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Pernod Ricard Winemakers take a big seat at the programmatic table

Pernod Ricard Winemakers


Brands looking to get into programmatic shouldn’t be looking to make earthquakes that move mountains, Kate Whitney, Global Digital Director for Pernod Ricard Winemakers, told last week’s Programmatic Forum in Sydney. Slow and steady will ultimately win the race.

Speaking at the event, Whitney outlined the progress of the liquor company’s wine division since she took the digital reins in 2014. “If I had stood up here 18 months ago and tried to tell you what my journey was going to be, It didn’t look like this,” she said. “I went in boots and all and we tried to do things quickly and very aggressively. I learned pretty quickly that that’s not the way to do it.”

Pernod Ricard Winemakers

Whitney joined the business following stints at David Jones and Foxtel and was given the remit by Alex Ricard, the Chief Executive Officer of Pernod Ricard, for 50% of all media to be traded programmatically by the end of 2016.

“In our business, we were really struggling because some people were saying they were already doing programmatic,” said Whitney. “I said, ‘Okay. Well, where’s the software?’” Pernod Ricard didn’t have programmatic software, it turned out, but the media agency the business was working with did.

“We had to try and work out with the agency what access we could get so that we could be programmatic and not do programmatic,” said Whitney. “Could we have the mindset and could we define things better?”

Even the word programmatic required a better definition, according to Whitney. “The word was scary and I don’t even like the word, to be honest. I never have,” she said. “It’s not a very nice word. It’s very ill-defined.”

As Whitney set about to establishing what programmatic meant for the brands within her portfolio, the biggest shift was taking the operation in-house. “This is probably not so great for the agencies in the room but we definitely moved to an in-house, in-source model as much as we possibly could,” she said.

The business now has its customer relationship management platform and e-commerce solution in-house overseen by a data and media manager as well as an in-house-built dashboard which brings campaign data from across multiple platforms into a single, easy to understand overview.

Taking programmatic in-house

In order to bring this about, Whitney had to sell the idea to her CEO. “We essentially said to the CEO, ‘If we want to do this properly, we want to grow transformation from within Pernod Ricard, we’re going to have to get the skills in the building. They’re going to have to be card-carrying members of Pernod Ricard and go and have the conversations with our agencies to draft an agenda from an internal viewpoint.’”

That’s not to say consultants weren’t part of the process as Pernod Ricard looked for guidance on a path forward but ultimately, the decision was made to in-source. Whitney is quick to point out that finding the talent to make this happen wasn’t easy.

“I had six months to get that structure signed off by the CEO. I was very nervous,” she said. “Then we had a couple false starts. A couple of people didn’t quite work out that we’re a brand company not a market so we didn’t get to spend. We couldn’t find the right people who understood what we were trying to do who weren’t so tech heavy that they were going to confuse and bamboozle people. Everyone I’ve hired has a background from traditional marketing and needs to learn digital, which sounds bizarre when I say it. What we look for now is normal people.”

Winning in the wine aisle

With the right structure and people in place, Whitney was able to get on with tackling her business’s biggest challenge: competition. The Pernod Ricard wine portfolio consists of Australian, New Zealand, Californian and Spanish wines which are part of a market made up of hundreds of different brands.  

Whitney said: “Every time a consumer goes looking for a bottle of wine at your average Dan Murphy’s, there are 700 wine brands that we are in competition with. Essentially, we’re working in the biggest competitive context you can probably imagine.”

Using the kernel of insight that 85% of consumers use their smartphones in the wine aisle, a statistic that came courtesy of Google, Whitney knew the first step would require optimising the brand’s websites for mobile. “Funnily enough, five of our brand websites, big brand websites, weren’t optimised for mobile and weren’t responsive,” said Whitney. “That was step one and it was an expensive step but we got there and I think by July this year, we finished all five new sites.”

With mobile optimised websites, the opportunity for programmatic was next on the agenda and it was one that excited the “data geek” in Whitney. One of the more data-focused efforts Pernod Ricard made was to target Qantas outbound travellers through Facebook with geo-proximity to purchase. A special offer was delivered to travellers encouraging them to purchase Jacobs Creek wine at duty-free stores within three Australian airports the week of their travel.

“It was a bold move,” says Whitney. “We didn’t spend a lot of money and we got a lot of interesting information out of it.” While the campaign didn’t exactly clean up at the cash registers, it has helped Pernod Ricard to establish a relationship with duty-free retailers to drive purchases in these outlets.

Permission to fail

Failure was always an option for Whitney and her team as they found their programmatic path. Multiple platforms and approaches were tested with small budgets and she admits they didn’t always work. “Fifty percent of what we did this year, we failed,” she said. “Fifty percent of the time we failed 100% because we didn’t know the answer but we had to give it a go. The point is that this was acceptable to the CEO and we had to present our failures as well as our successes and that’s the mindset shift as well.”

Eighteen months on, Pernod Ricard’s wine brands are helping to guide other divisions of the business and Whitney has a “big seat at the table” of programmatic media discussion. She said: “We’ve led the way and introduced technologies and tools that other big countries and other big brands like Absolut are yet to do. We’ve done well but we moved very slowly. We moved as if you couldn’t see a noticeable change day to day, but what you could see season on season, about every three months, something would have changed. The marketing director was seeing movement. The CEO was seeing movement but it was barely perceptible from an agency or a creative development point of view, which is a really important thing to know because big landslide shifts like that can make people very nervous so we did things iteratively.”

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Mark Abay - Content Director, Ashton Media About Mark Abay - Content Director, Ashton Media
Mark is Content Director at Ashton Media. It's his job to create interesting and engaging conference programs that stretch the thinking of our attendees. Mark works closely with our industry advisors to ensure the conference content is aligned with the needs and interests of our audiences.