By @SimonCocking. Great interview with Stuart McNamara West Cork based International Food, Drink & Travel Writer-Blogger . Editor of and Judge

Your background briefly?

My professional background over the last thirty years has been in telecommunications leadership at enterprise level working both in Ireland and abroad. I also have a strong background in Entrepreneurial and Intrapreneurial leadership.

Is it a logical progression to what do you do now?

Well, the real catalyst developed through my voluntary work in sports and social entrepreneurship. Having grown up beside the sea in West Cork, I had a lifelong interest in boating, sailing and marine tourism. I spent ten years as a National Trainer of the Irish Sailing Association. This was a voluntary unpaid appointment in which I developed several national boat training and boat safety schemes for Ireland. My strong technology background led to me being an early adopter of the web and digital world and I would have had one of the first websites in Ireland in 1998.  I won several national and international awards for innovation in what was then known as web marketing and which later became known as Digital Marketing. Most of my projects were boating and marine tourism related. I developed a very successful marine training and tourism company called Hodson Bay Water Sports in the midlands and also created the Irish Lakelands and Discover West Cork tourism brands. But all of this although very successful, was just hobby or fun stuff in my spare time. Whiskey and Irish Whiskey in particular was another lifelong passion but we’ll come to that later I guess.

Irish whiskey has gone through a turbulent time, ie from many companies, to 1, to now booming again, is that a fair characterisation?

Absolutely, one hundred years ago, Irish Whiskey was outselling Scotch Whisky on the east coast of the US. But then the Irish blew it all away over fifty years of complacency and an insular, parochial mindset. In recent years, we have copied to a limited degree the earlier successful strategies of the Scotch Whisky industry. There is a definite renaissance in Irish Whiskey today with a range of new distilleries being built and planned. Some by experienced industry professionals but many also by enthusiastic or worse, opportunistic amateurs, most of whom will fail. Future Irish Whiskey Bubble warning signs are already visible and I have written about the dangers.

How has the branding of Irish Whiskey evolved over time?

Following the Scotch model in the early part of the last century, Irish whiskey consolidated by closing down a myriad of struggling independent distilleries and consolidating its efforts into just two main distilleries in Midleton and Bushmills. These two distilleries pretty much produced all Irish whiskey made from 1980 until the Positive Disruption influence of Dr. John Teeling in 1987 who against great odds and difficulties, successfully established the Cooley Distillery and Brands. This incredible achievement suddenly challenged the dominance of Irish Distillers and Diageo and forced them to react, triggering the Irish Whiskey Renaissance.

Tell us about your role in this evolution?

The IrishWhiskey.Com Project

Three years ago it came to my attention that “Whisky.com” had sold for $3.1 to a private German investor. My own international sources informed me that IrishWhiskey.com was under threat of going the same way.

The IrishWhiskey.com web domain had been parked by an American domain investor since it was first registered in the 1990’s.

I informed my own contacts within the Irish Whiskey industry, but unfortunately no one seemed to realise the future importance of this domain and digital branding to the Irish Whiskey Industry and Irish Whiskey Sector as it expands globally. As I already alluded to in my article on “Protecting Irish Whiskey”, the current crop of young and relatively inexperienced Irish whiskey marketeers do not seem to be able to work collaboratively and think only of their own brand rather than also considering the value of marketing the sector as a whole.

As no one within the Irish Whiskey industry seemed willing or able to take protective action, I decided to put my own money where my mouth was. After a year of negotiations, I finally secured the private purchase of IrishWhiskey.com. As I am now the sole owner of this key web domain, it is in safe (Irish) hands for the immediate and long term future.

For the last year or so, I have been building project teams to develop various digital marketing projects around Irish Whiskey and Scotch.  We have been carefully building up IrishWhiskey.com into an international information portal for Irish Whiskey. I have also secured many of the more important country specific “IrishWhiskey.***” domains including .Fr, .Cn , .JP,. Mx, . Com.Ru, .Lv, .Tw, .Kr,.Me,.Vn,.HK,.Br, .Co.Za etc.

The first of these international Irish Whiskey sites is now fully live at http://IrishWhiskey.Fr . As you will see we have partnered with a local French Whiskey Blogger who takes on the role of site editor in return for a share of the advertising revenue for that region. She not alone interprets my articles from IrishWhiskey.com into perfect local French, but she also writes her own articles and reviews on Irish Whiskey from both a French and Female perspective.

The French model will be rolled out on the other international Irish Whiskey domains as we identify local whiskey bloggers of style and substance. I already have an experienced Glasgow based Scottish Journalist and Whisky writer lined up as editor of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Whisky Trails.

Irish Whiskey Trails and Whiskey Tourism

In addition to IrishWhiskey.com, I own and edit some new Whisk(e)y tourism sites in Ireland and Scotland which are presently being rolled out. We are working very closely with the Irish and Scottish National Tourism Authorities to develop and promote these sites internationally in the coming year.

These include:

  • The Irish Whiskey Trail http://WhiskeyTrail.ie Facebook/IrishWhiskeyTrail @WhiskeyTrail.ie
  • Dublin Whiskey Trail http://DublinWhiskeyTrail.comCom/DublinWhiskeyTrail @DubWhiskeyTrail
  • Cork Whiskey Trail http://CorkWhiskeyTrail.comCom/CorkWhiskeyTrail @CorkWhiskey
  • Belfast Whiskey Trail http://BelfastWhiskeyTrail.comCom/BelfastWhiskeyTrail @WhiskeyBelfast
  • Edinburgh Whisky Trail http://EdinburghWhiskyTrail.comCom/EdinburghWhiskyTrail @WhiskyEdinburgh
  • Glasgow Whisky Trail http://GlasgowWhiskyTrail.comcom/GlasgowWhiskyTrail @WhiskyGlasgow
  • Scotch Whisky Trail http://ScotchTrail.com (in development)

The whiskey trail sites award free listings to the top 20 or so whiskey tourism venues in each area on an annual basis (Like a Michelin Star). Venue owners are given full editorial control over their listing on the site where they can post news and events. While we charge a nominal fee of €x a year for each whiskey brand or expression listed on the site, we never charge the venues listed for excellence. The sponsor brands are also listed as display options on each venue-listing which serves that brand.

We are working closely with both the Irish and Scottish National Tourism Authorities as we develop these innovative new Whisk(e)y Tourism sites.

The importance of Irish Whiskey Tourism has now been belatedly recognised by the Irish Whiskey industry where at http://www.abfi.ie/Sectors/ABFI/ABFI.nsf/vPagesWhiskey/Media~Newsroom~irish-whiskey-tourism-strategy/$File/Irish%20Whiskey%20Tourism%20Strategy.pdf they are now calling for the development of an Irish Whiskey Trail which in fact has been in existence for the last year.

IrishWhiskey.Pub and ScotchWhisky.Pub

A similar but slightly different project is based on the same web technology platform as the whiskey trail sites. Irish Whiskey Pub at http://IrishWhiskey.Pub  and IrishWhiskeyPub.com allows free listings to any Irish Whiskey Pub in the world.

Again, Whiskey brands can take sponsored brand and expression listings at €x per listing. We see this as being driven by the brand ambassadors of our advertising partners. If Whiskey Company A has brand ambassadors in Paris, Tokyo and New York, then their brand Ambassadors can create free listings for pubs etc. selling their products in those cities. Pub owners, once listed can then claim and manage their own listings for free. It’s a nice gift for whiskey ambassadors to give to their partner pubs around the world. It also means that IrishWhiskey.Pub should quickly become a global directory of the very best Irish Whiskey Pubs in the world and the whiskeys they serve. In other words, we should quickly develop a consumer searchable resource of every pub in the world that serves Green Spot, Redbreast, Black Bush, Tullamore DEW Phoenix, Powers John’s Lane etc.

As the website is smart phone friendly, it means that any one arriving as a visitor to New York, Paris Tokyo etc. can quickly find a local bar that serves their favourite Irish Whiskey.

A similar “Whisky” project is being rolled out at ScotchWhisky.Pub

The Pooka Scale

I have developed the Pooka Scale http://Pooka.ie as a simple guide for newcomers to Irish Whiskey and Scotch Whiskey. We will develop some infographics to support this later this year.

Whiskey Pod Casts

I have plans later this year to start pod casting about Whisk(e)y using the following domains. WhiskeyPod.com

IrishWhiskeyPod.com

IrishWhiskey.TV

WhiskyPod.com

We are partnered on this project with an experienced UK based radio and Pod Cast producer who will look after the technical production elements.  The reaction to our first Pod Cast efforts here has been very encouraging.

Irish Whiskey Day (03 March)

Cyril Briscoe (who developed the Galway Whiskey Trail for Galway and Irish Distillers) is a close friend and associate. Cyril is currently developing IrishWhiskeyDay.com for me. This will be an and international Irish Whiskey promotion event to take place on 03 March (3/3) each year.

This date was picked because of the significance of the number 3 in Irish Whiskey. Traditionally triple distilled, three core types of Irish Whiskey (Single Pot Still, Single Malt and Single Grain) and three phases of creating Whiskey (Fermentation, Distillation and Maturation). 03 March is also exactly 2 weeks before St Patrick’s Day.

We see Irish Whiskey Day as an opportunity to educate the 17 March Irish Diaspora audience about Irish Whiskey in advance of the big day, so they can embrace it and appreciate as part of their culture and heritage rather than perceive it as a “shots” type drink.

Give them cheap shots and they drink it once a year. Educate them as new Irish Whiskey aficionados and you will have many of them for life as new customers. It’s all about building and embracing a tribe of new whiskey drinkers.

How important is digital branding now?

Digital branding is essential to internationally market the Irish Whiskey sector in a crowded and challenging global environment. Irish Whiskey companies have still, in my opinion, an awful lot to learn about effective strategizing of digital marketing. The main reason for this is the knowledge-experience chasm between the young tech-savvy interns lacking strategic level marketing experience and the experienced older marketing managers who have little understanding of digital marketing potential. I’m sure that this chasm is also common to many other industry sectors.

What would your tips be to a new producer looking to enter the Irish Whiskey market?

Stand out from the opposition for reasons of quality and innovation. Dare to be different.  Quality of product, branding and packaging with real rather than token innovation which always augments but never detracts from the core Irish Whiskey values of heritage and excellence. Some of the main companies have already damaged the emerging US Irish Whiskey market by pushing Irish Whiskey as a cheap shots drink. The newer, smarter brands are promoting art, culture, nature, science and heritage among new US based Irish Whiskey drinkers. I mentioned this already when talking about Irish Whiskey Day. We should aim to build a caring tribe of Irish Whiskey Aficionados as potential life time customers. Education in our branding and marketing messages is key.

I’m a huge fan of positive disruption and am very much against attempts by the “Big Guys” in Irish Whiskey to dictate and control the development of the sector in a way that suits their safe and predictable thinking. If they succeed, the life and passion currently firing the sector will be sucked from the industry and the bubble will slowly deflate. My final advice to new producers? Stay independent, stay true to your own core values and don’t be dictated to by the big guys. I admire the positive approach, innovation and independence of new distilleries and brands such as West Cork Distillers, Hyde Whiskey and Glendalough.

Anything you would have done differently?

I never set out to “own” the Irish Whiskey digital brand. The reason I now do so is because of the complacency, negligence and lack of joined up thinking of the Irish Whiskey industry / sector over the last few years. If I had not taken the initiative to rescue, protect and consolidate the Irish Whiskey digital brand, there would now be none.

I sometimes wonder if there was more I could have done at the time to convince the industry chiefs. At the time, I briefed everyone from the Chairman and CEO of the fledgling Irish Whiskey Association to the Sales and Marketing Directors of leading individual brands and distilleries, but to no avail. So, we are where we are. But because of my decisive action, the “Irish Whiskey” Digital Brand is in safe and responsible hands.My door is always open to the industry and sector to move forward together and get Irish Whiskey firmly back on the digital tracks.


If you would like to have your company featured in the Irish Tech News Business Showcase, get in contact with us at [email protected] or on Twitter: @SimonCocking

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