Gina London: Lessons in team building with no whining. Just a glass or two of wine

Improve your interview technique

Honore Comfort at the Sonoma Harvest wine auction. Photo: Getty© Getty Images

Gina London

It’s May, it’s May. The lusty month of May.

Don’t worry, this is still a general audience’s column, dear readers. It’s just that when I was a little girl, one of my mother’s favourite albums was Camelot, with the original Broadway cast singing (it featured Richard Burton as Arthur, Robert Goulet as Lancelot, and the irreplaceable Julie Andrews as Guinevere).

My opening phrase is taken from one of the songs from that album, which we annually played in celebration of turning the calendar page to that... er, more eventful month.

Setting aside its alleged lustiness for a moment (and no, I’m not springboarding into writing about the United Kingdom’s King Charles), please join me in recognising May as the opening act for the joyful season of summer.

May is when we begin to fully experience longer evenings and warmer weather. Let’s raise a glass to May.

And if you know me, you know that when I raise a glass, it is filled with wine.

Which brings me to today’s leadership communications ambassador.

Meet Honore Comfort, who has the perfect name suited for her role as vice president of international marketing at The Wine Institute, an association of 1,000 vinyards in California. She has the enviable task of promoting awareness and appreciation of California wines all around the world.

I sat down with her last week in the lobby of Dublin’s Marker Hotel, now known as Anantara The Marker Hotel (the additional word must be Latin for ‘please bear with us while we remodel’). But between the drilling and hammering, we managed to have a conversation and drink, not wine, but coffee.

Honore, in town for a short business trip, shared her thoughts on leadership, career progression and marketing wine. The latter is not as simple as you might think, and we focus our lessons there.

Be adaptable to your audience

“Marketing wine is a lot like marketing art,” said Honore, who also had a previous career doing just that. “It’s highly personal and highly subjective. It’s about finding the right way to connect.”

She spoke about her role.

“I have a team of 20 people around the world I work with across 30 countries. We’re across time zones, languages and cultural dynamics. When we support California wines, we need to do it to suit the unique lens of each marketplace.

"Here in Europe, where there’s a deep wine culture – compared to Vietnam or South Korea, where the relationship with wine is much more recent – we adapt as needed.”

Adapting is key in your own career marketing efforts as well. When you’re trying to promote yourself at your next interview, consider the ‘unique market’ to whom you are trying to sell. Who is the interviewer? Find out as much about the person or panel of people interviewing you in the same way you would research the position or the company. Be prepared to adapt your pitch.

When someone tells me they are always just themselves, I encourage them, instead, to make insightful decisions to better position themselves.

Tell a story

One sure-fire way to make a connection when you’re trying to promote yourself as a brand fit for that new job or that new job position, is to tell a story that resonates with your prospective new employer.

Honore, for example, related one of the ways they have successfully connected Japanese consumers to California wines.

“We emphasised our shared values around the story of seasonality,” Honore told me.

“In springtime, Japan celebrates the blossoming of their cherry trees. That ties into our celebration in California of what we call the bud break.”

When the weather begins to warm in spring, the seemingly dormant, pruned-back vines suddenly become alive again with growth. It heralds the start of the new season. There’s a big to-do over which vinyard can claim to be first.

What experiences can you find from your own personal and professional life to connect with your interviewers, colleagues, supervisors, clients or customers?

As best-selling author and historian Yuval Noah Hurari says: “Storytelling is basis of every human cooperation.”

Encourage others to see you as unique

Sure, you’re preparing to list your technical skills and measurable professional achievements when you are interviewed – but have you considered how the combination of your personal experiences has fundamentally moulded you?

In winemaking, as Honore explains, the soil, terrain and climate impact each vinyard and each season’s harvest.

“It’s called ‘terroir’ – which literally means ‘earth’ but the concept is so much more,” she said. “It is what creates the wine’s character.”

“Wine facilitates conversation. When you sit and talk and catch-up over the table at dinner, it’s a fundamental way to bring enjoyment and perspective into your daily lives.”

With that, Honore was off for a swim. Another experience that I’m sure she will expertly weave into the unique story of her life that she will share with others over a glass of Californian wine during this lusty month of May.

By the way, if you’re a fan of the musical Camelotthe same way I am, and you ever bump into me at the grocery store, you’re welcome to make a request. I know all the words to all the songs.

But I must warn you, a sad fact of my own story is my enthusiasm for the soundtrack doesn’t make up for my voice. Nowhere near the soprano perfection of Julie Andrews.

Gina London is a communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. Write to Gina c/o