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Inside the campaign: The Balvenie Stories

Gemma Paterson, global brand ambassador for The Balvenie, reveals the thinking behind the whisky brand’s latest campaign – The Balvenie Stories.

Tell us a bit about The Balvenie Stories campaign.

The Balvenie Distillery is built on stories – they are our lifeblood – and The Balvenie Stories is the perfect way for us to celebrate the people that are at the heart of our whisky.

At the centre of The Balvenie Stories is our new collection of single malt whiskies, each of which have a unique story – of dedication, experimentation and twists of fate that brought them into being.

An NFC-enabled tag on each bottle in the range unlocks a unique storytelling experience for drinkers. People can listen to the stories first hand by connecting with their phone to hear conversations between myself and our craftspeople, as well as insightful discussion about the liquids with our malt master, David Stewart, and apprentice malt master, Kelsey McKechnie.

The podcast, which can also be downloaded from any streaming service, has been a big labour of love of mine this year but it was great spending time with the craftspeople and retracing the steps of each whisky.

Spearheading the campaign is Pursuit – The Balvenie Stories Collection – a book of original short stories (and the perfect accompaniment to a dram of the Stories range!), which will be published this autumn.

Taking a step into previously uncharted territory for us, we developed a relationship with publishing house Canongate to create the book, telling unique tales of perseverance, tenacity, determination and resolve, penned by some of the world’s best storytellers including award-winning British authors Max Porter and Daisy Johnson. I’m so excited to see the final book on shelves in a few months.

The campaign also incorporates a media partnership with world-renowned storytelling institution, The New Yorker. At the heart of the partnership is the publication of a non-fiction short story authored by critically acclaimed novelist Lawrence Osborne, who also contributed to the book, recounting personal stories from his time spent as a ‘writer in residence’ at The Balvenie Distillery earlier this year. The campaign will also be supported via the magazine’s own social channels, digital display and its Radio Hour podcast.

Now that The Balvenie Stories has launched, our local market teams are busy working on local activations which will run throughout the year.

From immersive storytelling events to whisky tastings at festivals and Q&As and readings with authors, the campaign offers a wealth of opportunities and we’re excited to tell our stories and listen to others around the world.

Where did the inspiration to link whisky making and storytelling come from?

The inspiration came directly from our craftspeople, who illustrate that whisky-making and storytelling go hand in hand. Spending time with them and hearing their countless incredible stories really makes you understand what makes our whisky so unique.

Focusing on storytelling lets us put these people at the centre of The Balvenie Stories. It’s about celebrating their distinct personalities, their passion, individuality, graft, quirks, innovation and humour, the tribulations they have overcome and the encounters they have experienced.

I’ve spent the best part of a year shadowing them, interviewing them and teasing out so many hilarious, touching and fascinating stories from their many years with The Balvenie. We have a responsibility to make sure we’re capturing these incredible tales and documenting them to ensure they’re not lost.

There’s a story behind everything and everyone and we’re delighted to be able to bring just a few of the many tales behind our whisky to life via a campaign focused entirely on storytelling.

What do you hope the campaign will achieve?

Stories takes inspiration from The Balvenie’s own pursuit of perfection. We hope the campaign inspires others through the power of storytelling and enables consumers to get closer than ever to the behind-the-scenes tales of the distillery, the history of the brand and how precious the liquid is.

It provides a great opportunity for us to reach new audiences and speak to different people via engaging and culturally relevant conversations. By entering the world of literature we’re looking to enter a territory outside of the typical whisky domain and introduce the brand to people who don’t necessarily know us.

What were the key factors which convinced the authors to pen stories for the book?

The Balvenie Stories lets us celebrate storytelling in all forms – from our distillery, Speyside, and all across the world. We’re delighted to be partnering with some of the world’s best storytellers to bring this to life and look forward to sharing this unique collection of untold tales.

The authors for Pursuit – The Balvenie Stories Collection – were selected because each author aligns with our values and has an amazing story to tell. Similarly, the authors understood the brand’s integrity and genuine passion for storytelling, leading to an authentic and meaningful partnership.

We gave them the creative license to tell their own tales of human endeavour and striving to reach a goal – and needless to say, the stories aren’t about The Balvenie whisky!

How well did your agencies work together to produce a global PR, experiential, digital and on and off trade campaign?

The Balvenie team is proud to have strong partnerships with our agencies and to be able to work as one.

Our global PR agency Splendid Communications, creative agency Space, design agency Here Design, media agency Vizeum and printed electronic company, Thinfilm, have all worked alongside The Balvenie global brand and local market teams, to get Stories ready to launch in more than 15 markets globally, including the UK, USA and Taiwan.

All of our agencies were involved from the start and worked closely with our local and global teams and ambassadors to shape the campaign. The key thing for us as a global team is updating the markets as we progress and allowing them to feed into it to make sure it works for them – these conversations are a vital part of the process, to make sure The Balvenie Stories can land globally, so our agencies’ ability to join in on these is fundamental to our success.

What are the key PR and comms aspects of the campaign and how do these complement the other parts of the activation?

PR and comms are fundamental to the success of The Balvenie Stories – it is storytelling, after all! It’s a unique proposition and a joined-up approach putting storytelling at the heart of every touchpoint meaning that, no matter what people see or where they see it, the messaging is clear and consistent.

The product itself celebrates craft and storytelling and allows more creative freedom to take us in new directions. The book, media partnership and podcasts help amplify the campaign, allowing us to reach new audiences and stretch into different territories than we would be able to with a typical whisky launch.

How will you look to measure the effectiveness of The Balvenie Stories campaign? Is it simply on sales of the new single malt whiskies?

From a PR perspective we’ll be tracking coverage for the book, whiskies and the campaign, key messaging, reach and audience/media sector.

A key aim of the campaign is to break out of the whisky bubble, so we’ll be looking at where we’ve got cut through in the literature and lifestyle spheres. The New Yorker partnership will focus on reach and engagement.

The book itself will be evaluated by positive reviews and feedback from buyers/book stores who we will be working with to stock it.

In digital, we’ll be tracking social engagement, as well as podcast downloads.

Local markets will be measuring specifics on activations including event attendance and engagement, relationships that have developed off the back of Stories and positive feedback from these conversations.

Finally, what is your favourite Balvenie whisky?

Hands down my favourite Balvenie is the DoubleWood 12-year-old. It’s the first single malt I really loved and enjoyed and I have so many wonderful memories associated with this whisky. It’s a dram I have shared with friends, family, our craftsmen and whisky enthusiasts across the world…and many a time accompanied by a great story.

Alister Houghton

Alister Houghton is UK Content Marketing Manager at Cision, writing and commissioning thought leadership, interviews and opinion pieces covering the earned media, marketing and journalism spheres.

As well as working in a variety of roles across the business, he has previously managed media and web content for the British American Football Association.