Interview with Emma Hutchison, co-founder, and Executive Creative Director of Sweet&Chilli

Find out how Emma Hutchison combined her experience in the London bar scene with her design background as co-founder and executive creative director of global drinks agency Sweet&Chilli

What’s your career background?

I graduated in the early 2000s from London College of Fashion then went on to study Graphic Design at the University of the Arts London. It was there that I discovered an unexpected creative calling within the London bar scene.

I started bartending first before cutting my teeth managing venues and live music events for The Breakfast Group and Heavenly Records. What started as a part-time job, turned into a life-long passion for hospitality.

I joined Sweet&Chilli, a global drinks agency, in 2005 as Executive Creative Director, partnering with Allan (Gage) where together we run and co-own the agency. At Sweet&Chilli, we specialise in drinks strategy, trade advocacy and brand-owned events as well as content creation and today, we now have a 90 strong team based in headquarters in London, Sydney and Los Angeles.

I love that my role brings together my passion for the hospitality industry and as well as inspiring my creative side when it comes to great design, which genuinely connects with people.

This year, the agency is celebrating its 20th anniversary and I feel very blessed to be at the forefront of the drinks and hospitality industry, ensuring brands resonate with consumers on all touchpoints. 

As well as my role at Sweet&Chilli, Allan and I also own three London bars (taking inspiration from our team’s frequent work with the world’s best bartenders) – Nine Lives, just off Bermondsey Street, The Gunmakers, in Clerkenwell and, Tigre Tacos, in Stoke Newington. 

What’s your USP?

Definitely our expertise in the drinks and bar world – our team combined has nearly 200 years of experience behind the bar, so we have first-hand knowledge of the industry and drinks strategies that make global impact.

Who’s your target audience?

Drinks brands who want to make a global impact and on the other side, consumers who appreciate great tasting spirits and content which really speaks to them as a drinker.

How do you spread the word about what you do?

 As an agency, through multiple channels including advertising, marketing, PR, and social media. But a lot of our success has also been driven word of mouth. I’m really proud of the reputation that we’ve created within our industry, and as result of nurturing our tight network people often seek us out directly, which is always nice! We never rest on that assumption though so we try and shout about S&C whenever we can.

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?

Johnnie Walker Highball serve strategy was a campaign that cemented our philosophy that ‘serve’ should always be the catalyst to drive drink brands marketing campaigns.

By leading with a single-minded approach to own the Highball – we designed a collection of five Johnnie Walker highballs with fresh flavours that brought out the personality and new identity of the brand, updating the image of whisky as being only served neat, bringing new life to the brand & category, with a modern taste and aesthetic that speaks to a new generation of consumers. 

What’s the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?

Some projects are smooth sailing, the creativity, ideas and partnership with the client just flow… whilst others can throw up a real challenge. But we relish that opportunity to tackle the harder briefs. Being able to really make a difference with the work we do drives me to overcome the obstacles. & Maybe I’m just a sucker for punishment but even when it’s been tough we’re always able to push through and find that spark of inspiration.

And your proudest moment so far?

There have been a few… pulling off a totally virtual cocktail competition for 60 bartenders each competing virtually from their respective countries for a live broadcast of the event, was definitely one!

Seeing how much people love the bar, brings me a lot of joy as well and the whole design, feeling and ethos that we’ve built at Nine Lives is something I’m super proud of. Just hearing how much our customers love it is really satisfying.

Why is work so important to you?

I love it… and am passionate about the work we do. It can be challenging yes but I am able to combine my creativity and hospitality experience and it’s a joy to see our hard work out there in the real world.

Who inspires you?

Frida Carlo and Albert Einstein.

What are your top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?

I’ve taken quite an unconventional path to get to this place in my career but I think one thing that has served me well is the diversity of my experience. Don’t be afraid to explore new things – you never know where it may lead you!

Find out more about Sweet&Chilli.