Antonia McCahon has been Pernod Ricard's head of digital for four-and-a-half months, taking on the newly-created post after working with a range of consumer goods companies. just-drinks caught up with the Australian at Pernod's innovation day in Paris late last month.

just-drinks: What was your brief when you arrived at Pernod?

Antonia McCahon: How do we shift digital marketing and take it to the next level? It was a conscious change by Pernod, and I think its a natural evolution as well. It was thought we'd done a lot of experimentation, some of it more successful than others. And that's part of who we are, our entrepreneurial spirit. The thought was that we have real opportunity with this and we really need to get the whole organisation behind it and give clarity on digital, so everyone is singing from the same song sheet.

That was my first mission. So, we set up the digital acceleration task force, on to which we put 80 so-called 'digital champions' from within Pernod. They came from legal, commercial development - all different parts of the company.

j-d: What did they all have in common?

AM: They all have a passion for digital. They were passionate people and digitally minded. It was done on purpose that they would come from different areas and it would have to span brand and marketing companies around the world.

Over time, this task force narrowed down our digital mission to four things: Data intelligence, advertising conversation, content, everywhere commerce, plus another one, which was proactively adapting the organisation.

From there, we started identifying projects and attaching people from the task force to the projects.

j-d: So, you were using people who have other jobs to do?

Antonia McCahon is changing Pernod's digital focus

Antonia McCahon is changing Pernod's digital focus

AM: We have a thing that's like maternity leave. This is something that we're trying to make work. The ultimate way we want to work is not get consultants to mentor, but to keep the learning internal. Because that’s how we get the last pillar, which is proactively adapt the organisation. And that’s learning by doing. 

j-d: You’ve come in to Pernod from outside drinks. Is the drinks industry behind in digital?

AM: No, I don 't think it's behind at all. I've worked pretty much with every FMCG company on digital. I know internally we don't like to call ourselves an FMCG group but we're sold in a lot of the same circuits as FMCG products.

FMCGs such as Proctor & Gamble and Unilever are doing great things to innovate with the off-trade, probably more so than what our industry is doing.

On the other hand, I think that, in our industry, disruption is most likely to come from people who are already in the industry. In my team, I'm always careful to watch what my competitors are doing, but not just them, because the idea of conviviality touches everybody and it's really exciting and interesting. We see loads of start-ups tapping into social networks for people who go to bars, drinks delivery for parties at home, that sort of thing.

j-d: Is there a lot of that going on?

AM: There are a lot of new services that are interesting. And what is interesting is this collaboration. New services start up and bring a fresh perspective. However, the part that is missing is the deep understanding of the trade, which is why I think there is an explosive combination that can take place.

j-d: You've unveiled a QR code programme in China. You can trace fakes to one spot with this technology. Can you call the police and get them to raid stores?

AM: The idea is that we can pinpoint where this is happening. But, this is a flip side. In the first instance, it's about being able to track where our true bottles are and then to assure consumers on the other side. 

It also allows us to understand the performance of our bottles in different circuits. Quite often, when working through wholesalers, we don't have visibility as to where our bottles go or what our trade customers are actually buying. It gives us a lot of insight.

j-d: Is this the end of QR codes as a marketing tool? It seems to me that few consumers bother scanning them any more?

AM: China is a specific market where they love to use QR codes. There's a huge percentage of Chinese that do scan the codes.

j-d: You have also just released details of Project Gutenberg, an at-home spirits dispenser system. How seriously should the drinks industry be taking this right now? It's still a prototype, after all.

AM: We are taking it very seriously. One of the things we are trying to do is to be a catalyst for new forms of conviviality. Why unveil it now? Because it's a new concept that consumers will have to get used to. Either they will pick it up and run with it, or they won't. But, at some point, we have to put it out there.

We are quite prepared to fail, but at least we will know early on before we have invested too much in it.