A "Open Letter" to DIAGEO: Dear DIAGEO, you may have a WORLD CLASS Problem in Moscow...
After the last few days I felt compelled to write to you directly to tell you a few details on an issue that seems to upset a few of the professional bartending world.
We know each other, but you might or might not recognise me. Although we do not have any large contracts, I used to take part in the TEN TABLE here in Germany when it was first introduced. A thoroughly enjoyable time was had by all at the events at your companies expense. We also stock a lot of your fantastic brands in our bar "Le Lion" in Hamburg and all of your company representatives in Germany I know, are pleasant guys. I might point out that your Brand Ambassador here in Hamburg, Mr. Tagawa, due to his background as a bartender, comes very highly recommended. The same really goes for your guys in Berlin who also create some amazing events.
The reason why I am explaining all this is to make sure that by no means this is misunderstood as DIAGIO in Germany is appreciated by us bartenders - but you are not just in Germany - you are a Global Company - well known and pretty large.
And this brings me to the reason for this letter - the way the "World Class" Event - the search for the Worlds Best Bartender has been handled in Moscow this year.
A few bartenders in Moscow, who I know very well and who are part of the, let‘s call it: IBB (International Brotherhood of Bartenders), are currently pretty gutted and upset and are loosing faith in this amazing event.
Of course in particular you upset quite a few Russian "brothers". You "Hurt the Russian Soul!". We are talking: Gogol, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky - That‘s kind of „BIG TIME“ . So much, that some bars already stopped selling Diageo reserve brands and apparently quite a few more will follow. Rumours say: someting is going down in Moscow.
How do you ask - what did we do to them? Well let me explain.
This year in it's third year known as an outstanding event for bartenders due to the fantastic way it was promoted and handled the last two years WORLD CLASS has really become an amazing event not only because of the first class speakers and great finals all over the world but also thanks to the social networking and media - the videos from last year were awesome and well done DIAGEO, they made me jealous! So everyone in the bartender world is now aware of World Class and the Global Search for the „Worlds Best Bartender“*
*(If the worlds best really can exist is debatable in my eyes - I was very proud when my little bar was named Worlds Best New Bar at Tales of a cocktail 2008 but also felt quite uncomfortable - because the Worlds Best does not really sit comfortably with me - how can one be the worlds best and live up to that title. Calling something WORLD‘s BESt is very tricky in my opinion, but that is a different story).
WORLD CLASS has become a very well thought of event with bartenders from all over the world wanting to compete in it with the other Worlds Best Bartenders - just like our Russian brothers liked to do - because they are fantastic Bartenders!
And this - so some of my well respected Russian bartenders tell me - is where it went wrong. May I quote:
„..but so far a few of the best russian bartenders / bar owners, biggest figures and ... people who really drive the community in Russia - nobody knew nothing - it made them all a little bit angry. After two meetings the company (all the details will appear soon) refused to accept all those guys who really wanted to join the comp - they even were ready to come to moscow from other cities on their own expense. this is all very sad.... „
You created a World wide respected event and our Russian brothers wanted to show the World that they are WORLD CLASS too. Your Moscow office did not give ALL a fair chance to apply and participate in one of the finest "Global Bartender Events" and they are deeply upset (understandably in my view). Which does not mean that the great bartenders who toke part this year in moscow are not great guys! Well done Gents! But, you just did not make it public and transparent. Which is not really WORLD CLASS Style.
These bartenders are very professional bar profis that would not just be interested in just a free all expenses paid for jolly - my feeling is they would not even mind paying their own way - they are just really upset that they did not get a fair chance to potentially take part in the World Class competition because of the way your Moscow office handled this event.
They are so unhappy that some have now stopped selling your Reserve Brands and feel like they have been kicked in the teeth. They have started to unite and the noise from Moscow is getting louder.
This might be of no great concern to you however I still wanted to bring it to your attention as you know as much as I do what today's social networking power can do. I first heard of this issue while in Amsterdam last Thursday and supported the Russian bartenders with a just two Facebook status updates - which caused my inbox to explode. Bartenders from all over the world are telling me they will start to take off DIAGEO brands even if we all had not to much Details on the story. Buones Aires already did it, Paris is in, Shanghai is complaining as well ... nobody asked for this reaction, even not me, but social media as I said is a powerful tool. A WORLD CLASS Events gets WORLD ATTENTION. And I think, Bartenders just like to unite.
I also got messages from friends and bartenders around the world telling me not to get involved in "assembling a mob to scream blood" and some used much stronger not too polite messages. You know that WORLD CLASS and other Global Bartender Event are a Million Dollar Industrie. For sure, I do not have to tell you, you and other global players pay the checks for hundred of Agencies, Magazins, Speaker,s Consultants, etc. The Global Bartender Entertainment Circus is a Big Business - but this is also a different story. Back to Russia.
So I decided to write to you to let you know what went on in Moscow with the "Application process" for the WORLD CLASS competition. While I am writing you these lines, another of your great employees called me. Jack from the Netherlands - awesome guy. Lot‘s of your great people start taking care. And it was good to speak to him. He set it back into the right track.
2011 was the first WORLD CLASS Event in Russia. And you just started to develop your Network over there. And finally its your business and it also make sense that you may let enter only Reserve Brand Outlets. I am totally with you - you pay the checks. But, don‘t let Sales take over this outstanding marketing Event. Or do not longer call it WORLD CLASS.
And, you and me know how this Web 2.0 thing is operating. A few Industry People from other companies will have a look at this open Letter while having a coffee and feel „SCHADENFREUDE“ that I am complaining here about your WORLD CLASS. Stop Smiling guys - don't think you are doing any better! So, between all of us, let‘s stay fair: WORLD CLASS is a fantastic event. And many of the other companies never made it to this level. They fell and some even made the same mistakes. So, relax everybody.
Because WORLD CLASS has become such a well know and recognised event you will understand that this is serious business to a lot of bartenders and at the moment a few of the Russian one's are felling let down.
Hopefully you take this matter as serious as my friends in Moscow and take the time to sort this out with them. So grab yourself a RESERVE BRAND, fly to Moscow to talk to them and take care of it.
Thank you in advance for taking the time to restore the faith of the barkeepers around the world in "WORLD CLASS"
P.S. Dear DIAGEO or others, please do NOT send me emails on this Issue. Post them here as a comment, otherwise I will do it.
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Roman Milostivy, a fellow Bartender from Moscow, published a FACEBOOK NOTE (please feel free to comment at Facebook). His side of view: "Diageo World "CLASS B" Russia"
I decided to publish his note, because you only can read it on FB, if you are connected to him.
"DIAGEO WORLD "CLASS B" Russia"
I'm writing all this down because during last week I've received a lot of questions from many bartenders from different parts of the world asking "please tell us more, what really happened to Diageo World Class Competition in Russia". This has turned back to me as a huge snow ball of comments after I posted on the Facebook that "I was really disappointed to not have received a chance to take part in this great event alongside with many more bartenders in Russia". The number of comments, I think, only proves a high status of this competition worldwide and the attention it draws. I still think so and let me share with you what is going on.
First of all, please keep in mind that it's only my very humble point of view - and I don't want to discredit the event and offend either the bartenders who are taking part in the event this year or previously did nor the judges but I personally think that when such things take place we should express our attitude somehow. And by the number of messages and comments I can now say that these things happen from time to time in many parts of the world. So please consider this message as just an attempt to bring some certain things to the public in effort to make this competition and our small bartenders' world a little bit better.
Putting all this down here and saying it's only my point of view you can be sure that the total majority of local bartenders, bar managers, bar owners, and bar professionals who daily put their effort in "Raising the bar" scene in Russia share these feeling and point of view completely. Their words could be only more straightforward and less polite.
So, first of all, I should once again mention that Diageo World Class Competition has a very high (not to say the highest) image and status among the bartenders competitions in Russia. Every professional behind the bar here dreams to get the chance to participate in the Global Finals stepping up on the same mark with the brightest bartenders from around the world. We could only thank the local office that Russia was included in the World Class this year.
I also have to mention that alongside with the World Class there's another activity for the bartenders in Russia - Diageo Bar Academy - annual program / competition with great presentations from the best trainers brought to Russia (Ian Burrel, Alex Kratena...) and great prizes to win (travels to distilleries and many more) - and this event is widely covered and anyone from any city in Russia can enter. Great! But nothing like a Global Finals of the World Class...
And now we're moving to the point - it's all about how the World Class was organized.
[b]Point N1. [/b]
Local office made their own decision which venues (not bartenders) could take part in the World Class - judging on the "premium-ness" of those. So there was probably a list of 5-7 different bars / restaurants / nightclubs and of course some bartenders from such places have never heard of the World Class and even didn't show up for the first round. It was only city of Moscow chosen leaving the rest of Russia out immediately.
[b]The biggest question here[/b] - is how a company could judge by the venue, not the bartender or fair rules for all the bartenders (such as "Reserve brands in the menu", "Knowledge of English language", "years of experience behind the bar" even maybe)... This immediately could separate the community if... the community only knew! about it and possessed all the necessary information for possible participation in it.
so we're moving the point N2 -
[b]Point N2. [/b]
99% of the bartenders in Moscow (or Saint-Petersburg or Russia) - didn't even know about the competition and the chance to apply! I personally found out about it from a friend after the first round was over! And to say more I can suspect that the local office did that on purpose - so to keep it a "small circle of bars" event". (remember? the best competition in the world?) The only people who knew about the dates and the rules were only the participants from the bars that the company personally contacted...
Even if the local office in each market have the power to slightly change / adjust the rules - is it really the proper way? And if the local office don't have enough experience or understanding of "what kind of competition it is" - don't these people ask for advice from the local (or global) bar community?
After "we" ("we" - a big group of bar professionals including bar association, independent consultancy agencies, those who run bar websites, respected and well-know bar names in Moscow, Saint-Pete and many more cities in Russia) just found out about this event (the first round was already over!!!) - of course we all felt we should have done something about it and express what we think. We didn't want to "start up a war" immediately and just wanted to receive an explanation from the company why they did it in such a way not giving a fair chance for everybody to participate. We all agreed that if the company did some certain steps towards the community and let those who wanted to participate join the competition it could be the best solution for everybody.
As the bartenders we don't want to "start up a war", break any connections with one of the biggest spirits company and stop selling their products - it's probably not the best way to react but we had to react somehow so these things would not happen again.
Today I still can't tell you how it will all end but one thing is certain - many bartenders who already entered and took part in the first round are ready to leave the competition now as the sign of their non-agreement with the rules and on the other hand many of those who wanted to enter or join really have lost this strong feeling and wish to do it.
I personally hope I won't have to stop any activities and work with Diageo because of such things but for a bartender it seems on of the few things to do to show the attitude to the big company. I still respect the brands and like the World Class Competition but these small things on the local market just make me sad sometimes.
And I also still think that bartenders should not keep it as "closed stories on the local scene" but express and share with colleagues. How else we can improve our small "bartenders world"?