch up with my fiancĂ© whilst making/eating dinner together and inevitably end up talking whisky. I then have a long soak in the bath - possibly doing the odd email at the same time! Then it's off to bed around 10:00 - 10:30."   Cara


Definition: Process of communicating the value of a product to customers of course with the purpose of selling said product.  It is a "critical" business function when it comes to attracting clients.  Marketing is a two way street that satisfies the needs of the company and the wants of the customer.  It is a means for creating, delivering and communicating with the customer base while benefiting the company and its shareholders.  It involves market analysis, understanding consumer buying behavior, knowing the competitors and building client value.  (Now that was a mouthful...)

What does it mean?  Well in my opinion anyone can make a product but without a sound marketing plan it might flop!  Example:  Can you say "New Coke"? In 1985, Coke decided to reformulate their recipe.  It created a huge backlash by staunch "Classic Coke" drinkers.  It only lasted 3 months and cast a long shadow becoming one of the biggest examples of a failed marketing plan by a well established and successful brand tampering with what "worked". 

How about a brilliant marketing plan: Selling water. Twenty years ago people would have said, are you crazy?  Who would be stupid enough to buy water?! Yet somebody somewhere had a brilliant marketing campaign and others jumped on that bandwagon because by 2009, 100 billion dollars was spent worldwide on bottled water.  The average glass of tap water (1st world countries) cost about 1/10 of a cent per gallon while bottled water is about 90 cents per gallon.  That's 560 times more expensive.  Crazy indeed?

The marketing team, in my mind, is the glue that brings everything together when it comes to the product.  They have a hand in creation (objective), they check in to see what market is doing (buyers needs/wants), then they compare to other products (competition) and lastly they prepare the tools necessary to bring that product to market (promotion).  Like Cara stated in her interview with me: One day she could be meeting with the Master Blender discussing new whiskies, organizing a tasting panel, reviewing packaging concepts or using social media to inform whisky drinkers and the very next day doing some financial paperwork, travelling to a distillery, planning a whisky show exhibit and then meeting clients.  

Yes, it's important to start with a great whisky but without a smart Head of Marketing, nobody might ever really know how good that whisky is?  So thank you Cara for giving us a small insight into your world and I look forward to seeing where you take Douglas Laing next.  Wherever it is, I'm convinced you will do a phenomenal job!

As for me there is another whisky journey just around the corner and I can't wait to bring you along.   Until then, I am off to the beach for a couple of weeks.

I will come back a well rested and happy Lassie  :)