Wild Geese: Colin McGough, Pernod Ricard, Dubai
Marketing man raising a glass to life in the fast lane
Colin McGough: “I was tasked with growing the brand.”
Marketing alcohol in the Gulf States may sound like a Sisyphean task but for Colin McGough it’s just the latest step in a fledgling marketing career that has already taken him from Ireland to America and India.
McGough arrived in Dubai in July to take up the position of trade marketing executive with Pernod Ricard, following three years spent as brand ambassador for Jameson whiskey.
He is responsible for helping to promote all the different brands under the Pernod Ricard umbrella in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain.
Strict alcohol laws mean that activity is mainly focused on the airport duty-free trade, something that is significantly more important here than in other countries.
“Duty-free sales are massive; it’s the easiest way to buy alcohol here,” he says. “It’s like a big off-licence because you can’t legally walk down to the shop and pick up a couple of bottles of wine. If I’m travelling, or if my roommate is, we’ll say ‘what do we need?’ And pick it up on the way through.”
Promotions are often focussed on events, such as the grand prix, and McGough is getting used to a new type of clientele.
“Some of the guys here are super rich and wouldn’t think twice about spending a couple of grand on a bottle of whiskey or wine.
“My specific job is to activate the brands in the airport. For me it’s great because I’m getting marketing experience which is translatable, I hope, to my future aspirations, whatever they may be.”
Originally from Blackrock in south Dublin, McGough studied business at DIT where he focused on marketing. After graduating, he applied to join Jameson’s graduate programme as brand ambassador following a suggestion from a lecturer.
“The interview process was very rigorous but it gets you thinking on your feet. To even apply you have to make a video as to why you’re the best person for the job. I knew this was something I’d be good at and the option of travelling around the world would be an added bonus.”
After an intensive training programme at the Jameson distillery in Dublin, McGough was spirited away to Florida for his first placement as brand ambassador.
“I was tasked with growing the brand by tasting it with consumers, educating the public on the Jameson brand and engaging with bartenders to let them discover the best ways to try it,” he says.
“You’re very much left to be creative in your own way. I was coming up with bartender incentive schemes and you’d reward certain accounts and give them special Jameson gear. I covered practically every inch of the sunshine state from Key West to Tallahassee with Jameson branded merchandise.”
After a year in the United States, McGough spent two years working in India, first in Bangalore and then in Mumbai.
“Going from Miami and Tampa and Orlando to India was a culture shock, to say the least,” he says. “In Florida everyone knew everything about Irish whiskey. In India, people didn’t know where Ireland is on a map. It brings you back to basics.”
One challenge was getting used to a completely different business environment. “Things that you would think are basic and should get done with relative ease take days or weeks there. Certain aspects were frustrating, such as agreeing a time to meet. I wasn’t used to Indian time.”
He says his trick was to throw himself into Bangalore life and get to know his audience. “You have to immerse yourself into the culture and not just in the business sense. You need to try the food, dancing, Hindi. It brings a smile to their face and breaks the ice.”
By comparison, the move to Dubai has been “pretty seamless”. “Ninety per cent of people who live in Dubai are expat and lots are Indian. There are lots of Irish too, particularly teachers. It’s a great city and there’s plenty to do.”
McGough says living abroad has made him more conscious of being Irish – and more proud.
“I’m back every Christmas. You tend to look at Ireland with rose-tinted glasses because you’re back at Christmas when everyone is home.
“I’m very much aware that things aren’t as good as they should be at home and I’ve been given an opportunity by an Irish company to go and explore and build by own career so I’m very thankful for that.”