Debbie Brooks’ career at Brown-Forman Corp. started 34 years ago in an unlikely place: the mailroom. It was an entry-level position that allowed her to get to know the company, the people and various departments. After the mailroom, Brooks was promoted to the B-F Enterprises division setting up accounts, which eventually led her to the international division and work on the Southern Comfort brand. Her career advanced upward through multiple global marketing positions, giving her a wide range of experience that Brooks says prepared her well for the present.
Describe your current role.
BROOKS: I lead the creative design, development and logistics of Brown-Forman’s portfolio of brands for our National Accounts team in the grocery channel. From concept to creation, I manage our team of freelance designers to ensure brand and customer alignment when developing in-store materials and tools, consumer offers and customer presentations. Our shopper marketing programs deliver against key business imperatives and better meet the needs of our partners, retailers and shoppers.
Tell us about the most successful merchandising work of your entire career.
BROOKS: Woodford Reserve Sonoma-Cutrer “Friendsgiving for No Kid Hungry” was a cause marketing campaign that connected two of our super-premium brands and a partnership with Share Our Strength. The group’s mission is to end child hunger and poverty in the U.S. and abroad. Merchandising materials for this program included floor displays, case cards, recipe booklets, info hangtags, and shelf talkers, with each piece carrying a “text to donate” callout. This was a multi-layered program that not only connected with consumers on a national level but one that was customized at the state, regional and local level to raise money to fight hunger. The importance of the program spurred a bit of friendly competition with our distributor partner, which made a donation for each display that was gained. The sponsorship raised money and awareness around childhood hunger in the U.S. and helped low-income families learn to shop and cook healthier. Share Our Strength raised $401,000 in donations during this campaign and provided more than 4 million meals.
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How has your merchandising work changed to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic?
BROOKS: With lockdowns and restrictions in place, we shifted to developing tools and resources that retailers, restaurants/bars and shoppers needed. Merchandising became more solution-focused and required a great deal of flexibility. We developed social distancing and directional signage for retailers, cocktail kits and to-go cups for restaurants/bars, and online alcohol delivery options in participating states. Many of our program themes changed from large gatherings to “at-home” everyday occasions.
BROOKS: During the critical holiday shopping season, our goal was to engage consumers, drive awareness and gain display opportunities for our super-premium brands. Our focus was creating a holiday display with a gift-giving theme that showcased our premium spirits. For the display, we used floating gift boxes instead of a traditional unit with shelves. The individual gift boxes were designed to hold a full case. To further encourage gift giving, we created gift tags with a “To/From” write-on area, which provided the shopper the added convenience of not having to purchase a card. In-store, we aligned P-O-P with bottle-engraving opportunities for further personalization. This unique design drove shopper engagement and increased sales during an important selling season. The display was awarded the “Silver Addy” in the 2020 American Advertising Awards.