You’ve finally done it – opened your bar, launched your spirit, won your first cocktail competition. So now what do you do? Time to call today’s guests!
Since the moment I met them, Alex Chatwin and Alex Irving, Co-Founders of LX PR, have been Lush Life’s number-one fans, and it is such a privilege to have them on the program with me.
These women have grown their company to be one of the most respected drinks PRs not only in London but all over the world.
Today, they share the story of how they became LX , as well as give some great tips for anyone starting a new brand. So if you are a new bar or a spirit, this episode is for you!
Watch it on YouTube
Cocktail of the Week: French 75 & Gin Martini
Since we have two guests, we have to have two cocktails of the week. I asked them to name two of their favorite cocktails, and they both picked classics. Alex Irving picked the Gin Martini with a twist, and Alex Chatwin picked the French 75!
Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Alex and Alex. Just remember that I own the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of Lush Life podcast, with all rights reserved, as well as my right of publicity. So if you want to use any of this, please email me!
Susan: Well, I’m so excited to have you guys on the program. I’ve known you for what feels like forever and it’s crazy that it’s taken us this long to get you behind a microphone and to hear your stories.
Alex Chatwin: I know. We’re so excited to be here.
Alex Irving: Here we are. Thank you for having us.
Susan: Sure. Now for the listeners, it’s going to be hard for you guys because they’re both called Alex. So we’re going to do Alex C and Alex I. I always start with where you guys are from and how you got into this. So who wants to go first?
Alex Chatwin: You go first!
Alex Irving: Because I’m the oldest? Yes. I’ve been for the longest time.
Susan: All right. That was Alex Irving is starting.
Alex Irving: Where I’m from? I was born in London and grew up in both in London and Devon and actually Essex. My parents moved a bit when I was younger. I think I’d always wanted to do PR when I was, I remember when I was at Uni, I was always leaning towards the communication side of things.
So when I finished, I did a Master’s in communications and did loads of work experience and being a 22 year old, really into my fashion and I thought I wanted to do Fashion PR and started doing it and actually realized it wasn’t quite right for me and I got a job doing the PR for Borough Market and really enjoyed the food and drink side of things.
I went off to go and do more PR in another food and drink specialist agency and then went to an agency that specialized in more. I think from there I realized I really enjoyed the restaurant drinks world more. I went to another agency and started doing that a bit more where I then met Alex.
We met a large lifestyle agency that’s specialized in huge array of things. Yes, it’s an awesome agency. And, we worked on the drinks team together, worked across lots of different things, but specifically on the drinks team. Then I left in 2016 to go traveling, came back and Alex and I were freelancing together. That was my side of how I ended up at that point.
Susan: Alex C Wait a sec. I have a question for Alex. So what was it, and I will ask you the same question probably, but what was it about PR that you thought was, or should I say why did you think that PR would be for you? What was it about that industry that you thought would be make a great future job?
Alex Irving: Do you know what? I don’t know what it was. I think I was always really, I enjoyed, writing and, I think I was leaning towards journalism or communications of sorts. I did have an interest in the idea or the concept of telling a story or communicating, but I don’t think I was probably a good enough writer to actually then go into something like journalism.
I think the idea of the communication side and presenting a story or a brand, I think always appealed to me. But to be honest, when I was younger and I first started out before I done my Masters, I think I’d liked the idea of it, but I didn’t really know what it was.
So that’s why I did a Master’s. Because I was a bit like what is trade media. What’s the difference? And that’s why I decided to do a Master’s in it and just learn a bit more and have another year of doing experience, and I think that’s what appealed to me. I think the idea of PR itself was the idea of taking something and telling the story of the brand and looking at the communication element, making sense how you tease out the different messages.
Alex Chatwin: And I think as well because I similarly had an interest in journalism when I was studying, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to go into. And I think then having work experience, being a writer you’re quite independent or working by yourself, whereas PR does involve being part of a team, which I think has an appeal.
Alex Irving: I’d say that’s, yes, I think that’s really what it was. I think it was telling the story and then it’s the way I then went from working on quite a wider range of things to then really honing down into drinks. It’s probably more my personal interest.
Susan: Now Alex, see, where are you from?
Alex Chatwin: I grew up near Cambridge, and then I went to university in London. I studied English Lit, so I knew I wanted to go into some kind of Comms role. I just wasn’t sure exactly what that looked like. I think a lot of people when they graduate probably feel a bit like that.
I obviously had part-time jobs and stuff as a student and did always really enjoy working in hospitality, but it wasn’t until I got my first in internship in PR. It was a small startup agency and we worked across a range of lifestyle clients, so from fashion through to food and drink.
It was there that I realized I enjoyed working on the food and drink side a lot more than the fashion necessarily. Alex was saying there’s really interesting stories to tell and I think whenever you’re working with a brand or a bar, you can really get into their history or a heritage or an inspiration that’s there for you to talk about.
That was when I worked on my first spirit brand client, which was a vodka. So I was quickly inducted into the world of drinking vodka martinis.
Alex Irving: Yes. Yes. Same. Yes, I suddenly learned how to drink Martinis.
Alex Chatwin: Yes, then I moved to the agency where Alex was working and that was where we met.
As Alex said, we worked across a wide range of things, but primarily on the drinks team. We both had a real passion for that, Alex moved abroad and then shortly after I went freelance, so I was freelancing in London and focusing on drinks clients, but we were working together on bits from afar whilst Alex was abroad. When Alex moved back to the UK that’s when we started doing more and more together and it went from there.
Susan: Had you worked together when you were in the agency on the alcohol brands?
Alex Chatwin: We had. I hired you.
Alex Irving: Yes. Yep. You did.
Susan: Good hire. Good hire.
Alex Chatwin: I know. I remember being asked in my interview what I would order in a cocktail bar, what I’d order to drink, and I thought I think I want work with this person!
Susan: I love that. Now asking that question could be dangerous. Did you want a specific answer?
Alex Irving: No. Do you know what? I quite often ask people that when we interview someone, and there’s literally no wrong or right answer. I think I said Gin and Tonic. I think it’s just more you can tell by their answer if they’re enthused by drinks and the drinks industry.
Then that’s where you can see if whether they’d be right on the drinks team or if they’d maybe be better on the restaurant team, for example. There is literally no right or wrong answer. It quite often, if someone asked me, I’d be like it depends on the mood. You can get the idea of someone’s interest in drinks by how they respond. And so that’s generally why I used to ask it.
Alex Chatwin: I think we still ask that question now of people. But yes, it’s also just nice to know.
Susan: I guess you can tell someone if they say a Negroni versus like a Midori Sour, or a Grasshopper.
Alex Irving: There’s always an interesting story behind it. If someone was like my favorite drink is, I don’t know, Pina Colada when I’m on the beach and the Caribbean, I’d be like, yes, good for you.
Alex Chatwin: You don’t necessarily need to have a really extensive understanding of the industry to start in PR in this sector, so we would never, never judge on someone’s response, but it’s also good in terms of a conversation and it gets the story going as well.
Susan: Yes, absolutely. Now, when you came back from traveling, Alex, were you looking to get right back into drinks PR?
Alex Irving: Yes, because I’ve been doing a little bit whilst I’d been abroad, freelancing. When I came back, immediately, we just started doing more together and freelancing.
Susan: So it was pretty organic. You came back and….
Alex Irving: When I was away, because we’d always been quite close, hadn’t we? Yes. When we worked together at our old agency, we were super close and we got on really well. So I think when you left and were doing things, sometimes I’d help out or whatever it might be.
So it just felt natural that when I was then starting to plan on coming back, we then started to just do more together. But it got to the point where we then had a few clients and then people were like, “Could you guys, could you get a name? Because people keep asking us who does our PR? And we’re like, it’s these two girls called Alex?” So that’s then how it came to be. We were like, oh yes, that might be a good idea. We should get a name.
Alex Chatwin: Then we went round, round around and landed on LX . We basically got rid of the vowels from Alex. So there we go.
Alex Irving: We have Tim Stones to thank for that. Tim. So you know Tim Stones in Sydney, Hickson House Distilling, he used to be the Brand Ambassador for. Beefeater. I worked with him for years and when, I saw him, I was talking to him that we were trying to think of a name and he was like, what about LX and that’s how LX came to be.
Susan: Do you did you choose any other names that you laugh at now and you’re like, oh, thank god we didn’t call ourselves like artichoke or something?
Alex Irving: No. I don’t know if we, did we?
Alex Chatwin: I think whatever we tried to land on just didn’t seem right, I can’t remember any standout ones now.
Alex Irving: I don’t think we had one. I think also the problem is, obviously if you were going to do anything with A and A, it just doesn’t work. We were like that’s not going to work.
It was funny because I found an old notebook the other day and it’s got A and A branding. So it’s obviously when we didn’t have a name and we were trying to think of things. I don’t know if there really was a good front runner.
Alex Chatwin: Maybe should have gone with the A Team, but yes. that, that was already taken so.
Susan: And that’s destined. Look what happened to it, right? The show was canceled. So you don’t want that one. When you got first got together and you started getting all these clients, was there ever a time when you thought, oh wait, we should launch out into something else? Or was it just like one drinks brand after the other kept you going and until you just grew and grew?
Alex Chatwin: I think at the outset we decided that we wanted to have a specialist focus. Having that specialism works quite well in that obviously you build strong relationships with journalists that cover that area, so it lends itself to that naturally.
I think we felt like that was where our specialism and our knowledge lied, and that was where we felt we could probably with clients as well deliver the best work. I think because the opportunities have presented themselves in the way they have, I don’t think we’ve that need to.
Alex Irving: We did sit down right at the outset when we were like, let’s do, let’s do this.
We were just, like what do we want to do? Who do we want to work with? What do we want to be? We were quite clear on that. And, also when it came down to new business, we gave ourselves a little criteria of when we would look to take business on.
There’s a few points. What’s the story? I’m building that into a factor of using that as a checklist when we were taking on clients, so we would be quite maybe luxury is the word, but to work for ourselves and to be able to say, actually we want to work on this project, or this might not be suitable for us. And be quite specific about what we wanted to be and what we wanted to do.
Susan: At the outset, were you thinking, because you handle so many different things in the industry, you handle brands and bars and people and, I guess I want to say collectives, things like the World’s Best 50 Best Bars and things like that. When you started out, were you thinking, we’re just going to do spirits, and then all of a sudden a bar came and said, Hey, could you handle us? And then a person came and then all of that how did it start off and continue from what started off with.
Alex Chatwin: I think at the beginning we knew we’d probably have clients that ranged across bars, bartenders, and brands and drinks brands. We say the drinks brands that bartenders would use or be excited by because of the story they have, and I think because they obviously go, they work quite well together, they go hand in hand.
You’re having an understanding of the bar world. You know, what they want to get out of brands and vice versa. So I think that works quite well. I think when we set up though, we didn’t have an idea of how we are going to grow X amount in X amount of time. We definitely, we did not have that at all.
I think we were just, let’s see how this goes. Yes, I think at the outset we had a clear vision of the types of clients we’d like to work with, but I think we were very much seeing what happened, putting ourselves out there, and then it’s grown from there from that.
Alex Irving: Yes.
Susan: And, was it first off liquor brands?
Alex Irving: Our first client was Italicus.
Susan: A biggie. Exciting!
Alex Irving: Yes, because I think they were about a year into launch as well. We’d known Giuseppe for so long. So, yes, we worked with Italicus and Porters Gin, they were first, I think two of our first clients, weren’t they? Then Cask as well, so Cask Marketing. So we did some projects for their clients.
Alex Chatwin: They work with like OCHO and Quiquiriqui Mezcal, they have a really amazing portfolio of brands.
Alex Irving: Then, we also were doing an ongoing work with Ryan (Chetiyawardana) by that point when we launched Cubs.
Alex Chatwin: …and Super Lyan in Hoxton. We started working with Swift, that was probably a bit later.
Alex Irving: That was maybe a few months in, but we’ve always worked with Alex (Katrena) and Monica (Berg), yesI think I’d always been doing stuff with them or freelancing for them. So that then naturally came. So I think it was predominantly the brands and then the Lyan team and then it grew from there.
Susan: Right, because when I met you in Edinburgh a billion years ago, it was for Porters, I think that was the first event, was a Porter’s thing in Edinburgh, and that was four and a half years ago! Amazing.
Alex Irving: It’s coming up for five years I think, it was 2018, so, yes, it was probably actually predominantly the brands that we had first, Silent Pool Gin. We got brought on quite quickly with them and did a big campaign for them, Chelsea Flower Show. So that was quite a big project that we took on quite early, but yes, it grew from there.
Susan: I think it would be interesting for everyone to hear your process, if you don’t mind sharing it. When someone comes to you, either a brand, a bar, obviously everything is different and needs are different. Maybe just one or two examples of a brand that came to you that was going to be new in the UK or just starting. We’ll start with brand first as opposed to maybe bar and a person, how do you hold their hand and take them through the process.
Alex Chatwin: It’s great to work from a brand with a brand from the beginning. Everleaf was one of our first clients as well, probably a little bit further in. When that started, that was just us as LX and it was Paul Matthew, the founder of Everleaf.
Obviously, since over time as we’ve grown, Everleaf has grown. It’s been really nice to be on that journey with them. I think with brands it’s making sure that they have that story in place as to who they are and why they’re doing it.
Alex Irving: Clear messaging.
Alex Chatwin: Clear messaging, and an idea of who that consumer is that they’re going after, we can obviously help with that, but usually brands will come to us with an initial idea at least, of where that’s going.
I think one of the things as well we try and do with brands when we work with them, if we are launching them, is making sure that they’re not starting with PR too soon. I think quite often, obviously it’s super exciting to be launching a brand and there’s probably a long time that’s gone into getting to that point. But I think it’s important to wait until there’s certain things in place, like a certain level of distribution or availability for consumers and the ontrade, because there’s no point.
You only get one chance to launch, and if you launch, but then people read about you, but they’re not able to get hold of you. You lose that momentum, probably some of the key things we’ll look at when we start a conversation with a brand.
Susan: How about a bar?
Alex Irving: Again, it’s actually quite similar, I think, whoever you are working with, whether it’s a bar or a brand or a person for that matter, I think having an idea of what the bar, a product, having an idea of what your brand is. Because I think that it sometimes is what can be forgotten about when it’s a venue – people just think it’s a bar and it’s serving drinks, but what’s your USP, what do you stand for?
It doesn’t need to be that your USP is that you’re serving. I don’t know, completely wild drinks that are presented really woody. It could just be that your drink presentation is really simple and the aesthetic is very simple and it’s relaxed, aesthetic. I think it’s whatever your bar stands for; it’s identifying what the brand is, basically. Then pulling through from that. As Alex said, it’s having an idea of who your target audience is and then what your messaging and all of that jazz.
So I think that’s it. It’s very similar, but then on top of that, I suppose with the bar, there’s just a few other things that we would pull in. There’s a bit of marketing that needs to go in if it’s launching.
Alex Chatwin: I think with a bar you also think a bit more about where it is. Like physically, location obviously has more importance, whereas with a brand that is not, as it’s a different thing.
Alex Irving: I’d say when you start working with someone as well, I think the important thing is being realistic. For example, a bar comes to us and they might not have, huge amounts of budget, they’re just about to launch. Obviously, they’re spending a huge fortune on setting up the bar in the current climate. That costs enough, but then it’s being realistic.
So yes, they might want a really nice shiny piece in a big broadsheet publication when they’re launching, but actually if they’re a bar in Shoreditch or in East London, their target audience might not be reading that paper.
It’s being realistic about who your audience is and what they’re reading. If you’ve got limited resources, making sure that we’re using the publications that are going to help drive footfall. Because it’s all very well having the nice shiny piece, but if that’s being read by someone that’s probably not going to ever frequent your bar, then there’s not much point. It’s a waste of everyone.
Obviously, it’s as nice as that piece would be. So I think it’s just being realistic with timings and expectations and what would come from that and who we’re talking to again.
Susan: Of course, of course. Now, saying that you represent a lot of bars, internationally, renowned bars, should I say, that come to you from all over the world, and we’re not just talking Europe, but Chile, Ecuador, what do they expect from you?
Alex Chatwin: It is slightly different. Obviously, the bars we work with in London; very much a big part of what we do is that on the ground press with the local market in terms of driving your local consumer in. With International bars, it tends to be more of a focus on that international trade press, which we do for the London bars as well.
But with the international bars, it’s a bit more of that , it’s raising their profile amongst the international trade media. So you know, if it’s a bar that’s doing something really interesting, but they’re not in a place where a lot of those international trade journalists are based, they might not have had the same opportunities to engage with them or host them if they are traveling through.
Alex Irving: So for example, obviously bars and cities where they hold big, trade events or have close proximity to trade events where people might be frequenting and visiting and therefore might get to experience or be aware of what’s in those markets.
But I suppose to bars that just don’t have that international presence, you have to be realistic and we can’t work with everyone and not every bar’s going to be able, and I think that’s, when you say like, how we look at working with who we work with, when we’re working with bars.
I think you can’t do that for everybody. That’s where it comes back to us looking at and evaluating, what’s the story? What are they communicating, what are they doing that’s going to be interesting and how’s that going to then present itself to the journalist and the journalist going to be interested in what they’re being told.
Looking at making sure that there’s a strong USP and I think also making sure the expectations that they have of PR are something that we know we will be able to achieve and deliver for them as well. Then we do a bit of consumer media, so our bars in Paris for example, we do a lot of travel press as well.
It’ll be the Conde Nast Traveler Roundups, the best places to go in Paris or whatever it might be. Or Metropolitan now they’re onboard and in flight market is coming back. Having those pieces and making sure they’re being included in that side of things, but obviously, there’s a big focus on them having a more consistent share, a voice in the international drinks trade press.
Susan: Or drinks blogs!
Alex Irving: Yes, exactly.
Alex Chatwin: Yes. I think as well, there are consumer titles which have a bit more of an international focus in terms of what they talk about and they might be interested in certain trends or certain areas are suddenly a bit of a culinary hotspot. So it’s a bit more of a targeted approach in that sense.
Susan: Now talking about expectations, you’ve been doing this a while, you’re at the top of your field really, and I know this is a big question, but have you seen a change since when you began to today? Obviously, we’ve gone through a huge, global pandemic, but either what people expect or what is popular that surprises you or changes in the industry.
Alex Chatwin: Yes. I mean obviously the Covid happening did. Huge shifts in some ways, but in other ways from a PR perspective at least you spent two years rather than looking at a longer term strategy. Strategy being very tactical and reactive because the goalposts kept changing so much in terms of what venues and brands could do, or you know, a lot of brands pre covid might have had 75% of their sales at the on trade was suddenly in an overnight period having to switch and be completely consumer focused. So from a PR perspective, that is suddenly a really big shift in what we’re doing. Shift in terms of who we’re talking to, what stories we’re pitching about, about brands we well.
Alex Irving: I think this is the first year where we after three year, two years? Well, 2020. 2021. I think this is the first year where we’ve been doing our annual calendars and we’ve not been doing them six months, you know? Or even less. And also having a plan A and a plan B, like a little contingency.
We would always be like, this is what we’ll do. But obviously if we then go back into a lockdown, we will do this or there was always this. I think this is like the first year where we’ve been doing full 12. Back to doing normal strategic plans with just a touch with no contingencies.
Back to industry wise, I think what’s changed, I think there’s huge, more pressure on the industry now, particularly from a UK perspective, but I’d say in Europe globally as well. It so heavily impacted, as an industry, during Covid and then now with energy crisis and all the other elements that are now factoring into just the staffing shortages, everything that’s now factoring into still making it struggle for businesses to survive.
So I think things have got harder from that perspective. I think also actually another thing maybe is that there is more a focus on neighborhood bars and bars outside of the city center. I think the main bars were always just in Central London, whereas now obviously even just outside of London, but bars now are featuring in awards, winning awards or featuring are outside of London, Manchester or Liverpool, Edinburgh.
There’s more a focus in not just being in the city center, but also just in London. We work with Funkidory in Peckham which is such an amazing neighborhood bar. And Hacha in Brixton.
Alex Chatwin: And Funkidory just launched their second site in Camberwell.
Susan: Yes, I saw that.
Alex Chatwin: Another neighborhood area. I think perhaps in lockdown through things like cocktail deliveries, perhaps discovered some of the places that were on their doorstep, that they might not have come across as much before.
I think coming out of that now, there’s that loyalty there for local venues, as well. I think a time of crisis does also create creativity or put the pressure on for people to be creative and come up with solutions. So the bottled cocktail movement that happened during Covid is a reaction to people being able to make money whilst venues were closed. You’re now seeing some of those as well established brands in their own rights. So Tayer and Elementary RTDs are now becoming its own entity.
Alex Irving: Huge entity. Their business. But also the Mirror Margarita, Hacha’s Mirror Margarita’s just gone into Sainsbury’s which is amazing. It’s just a something that they were doing before lockdown, but obviously through lockdown that became such a key part of the business.
Alex Chatwin: I don’t know if people making cocktails at home in lockdown has maybe made them appreciate a well-made cocktail by bartender as well, definitely. Or even just people being a bit more explorative when they go to cocktail bar. I think that’s probably a positive mind mindset shift that’s come from that.
Alex Irving: I do think also, sorry, so much to say on this subject, but I do also think, and this is just something that’s continually changing. There’s more opportunity to write and talk about drink in media now. There used to be back in the day, I mean, I remember when I first started doing drinks, which was a very long time ago, there was very limited opportunities where you would be able to talk about drinks. It would be the drinks columns which was normally wine and then there might do some drinks.
Very, very limited in broadcast opportunities. We didn’t obviously have podcasts and whatnot, now there are so many more opportunities and there’s so many journalists that are lifestyle journalists that just have an interest in drinks and therefore include bars as well in roundups where they do city guides.
It used to be restaurants and then maybe a bar, whereas now you’ll get the 10 best bars in Paris or whatever it might be. So it’s just that mindset’s changed and there’s more opportunities to talk about it in the media, which is obviously good for us.
Susan: Of course and good for me. And you know, it’s really exciting to have so much about drinks being written and places to go. Now, saying that, as opposed to bars and brands, could you have imagined that you would be representing actual people who make drinks – the bartenders, the brand ambassadors, those celebrities behind the bar.
Alex Chatwin: The star tenderers!
Susan: Star tenders, right?
Alex Chatwin: No, I think within the restaurant world you’ve always had the high profile chefs that perhaps lead a movement or have a particular style that becomes very famous or they’re super well known. There’s obviously that equivalent in the drinks and bar world.
It’s just that the opportunity for them to perhaps be profiled and showcased within the media to consumers has been more limited. As that’s changed and there has become this increased interest in drinks and cocktails, the growing space for people to be showcased and profiled and talk about what they’re doing. I think that’s enabled people who are at the forefront of bartending, drinks, setting those trends that they can be positioned as such.
Susan: These people have always been working so hard anyway. It’s nice that they get a little bit of limelight.
Alex Chatwin: Definitely!
Alex Irving: Yes, it’s good. I think also just making sure that they’re being represented well and fairly as well. So it’s also if they’re being used for something, making sure that they’re being paid fairly or getting talked about in the correct way.
Susan: Now let’s talk about the last branch on your PR tree – 50 best bars and the 1887 collective and things like that, how is that at least with the 50 best bars already, a huge machine with PRS around the world.
Alex Chatwin: We always say the internal team, they have the 50 best bars, but then they’ve also got the cycle like machine program of events that they put on throughout the year. It’s amazing.
Alex Irving: Yes, like the regional events and restaurants, now they’re bringing in hotels. It’s impressive. Makes me feel tired. It’s funny because we have known the team for so long and I remember when we were really small and joking around that if we would ever do 50 Best, we need to be much bigger for that. Then one day, yes, they came to us and asked us to do a proposal and we did and started working with them.
We are the lead agents of the global agencies. So they’ve got Hanna Lee Communications. They run all of America, North America, then Ivy of Food News Asia. They run all across Asia and then we do Europe, Africa, South America, and Australia. So yes, rest of the world basically.
Yes, and it is one of those things though. It’s just a really big task and there is no quick way of doing it well, so you know, once we’ve seen the list and we go through it and we work out what the angles are. We’ve always said, I think the best way to get the most out of it is to have a local approach and celebrate local heroes.
So obviously, press in Australia aren’t going to care that a bar in Barcelona or London has done well for example. Well, I mean they’ll write about it because it’s a list, but they’ll be more interested to know that a bar in Melbourne has list for the first time in five years, whatever it might be.
We have very targeted pitches that we do for each region. So we look at the results and then we work out what the wider feature angles are that would be of interest to wider media. And obviously we have the main results. And then we then look at what are the local stories for each region. Then we have regional pitches and sell-ins. Then that all happens on the night. The team will sit there on the laptops selling into the whole world.
Alex Chatwin: From a PR perspective, it’s a really satisfying one to work on because it’s not like anything else you do the PR for. When you are doing a PR for a brand, obviously with magazine lead times, you know you can be talking to people, especially if it’s for Christmas coverage. It can be up to five, six months in advance before you actually see that coverage come through. Whereas yes, working on something like 50 Best, obviously once the announcement’s made, we start selling into media and seeing that influx of results because it is such an immediate news story.
It makes it quite a different thing to work on as well. I think it’s quite satisfying when all the work that’s gone into it in the lead up and then seeing the results come through.
Susan: Yes, compared to other stories, it’s not the hardest story to pitch because everyone’s going to take that story and run with it.
Alex Irving: Yes, it’s finding what everyone’s going to be interested in to get them hooked. Well, I mean, there’s a mix. There’ll be people that will just cover the news of the list and then there’s looking at where you can get those bigger pieces from or news stories and then pitching from there. But it is satisfying.
It’s one of those ones where it’s a real labor of love with the team who work on it. As you gear up knowing it’s coming, like then we work out the nights we’re going to work late and do our preps and ins and stuff, but yes, it’s real labor of love, but it feels really satisfying when we get the results.
Susan: Now you don’t have to pick one, if there is one aspect of what you do that you really, really love, what would that be?
Alex Irving: I know what mine is. They’re different.
Susan: Since we started with Alex Irving, we’ll start with Alex Chatwin this time.
Alex Chatwin: I think for me and I still really enjoy doing this, it’s identifying trends that you see happening across the industry and pulling that together and crafting it as a pitch that you then pitch to journalists for feature angles or feature story ideas.
I think that’s also the joy of specializing what we specialize in. We’re out and about in the industry a lot, and you can see things happening, whether that’s an interesting ingredient that’s suddenly cropping up on menus that you might not have seen so much before or a particular style of cocktail having a bit of a resurgence. It’s spotting those things happening or being able to be like, oh, okay, I think this is like a bit of a thing that could be going on, and crafting a pitch of a story around that, is something I still really enjoy.
Alex Irving: I know , Alex gets really upset if she gets bogged down doing admin stuff and she doesn’t get time to do this. When we were at our old agency, we used to laugh because Alex was always a real stickler for trends. And she said, oh, I think that’s going to be a trend. And then it was, I was. I used to say that she should work for a trend forecast.
Alex Chatwin: Yes, I still love it.
Alex Irving: I like pitching stories, speaking to media. I think I’ll never not love that part of it.
Susan: Well, of course, the next question is, just one second Alex Irving, what do you see as a trend if you want to give that away.
Alex Chatwin: I set myself up for that one, didn’t I?
Susan: Just one pick, one trend.
Alex Chatwin: One. I mean, we’ve actually had a feature recently on Sea Buckthorn, as some of our bars, places like Himkok, which is Scandinavian, they use it on their menus, but there’s definitely places in London where we’re seeing it on the menus as well. It’s just interesting that it’s a form of citrus that can be used. So, I think that’s something that’s been explored.
Alex Irving: I think another trend is what we were saying about bars not in the major cities, being nominated for awards or just being more present in that industry circuit and having that higher quality of international cocktail bar, but not just in the major capital city.
So in Italy, there are some amazing bars outside of the key cities that you would expect. So in Florence and in in Naples, et cetera.
Likewise, Schofield’s in Manchester and Present Company in Liverpool. And, it’s happening across the world. I would say you are getting high profile bars that are cropping up, not just in those major traditional, major hubs, which I think is quite interesting. I don’t know if that’s a result of Covid or if it’s just where people are moving out of the big cities, or just from a cost perspective, but I think that’s something that’s quite interesting. Yes.
Susan: Yes, definitely, I’m, originally from Philadelphia and I’m going back soon just to visit, and three people sent me an article that was in the New York Times about a new bar in
Philadelphia. and Philadelphia used to be the down at heels cousin to New York and now, for the past 20 years, it’s just been a food haven. So I was like, oh, okay. I’ll have to try that bar in Philadelphia. Alex Irving, how about you? What is your favorite bit of what you do?
Alex Irving: One of the things I really enjoy doing is the strategy, the planning of things, looking at what is their end goal. What does the client want, what’s the end goal and then working backwards and then how are we going to get there and what are we going to do?
Looking at a how to do that creatively, sometimes things can feel formulaic or people are like, well, that works, so let’s just do the same as them. I’m like, no, what’s going to tell the story of your venue or your brand and look at how to do that creatively and a bit differently. Trying to challenge ourselves to think differently to achieve that.
I think I’ve got quite a logical brain. I actually haven’t got a logical brain at all, but in terms of thinking and planning, I’m quite meticulous in how I like to do it, so I really enjoy that side of things. But then also I do really enjoy speaking to media and putting people together and, making things happen. I think in terms of how we tend to work, Alex does tend to do the more looking at what’s going to make a feature, what we’re doing, so to speak.
Susan: It’s the perfect combination!
Alex Irving: We try!
Susan: So I usually end with my top tips for the home bartender, that’s when I interview someone from a brand or a brand ambassador, bartender, something like that. I’m sure you’re very good at making drinks, but I thought what might be more helpful for people if they’re listening and they want to start a brand and they want to start thinking of starting a bar, what would be your top tip for someone who’s about to enter into that industry and is maybe thinking if they want to get PR.
Alex Irving: I think the first thing is going back to that idea of what is your brand. Are you a neighborhood bar? If you’re a neighborhood bar, what vibe is it? Are you fun and eclectic or are you simple? It’s just the thinking about what you are ultimately because that will affect every touchpoint in terms of how you communicate, your tone of voice and social media, your image style, your marketing elements or anything like the napkins, et cetera, whatever it might be.
Everything will, I would say, come back to telling the story of what your brand ultimately is, or who you are. I would think when I say what a brand is, I would say to clients, think about your personality. If your bar was a person, who would they be? Look at it that way. Then that helps to shape what that is. And as we said, have the idea of who is your target audience, who are you appealing to? Are you in the city? Do you want to reach the city crowd that are going into the office every day? Or the Shoreditch crowd that are coming down or tourists? Is it neighborhood vibes? Thinking about who you are reaching and who your ultimate audience is.
Alex Chatwin: Yes, and I think making sure that, from a bar perspective, that you know, there is a need from the consumer for you to be there. Because you could have the most amazing concept, but if it’s in the wrong place with the wrong type of footfall, it’s not going to be as successful. It’s all well and good having an amazing idea of something you want to do, but you need to make sure that you are providing something that consumers are going to want for it to be commercially a success.
Alex Irving: Yes, also, and then when it comes to the actual PR, I think that the thing is, it is an additional expense to a very expensive time. So if it is something that you can’t necessarily afford right at the outset, social media does go a long way and local marketing goes a long way. It’s things you can do yourself at your bar if PRs going to be outside of your budget. I would say if you’ve got money, invest it in imagery.
I think imagery is the most important thing, even with PR as well. I am amazed the amount of times we’ve tried to launch something and people literally haven’t given us images. We can’t get the coverage without the pictures. So having some really strong imagery and there’s ways of doing that on a budget, either looking for student photographers that might be wanting to up their portfolio. There might be ways of doing it at a reduced cost and not having to use a super expensive drinks photographer if that’s wildly out of budget.
Either working with a photographer to get it or leveraging one of your brands that you might be working with because obviously they might be able to provide support in terms of getting some imagery of the drinks in the bar, whatever it might be. Get strong imagery because you can use that for social media. And if any media do in contact with you, they will want a picture and it needs to good quality.
Spend time on engagement on social media, like engaging with other local businesses. If people are posting and they’re in the bar, we always say it’s useful, when you first launched, to do some form of a local business offer, whatever it might be. Just need to create one, it’s not something that should run for a long time, maybe a week that’s 50% off or whatever you can afford but have something where it’s a limited time to encourage people to come through the door in that week. So once they’ve been in, then you’re top of mind and you’ll probably, if they’ve had a good time, they’ll come back.
That’s also a case of going knocking on some doors or going into some shops, give them some postcards and say, we’ve just opened, we’d really love you to come down. It’s 50% off, whatever it might be. So there’s things to do that will engage in, ingratiate you with your local audience.
If you’ve got restaurants nearby or hotels nearby, making sure the managers or the concierge know about you as well. There’s things that can be done from a local marketing and social media perspective to help get the word out. If you have got some budget or able to do something with an agency, that’s where you then use them to generate all those listings. Also your agency should also work with you to look at what you are doing as Alex says that’s on trend, or that’s a unique USPS that we could then pull into wider trend features. And then that’s where you get those glossy pieces as well.
Alex Irving: In a nutshell, I mean!
Susan: It was to add Sea Buckthorn to your cocktails, right? That is the tip. Now last but not least, I always ask if you could be anywhere drinking anything right now, where would that be and what would it be? Alex C?
Alex Chatwin: It’s always same, anything. Yes. Hard to answer. I would say though, we were quite lucky at the start of this year we went out to visit our rum client Takamaka in the Seychelles and there was a very nice, very gorgeous beach bar that did amazing rum cocktails. So if I could be transported back there right now, that would be marvelous. Yes, that was that was really good.
Alex Irving: Pina Coladas on the beach. Just clinging onto the holiday vibes. Yes. Well we were very lucky actually because we had Jake Burger with us and so he would be making us the afternoon drinks when we needed them.
Susan: Wait, but how is he with rum?
Alex Irving: He was good. He did make us some martinis as well. However, I would say his martinis it’s so hot there, you had to drink them quite quickly. They warmed up so much which I don’t think is the right way to approach it to just drink it quickly. It wasn’t probably the best solution, which is why rum cocktails are what you should drink on an island, but that was amazing. That’s a good one. Yes.
Alex Chatwin: Sorry.
Susan: Yes, you can have your own one, Alex.
Alex Irving: Everyone laughs. I do have such a love affair with Paris and I love all the bars, the cocktail bars in Paris, they’re just great. But there is a wine bar there that’s just my favorite, probably my favorite place ever in the world.
I just love it so much. It’s a really lovely, tiny little wine bar, which I love going to. So I would say maybe, maybe just sitting there with some cheese and saucisson, a glass of wine. But also actually, we are very fortunate. We’re going to Melbourne and Sydney soon, so I’m very excited to finally go and have a drink in Caretakers Cottage, which Rob Libecans and Matt set up. We’re going to be going there soon.
Susan: Exciting. Exciting. Well, we’ll hear from you when you get back.
Alex Irving: Yes!
Susan: Well, this has been such a delight. Thank you so much for being on the show and for helping anyone out there who might want to have a bar. There’s some really, really great tips in there. And it was great to hear your journey finally, after all the years that I’ve known you.
Alex Irving: Thank you so much for having us. It’s been really fun.
Susan: We’ll see you at the bar.
Alex Chatwin: We’ll see you at the bar for sure.
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