A Brand to Drink To


Ketel One, Grey Goose, Vox and Belvedere: You're fired. Trump Vodka, you're hired.

At least that's what Donald Trump is hoping for with his foray into the liquor business. He recently launched Trump Vodka in October 2006, and it's taking off. "We expect to sell at least 100,000 cases this year," says J. Patrick Kenny, CEO of Drinks Americas (DKAM), the company that distributes the vodka.

Can celebrity icons sell liquor?

According to Kenny, the answer is a resounding yes. Drinks Americas, which was founded in 2002, owns, develops, markets and distributes beverages associated with several big names. Some of its other lines include Willie Nelson's Old Whisky River Bourbon and Paul Newman's Own Lightly Sparkling Fruit Juice Drinks.

"The company is partnered with Trump on all beverages [alcoholic and non-alcoholic]," says Kenny. Next beverage on Trump's list: A nonalcoholic iced tea, aimed to launch in the summer.

Media Blitz

"It's all about public relations," says Kenny; by having Trump's name on a premium-quality vodka, you have a media windfall of about $300 million. The vodka has been featured in Business Week, The New York Post and on television shows including E!'s E News and NBC's Extra, and even on Paris Hilton's blog.

Trump himself has made media appearances on David Letterman, Conan O'Brien and Larry King. At the same time, the company is not forgetting about print media, advertising in high-end publications Hamptons Magazine, Gotham Magazine, Maxim and Cigar Aficionado.

One of the vodka's launch parties was held at trendy L.A. nightclub Les Deux in January, and it drew its share of celebrities, including Brittny Gastineau, Jessica Simpson and Paris Hilton. Celebrities attract paparazzi, and this in turn attracts more press. Last year's launch party at Trump Towers was also a who's-who event, featuring music by popular hip-hop artist Busta Rhymes.

"Other celebrities want to associate with Trump because it brings them into the spotlight," explains Brian Kenny (Patrick Kenny's son), vice president of marketing.

As helpful as it is having Trump's involvement, at the end of the day, "it's all about selling cases," says Bruce Klein, chairman of the board of Drinks Americas. Trump Vodka sales totaled over $5 million within 120 days, explains Patrick Kenny.

Of course, in the drinks business, strong selling requires strong distribution. Drinks Americas currently has deals with winery Kendall Jackson and Heineken (HINKY).

Icon Management

One of Patrick Kenny's specialties is marketing. He worked at Seagrams for 22 years, where he turned around the company's fledgling nonalcoholic division in several ways, including working closely with distributors and bottlers, and by using marketing dollars efficiently.

His work with Trump is nothing new; his team at Seagram's was on the cutting edge of working with celebrities to promote a brand, such as using Bruce Willis to promote the company's wine coolers.

One of the keys, according to Kenny, is that alcohol is akin to fashion. "When someone orders a drink at a bar, they are making a fashion statement about themselves," says Kenny; it's no different from wearing a Diane von Furstenberg dress or an Armani suit.

There are several factors Kenny considers before finding the ideal celebrity for a brand icon: "Transgenerational element, global image, understanding of the business partnership and a premium image," says Kenny. And once "you assemble that list, there's not 100 people in it."

And what's it like working with Trump? "Trump has been a tenacious business partner," says Kenny. "We sometimes have to hold him back."

This can lead to a common problem with celebrity icons -- not everyone is going to work equally as well, Kenny explains.

"There's a couple of artists we turned down" for other alcoholic beverages, Kenny says, simply because they didn't understand the distinction between a business partner and a licensing partner.

So what is the difference? "A licensing partner gets a check no matter what they do, as long as they fulfill the obligations of the contract, i.e., 10 personal appearances, eight photo shoots, etc. A business partner has equity in the brand and gets paid for using his best efforts to sell the product."

A celebrity takes a certain amount of risk with associating his or her name with a product, as well as shouldering a serious time commitment. "If [the icons] don't work, the brand isn't going to sell," Kenny points out.

Trump's image, of course, is recognized worldwide. People respond to him whether they're in Ireland, China or Italy, and Drinks America is going to capitalize on that. Trump Vodka is widely available here in the U.S., but also in Canada and the Netherlands, and sold from Panama into the Caribbean duty-free.

Growth has been strong, but it's essential to ensure the quality behind the name and the brand. "We have a massive amount of inquiries from international affiliates; we just want to make sure we can meet our own production needs domestically," says Kenny.

However, there's always more on the agenda. Considering Trump's audience, "we might also add a champagne and cognac for the Trump label within the next 18 months," Kenny notes.

One beverage at a time, though. Trump is still quite busy promoting the vodka. One of the next events he will be sponsoring: A Maxim party at the end of May. Oh, the hardships of marketing.

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