Annette Kim recently joined ForceBrands’ spirits, wine, and beer division team in Los Angeles, and even though she’s new to the team, she’s no stranger to the industry. She brings years of expertise and experience with her to her role at ForceBrands and possesses a diverse background in brand building at companies that include Red Bull and sweetgreen.
As a Client Strategist at ForceBrands, Kim collaborates with multiple clients, developing strategies to help them reach their full potential with plans for long-term growth. “I absolutely love that I’m able to be the touchpoint for every single CEO and founder who has built a brand in the spirits, wine, and beer space,” Kim says.
We caught up with her to discover how she’s contributed to the growth of some of the industry’s most inspiring brands, how her career journey led her to ForceBrands, and what advice she has for young professionals and emerging brands looking to enter the vibrant consumer products world.
ForceBrands: Tell us more about your background and how you got into the industry.
Annette Kim: I went to school at Chapman University in Orange County because they offered classes in public relations and advertising. During my time there, I sampled a can of Red Bull from the Red Bull Wings team outside the dorm and that was my first introduction to the brand. I was intrigued by the work they were doing so I blindly applied for a field marketing role with them and ended up getting a job as a Wings team member. After that, I stayed with the company for about three years in college as a Wings team captain. I realized that I really enjoyed marketing and had a natural knack for talking to people. I also enjoyed living the brand’s lifestyle. I was helping to build the brand from being boots-on-the-ground to what it is now: a globally known and respected brand. After that, I ended up getting an internship at Red Bull headquarters for their media house on the digital programming team, which oversaw the company’s YouTube channel. I did that for about a year, and after graduation, they brought me on full-time. I was working with producers and learning how to brand their videos and grow their following. I didn’t expect my career to go that way, but it was the coolest brand to work on and contribute to the digital side of the business.
FB: Where did you transition after Red Bull?
AK: I wanted to give myself a chance to explore my degree in public relations and advertising. I stepped into advertising and worked for Giant Media, a boutique digital advertising firm. I became their top coordinator and within six months, I was promoted to an Account Manager. A lot of my clients fell in the CPG industry and I would fly to New York often to meet with my clients and continue to grow their sales and win new business. At that point, too, I realized I really missed field marketing and building a brand from the consumers’ point of view. From there, I went to sweetgreen — a lunch spot I frequented during my visits to New York. I fell in love with the people working behind the line, the music, the food, and most importantly, the mission. It was serendipitous that at that exact time, they received a series of funding to expand their footprint to the West Coast, where they needed someone to bring the brand to life in LA and beyond.
FB: What was it like working at sweetgreen during the early days of the company?
AK: I was one of their first 50 employees when they were bringing the brand to the West Coast; I was brought on as the West Coast marketing manager, but I wore many different hats (operations, sales, marketing, advertising) and had to basically build the brand from the ground up in LA because they had no presence here. I opened up the first five stores in California, and it was cool to put my stamp on that, especially seeing where they are today.
After that year, Red Bull came knocking on my door and asked me to join their on-premise sales team. At the time, I had no sales experience and didn’t even know what on-premise was, but they thought I would be a great fit. They brought me on to run the South Bay beach cities territory, where I worked with 250-300 on-premise accounts and built relationships with each account. I was successful there for about a year, and then they promoted me to run one of the top territories in the nation, DTLA/East LA, which is high-image restaurants, craft cocktail bars, and places that you wouldn’t normally see Red Bull fitting in. I was able to grow our case volume by a significant amount for about two years.
FB: How did you discover ForceBrands?
AK: I had been in touch with a couple of recruiters over the years and they would reach out to me about different jobs within the cannabis and beverage industries that they thought would be strong opportunities for me, while I wasn’t actively looking. But over time, I developed a true partnership with the recruiters and they knew I was open for a new challenge and I’ve always known I wanted to go back to building brands. The more we talked, the ForceBrands recruiter saw something in me and mentioned that I would be a great fit for an internal role at ForceBrands on the business development team where I would be at the touchpoint with CEOs and founders of the spirits, wine, and beer world to help build their empires, exploring aspects from hiring to growth strategy. So many skill sets and experiences can be put into this job: I can personally speak to sales and marketing and the strategy aspect of it. It was wonderful to step into a totally new industry, but where I would use all my skills and do all the things that I loved to do.
FB: What is your favorite part about working at ForceBrands?
AK: First and foremost, it’s the company culture. I know everyone says that and it might sound taboo, but truly the people here are so collaborative, supportive, and intelligent. It’s really inspiring to be around this caliber of humans every day to learn from and see how everyone has different tactics for building relationships and helping brands achieve their goals. Beyond that, for the role itself, I absolutely love that I’m able to have in-depth conversations with CEOs and founders who are so passionate about what they are doing. I love getting to know their stories and their goals. It is incredibly rewarding to be a part of that journey with them. I say this often: I feel as though my job is putting me through a real-life business school experience and I am forever grateful for the mentors and friends I’m making along the way.
FB: What advice would you give to professionals who are interested in joining the beverage industry?
AK: I would say be vocal, put your ideas out there, and don’t be scared to talk to someone who has more experience than you.
Reach out — because as long as you show passion for wanting to learn, everyone’s pretty willing to help because we’ve all been at the starting line, too.
So take those leaps because that will help you a lot in trying to establish a professional & personal relationship with the people who you want to get in touch with. And let’s not also forget about doing your research — whether with the people you’re networking with or the products you’re looking to learn more about. Go to a grocery store or check out a back bar the next time you’re out with a little more purpose and pay attention. Talk to the bartenders or see what new brands are getting called for or in cocktails – reading cocktail menus has become something I’m so excited to do whenever I find myself at a new restaurant or bar. Your market research is going to not only give you credibility, but tap into your curiosity on what’s out there and makes for great jumping-off point.
FB: And what advice would you give to emerging beverage brands and companies trying to establish their brand presence in this highly saturated market?
AK: Talk to your consumers. You might have some great ideas, but if you’re trying to really infiltrate them, speak to millennials and speak to Gen Z. Get yourself out there and put yourself where these people are living, playing, and dining. Talk to them and see what they like. There’s also nothing wrong with following other emerging brands to see what they’re doing. Lean on your neighbors because they can ignite ideas for you, and it’s not always about competition. It’s about bringing the best foot forward for whatever’s happening right now so everyone can work together on it.
Interested in working in the alcoholic beverage world? Explore our BevForce division.