Confessions of a Bar Girl
I'm dressed more discreetly than usual this evening. Instead of a Flying Dog tank or a Jameson baby-doll tee -- clothes that make me a human billboard for whatever product I'm pushing -- I am decked in head-to-toe black: black knee-length skirt, black hose, black heels and a black backless halter. All the better to entice this evening's audience of business professionals: men who are graying at the temples, men who like fireplaces and golf, and, I hope, men who like Glenlivet Scotch.
I walk into Sullivan's Steakhouse at 7:45 p.m., carrying a cardboard box from Premier Image Agency, the Denver-based promotions firm that sent me here to hand out Glenlivet shwag and samples. This particular gig is a lucky break for me, considering the attractiveness of the venue. Normally I wind up in dives or frat-boy bars. Each week, I compete against hundreds of girls for the plum assignments handed out by Brooke Fogg, owner of Premier Image. Fogg sends her employees a mass e-mail with a list of upcoming promo assignments, and the first to e-mail her back gets first dibs. To get ahead of the competition, some girls enable Internet access on their mobile phones, with program alerts to notify them of an incoming message. It's worth it when the pay can range from $18 to $30 an hour. Occasionally, Fogg caters to the account and tries to pair the right girl with the right brand, but mostly, it's first come, first served.
Fogg herself started as a promotional model in 1999, when she was just nineteen, and graduated to doing liquor promotions when she turned 21. She had the look -- blond hair down to there, blue eyes and a thin physique -- but even more important, she was good at selling. She worked part-time for Maximum Talent Agency and the now-defunct A-list Promotions until 2003, when a brand ambassador from Hypnotiq urged her to go out on her own. She did, and for about a year, Hypnotiq was her only client. During that time, she was instrumental in popularizing the brand in Colorado among two different demographics -- the ritzy martini drinkers and the urban club-goers -- something Hypnotiq told her no other agency had been able to do. That success armed her with the confidence and reputation to officially start Premier Image Agency in October 2004.
"In this business, when you do well and you have a pretty good track record, then other distributors find out about you. It's all about who you know or who knows about you," Fogg says.
Right now, the 26-year-old has an exclusive contract with Florida-based National Distributing Company, the largest liquor-distributing company in Colorado, to promote its brands. In turn, Fogg makes her models sign an agreement to work exclusively for her -- and, therefore, NDC's brands. Her craigslist ads say girls must be "extremely attractive, thin and tall. Basically you need to look like a model." She doesn't hire anyone who isn't outgoing, and she prohibits models from drinking, smoking or even chewing gum while on the job. What they are supposed to do is be sexy, be charming, and be prepared and knowledgeable about the liquor they are pushing.
Fifteen minutes after I arrive at Sullivan's, I am an expert on Glenlivet, courtesy of a three-inch-thick binder provided by NDC that gives details on all of the company's brands.
Glenlivet is the number-one single-malt Scotch brand in the United States.
After twelve years, the whiskey has the fundamental mellowness and sweetness. It is light and gentle, with a delicate array of floral flavors.
Limousin oak, in which the Scotch is aged, is grown in the mountainous Dordogne region of France.
Arms crossed, too sober to be approaching strange men in a smoky lounge, I survey the scene for a moment. Men with loosened ties and wrinkled slacks sit up against the round bar tables. Everyone I approach agrees to buy a round of tasters. They seem to think that if they turn me down, they will look cheap. Cheap or gay. Some agree, so I will sit with them for the ten or so minutes it takes to give my spiel. I explain the "fundamental mellowness and sweetness" of the Scotch. I instruct them where to swish the liquid so they can taste it better, and then I look at them expectantly for approval. "Can't you taste the delicate array of floral flavors?" I ask.
They couldn't give a shit about French Limousin oak. They are more interested in touching my bare back and making small talk. They want to know where I am from, who I work for, if I have a boyfriend. I shrug off their caresses and shoot them a warning look. My defense is to be stern; being a frigid bitch will get you as many sales as playing coy and tolerant. Customers just label you a "pistol," call you "feisty" and play out some Taming of the Shrew fantasy. But I continue to sit with them because I get paid based on how much I sell. Unlike other local talent agencies, Fogg pays on a sliding scale. To make $30 per hour, I must convince 60 percent of the bar's clientele to buy the product. The less you sell, the lower the hourly pay. At its worst, it is $18 per hour. Still not bad.
I have Sidney Frank, the late owner of Sidney Frank Importing Co., to thank for my paycheck. He is the godfather of promotional models, the one who started it all, a robe-clad Hugh Hefner type with a cigar perpetually hanging out of his mouth. In 1986, Frank read a Baton Rouge newspaper quoting Louisiana State University students touting the qualities of an obscure purple elixir called Jägermeister. They referred to it as "liquid Valium" and attested to its aphrodisiac qualities.
Frank happened to import Jäger for the region, and he figured the best way to boost sales even more was to add sex. Thus came the Jägerettes, a legion of hot girls whose job was to go into the bars and convince owners to ditch the bourbon in favor of Jäger bottles.
Right now there are only about thirty Jägerettes in Colorado. Talent agencies such as Premier cover the most turf: Fogg runs about 120 promotions per month, and between Premier and the other two largest promo agencies in Denver -- Platinum Talent Agency and Maximum Talent Agency -- there are more than 500 promotions per month up and down the Front Range and in mountain resort towns. Collectively, the agencies work with approximately 700 girls, all of whom are considered independent contractors. Promotions are big business in Denver, because "socio-economically, this is a very appealing market," says Marilee Yorchak, executive director of the Colorado chapter of the Business Marketing Association.
Sullivan's proves that. I've collected hundreds of dollars in just two hours, all of which will go to the restaurant. I sit down to fill out a Promo Rep Report Card, answering questions about the demographic clientele -- were they 21 to 25, 26 to 30, 31 to 35? Were they black, white, Hispanic, Asian? Were they receptive? How many people were there, and how much did I sell? The bar or restaurant manager signs the form, and I hand over the cash. Fogg will cut me a check for my share within the next four to six weeks -- as long as I fill out my report card completely and turn it in.
Two guys from New York offer to buy me a glass of wine, and I decide to shmooze with them even though I am off the clock. At the next table, Mike Shanahan, tanned to the point of burnt sienna, is with two bottle blondes each toting shockingly large diamonds on their fingers. Shanahan looks at me and winks; I give him a faint smile back. It's just part of the job.
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