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Sunsets and Cocktails in the South Pacific – and Getting Paid for It

Imagine sitting at a 5 star beach resort, chilled Tanq 10 & Tonic in hand, watching the sunset dapple across the water of an infinity pool as it gently spills over into the sea below. Now, imagine that this is your job and you are getting paid to sit here. Welcome to my summer internship – Diageo Asia style.

I spent my summer working for the world’s leading spirits company, Diageo, launching Smirnoff Vodka in Thailand. It was a phenomenal experience that allowed me superior access to marketing and sales capabilities, great brands and, of course, amazing beach resorts.

The Serious Stuff
I previously worked in corporate strategy for Diageo London and so, was familiar with high level brand and country strategies but had never worked deep in the execution of day to day sales. My internship gave me the opportunity to dive right in and develop a detailed commercial plan to launch Smirnoff to a new market. While Smirnoff is the #1 Vodka and Premium Spirit in the world (IMPACT Volume 2006) it is a new spirit to Asia where whisky rules the bar culture. In many ways the five Cs and seven Ps from first semester marketing came to life as we worked to understand who our potential consumers are, where they drink, and how to introduce them to the brand and build loyalty. Segmenting the market between tourists and locals, we were able to build two distinct targeting programs split between price/promotion versus trial and awareness.

Interestingly, I entered the job thinking that this was my chance to do ‘real work’ and leave all the PowerPoint and acronyms of dodgy strategy behind me. I was here to make an impact, to sell stuff, to truly ‘do’ rather than to just ‘talk’. It was about week three when the team realized that we did not have a strategy and that a clear objective might help, maybe an aligned objective. Strangely, in running away from strategy I found its power. So a real lesson for me is to go light on strategy, but don’t forget it (and get someone else to do the slides if at all possible).

Biggest Surprise About the Internship
In a word.the people. Over the last year, Diageo Asia has made a massive commitment to the region, scaled up operations, hired more and more locals (rather than expats) and made a concerted effort to become the “employer of choice”. In early emails, phrases like “Where people are inspired to deliver breakthrough results” and “employee engagement” were thrown around like lime in a Gin & Tonic. Needless to say, as a true Australian I was not thrilled at the prospect of a grey suited corporate cult of business evangelists armed with bizarre team building activities and post-it notes inscribed with motivational messages. To my delight I found a new organization filled with fun people from more than 15 nationalities all with a wicked sense of humor and more focused on getting things done than reading PowerPoint or reciting corporate jargon. To be fair, I did have to take part in a military style corporate bonding activity in Shanghai where we built a roller-ball apparatus to deliver a ball into a bucket. But, the bucket was a champagne chiller (Moet & Chandon naturally) and it wasn’t long before we moved to the bar to ‘debrief’ the learnings from the bucket drill.

The More Serious Stuff – Funded Travel
An obvious upside from working in Thailand was the travel and it certainly didn’t disappoint. From my very first week (in Shanghai for a week long conference..) the stage was set by the Thai General Manager “Janet, there is a real need to understand consumers so I hope you’re willing to go out and experience nightlife in places like Koh Samui, Pukhet, ChangMai…” Personally, I enjoyed the views from the beaches of Samui, but the resort in Pukhet afforded me a private beach outside my room so it won on an exclusivity basis. Later, I was able to spend a weekend in Cambodia en route to another regional meeting. Unfortunately, Lara Croft was not running around the temples in micro-shorts shooting at priceless antiquities, but the stunning presence of the temples shined through. In all seriousness I would urge everyone to visit the temples of Angkor – the temples are a testament to the rich history of the region but also bear the tragic bullet marks of the more recent Khmer Rouge atrocities. The poverty of Cambodia is another tragic testament to the legacy of the Khmer Rouge but I saw some truly inspiring social enterprises-Artisans d’Angkor of particular note.

So, what is the outtake from my experience? Asia is a phenomenal region at the moment-huge economic growth and consumer innovation that is far more exciting than that of mature markets like Europe and the US. Diageo Asia is looking to bring Asian talent back to the region and committed to making it happen by tailoring roles to people. As for internships – if you are lucky enough to make links with a great company with great brands – I highly recommend joining over the summer to experience a new function and geography.

Are these really amazing brands? Fight for a ticket to this year’s bigger better and altogether more fabulous Priscilla Ball. Experience a Diageo perfect serve for yourself!!!

September 5, 2006
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