FROM ART DIRECTOR TO CO-FOUNDER OF A RUM BRAND

After working on the biggest celeb mag in the UK, Alison needed a new career

When I got the job at Heat magazine I honestly felt I could have done it my whole life. It was in the days of Big Brother when the magazine sold 700k a week, and its popularity was huge. For some people Heat was a way of life, they had to get it every week without fail, and I loved having that emotional attachment to our readers. Everyone was talking about it and the buzz of being part of something new and different and seeing it grow was just immense. It wasn’t like a real job. It was a right laugh.

I loved the photoshoots and hanging out in studios all day with photographers and celebs like Ant & Dec who were lovely. Coming up with the ideas was the best part of the job and writing the cover lines like ‘Oh dear! Ronaldo’s clothes have fallen off!’. We all used to chip in ideas. To this day I feel like I talk in cover lines, and now use that skill when I write hashtags and posts on Twitter.

It was hard being made redundant, but by this point I’d been there a long time and lots of the people I liked working with had gone. I did various freelance mag contracts and got a job on a magazine relaunch but when I was made redundant again, it was probably for the best. I kept seeing jobs I could do but my heart wasn’t really in it anymore.

What’s more I knew I could no longer do the 9 to five thing. After my twins were born three months early I spent loads of time at the hospital for their health issues and that put everything into perspective. I now had three young children and had to find something I could do flexibly round them, something that gave me as much of a buzz as Heat. I didn’t know it yet, but that thing was creating my own brand.

I did the Digital Mums social media marketing course. Finishing it coincided with an old friend called Neyth launching a house rum for his restaurant, The Rum & Crab Shack in St Ives, and I agreed to do the marketing and my partner Luke – also an art director – designed the branding and logo.

Dead Man’s Fingers rum was soon a great success. When we did shows and events like Rum Fest, our lack of business experience in the drinks industry made us disruptive in the industry. We avoided anything pirate-y and went for something different, with a neon logo made by God’s Own Junkyard and black painted walls, and we gave away loads of rum cocktails. It was a whole experience rather than just a drink. We were very popular!

With pop-up bars at Port Elliot festival in Cornwall, we raised brand awareness and it soon got known as a cool brand. Following on from that success, with Neyth and his wife Sarah we decided to launch our own rum liqueur, with all four of us as equal shareholders. We knew how to make this new brand appealing. It’s just like magazines where you’re trying to make an emotional connection with your market. And having done the Digital Mums course I knew how to engage with our followers on social media and keep everyone interested.

We got our rum developed and blended using caramel, Cornish sea salt, gorse flower and coconut. We tested loads of versions of the blend and narrowed it down. I actually commented that it had too much alcohol, which isn’t like me! But it’s not a spirit but a liqueur and more like Baileys, so you sip it chilled or in an Espresso martini. It’s delicious.

We named our brand Stargazy, inspired by a 500-year-old Cornish legend and historic local links to space exploration. People love the logo and branding and it’s been exciting watching the follower numbers and sales going up. Since we launched I’ve trying to get it into every little shop I can, sending out free mini bottles. When people like it so much they buy in bulk, I get a real buzz. It’s better even than working on Heat because it’s our own brand and that’s way more exciting.

We had so many things planned this summer, like doing retail shows and Popups at CampBestival. We’ve now had to move that to next summer and will have a bar selling cosmic cocktails, all wearing our Stargazy T-shirts. But in the meantime we’ve managed to get Stargazy sold via a distributor, Drinkfinderuk, we’re on sale on Amazon and accessible through Stargazy. Not having face to face interaction with customers is hard, but it’s not forever.

What’s great is creating a business that I love even more than my favourite job ever. Sure I feel like I’m working non stop all the time but I don’t mind, because it’s my brand. Most of the time it doesn’t feel like work, it’s such a thrill and I’m so proud of Stargazy.

LAUNCHING YOUR OWN BUSINESS
* Do it with a friend to share the work. There’s four of us and that helps, because we share the decisions and the work.

* Do some research to see what other people are doing. There are so many brands coming out that will inspire you and make you think ‘I could do this’. Some aren’t even that good, but somehow they’re still successful!

* Do something you’re already good at, that you’re confident doing. How can you adapt your current knowledge or skills to create new product or service? In my case, it’s my ability to speak in cover lines and how I’ve been able to use that in marketing. It’s all about transferable skills.

* Right now it’s really got to be something that will work online. Which means you have to get really good at the social media side of things, or outsource it to someone with that skill.

Words: Marina Gask. For more info on Stargazy go to Stargazy Rum.