Martini found out the hard way today that hell hath no fury like a bartender scorned, as Tony Conigliaro gave it to the vermouth brand with both barrels.
The influential bartender took to his social media platforms to accuse the Italian drinks giant Martini of commandeering his charity bike ride from Milano to Torino, and pulling their brands from his bars in protest.
The spat concerned the annual charity cycle ride, started by Conigliaro in 2016, which raised money for Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital. Called Bar Termini Milano-Torino after his bar in Soho, it involved Conigliaro and other bartenders making the gruelling ride between the two cities.
Last year, Conigliaro teamed up with Martini to act as co-sponsors for the event, but this year it appears that Martini has taken far more of a controlling interest in the whole thing, arranging a global event that allocated only a handful of places to Conigliaro and his team.
Understandably peeved, Conigliaro has withdrawn all Martini’s products from his bars, and made sure that everyone knows about it. See his statement in full below.
Unsurprisingly, there’s been no shortage of support for the bartender on social media, as people have piled in to condemn the brand.
In its defence, the vermouth brand issued a statement through global head of advocacy Jacob Briars (in full below), painting a very different picture to Conigliaro and pointing out that the Milano-Torino bike ride has been in existence for 140 years.
This, however, somewhat disingenuously ignores the fact that the bartender charity element of it wasn’t in existence before Conigliaro’s initiative, and there was no sign that Martini were looking at doing anything similar before they were approached to support the Bar Termini ride.
Martini clearly have handled this very poorly, and there’s a world of difference between their version of events – that it was a partnership where both sides have amicably agreed to go their separate ways – and Conigliaro’s, that his well-intentioned event has been co-opted for marketing purposes by a big brand.
While we understand Conigliaro’s anger at his mistreatment, his attempts to subsequently turn this into a wider moral crusade on behalf of smaller operators everywhere are less convincing.
Both sides are desperate to score points off each other. At Imbibe we’d suggest that this is an episode where there are no winners at all.
Neither side, frankly, comes out of this looking particularly good, and it’s a shame that something that started with the best of intentions has degenerated into something so unedifying.
Tony Conigliaro’s statement in full:
To my Friends in the Industry,
This is an open letter to Martini Global.
I created the Bar Termini Milano-Torino bike ride in 2016 to be an event that raised money for the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital whilst also offering the bartending community the opportunity to focus on their physical and mental wellbeing.
First of all I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Martini Global for coming on board for the 2017 Bar Termini Milano-Torino Charity Bike Ride. Between ourselves, I believe we built on a unique event that showcases the best of what our industry can achieve when it sets its mind to something. The Milano-Torino bike ride has become a truly outstanding occasion.
When I wanted to grow and develop the race from the inaugural 2016 ride, I reached out to you to explore a partnership that would help achieve this. I have been a loyal partner of yours through your ups and downs, I therefore felt that you would be a perfect partner in this venture. In these early conversations, the essence and spirit of the event seemed keenly understood and shared by all of us. What a difference a year makes. It is therefore with great sadness and a disappointment that I feel compelled to write this open letter about the events that have transpired since we partnered on the 2017 Bar Termini Milano-Torino.
When I reached out to discuss the 2018 event, you informed me that you were simply taking my idea, staging it yourselves and turning it into a marketing event for Martini. By doing so, you have endangered the very character and fundamental essence and integrity of it. To add insult to injury and as a “gesture of respect” for our “past partnership” you graciously offered us “3 spaces within this new programme”. It is clear that we have a very different definition of what respect is.
Respect is not turning charity into a marketing ploy.
Respect is not appropriating an idea and passing it off as your own for your own corporate gain.
Respect is not abusing a long term partnership with a prestigious and well respected industry name and piggy backing on their creativity to hide your own glaring lack of imagination.
Respect is not using your undeniable muscle to try and frustrate our own attempts to stage and continue to run the Bar Termini Milano-Torino ride in 2018.
We will continue to organise and run the Bar Termini Milano-Torino in 2018 and beyond with our international friends and partners. In order to ensure that there is no confusion between our two brands, we will also cease to use all of your products in our venues.
We have not taken these actions lightly or without considerable thought and we are very disappointed that this outcome has been necessary.
If you are prepared to act in this way in relation to a large and prestigious UK partner and customer without even a second thought, how will you treat the smaller companies and individuals starting out and carving their own spot in the industry? We feel we have no option but to make a stand for all of us.
The response from Jacob Briars, global head of advocacy at Martini:
Response to Tony Conigliaro’s open letter 19th September, 2018
It was with a heavy heart that I read Tony Conigliaro’s letter this morning relating to MARTINI and Bar Termini’s Milano-Torino bike ride. I admire Tony and in so many ways have looked up to him over the years as a friend and colleague, so with respect, I want to put forward our side of the story.
First let me say, that the idea of cycle rides for charitable causes, including bartender rides, is not new. Even riding from Milan to Turin is not new, as the classic MilanoTorino has been run for over 140 years.
MARTINI has a long tradition with the sport and has been sponsoring cycling in Italy since 1914. So when Tony first approached us in 2016 to sponsor the first Bar Termini Milano Torino ride, as a marketing opportunity for his bars while also raising money for charity, we were delighted to participate. Not just because of our history with racing and cycling but because MARTINI has two ideal homes: our Terrazza in Milan and our birthplace in Turin.
In 2017, we approached Tony to partner on the ride again and helped create an even larger event, involving more bartenders.
In 2018, as we readily began discussions with Tony and Bar Termini about the event, it became clear we had differing views about how to move forward. For example, as part of MARTINI’s 50th Racing Anniversary, we were looking to create an international project, where more countries could participate. We wished each other well, agreed to part ways and hold two separate events.
The relative novelty in our event is its aim to support longer-term health, fitness and community in the industry. It is also simply the high point of a series of spin classes and rides held over many months, across many countries, requiring participants to train hard and earn a spot at the final event. As far as we’re concerned, there can never be too many opportunities to get bartenders out on bikes.
To allege that our efforts constrained Bar Termini from holding their event is just plain false. They were able to hold their ride on the same route, the same time and with the same name as the original Bar Termini ride in 2016. They were also successful in securing sponsorship support and raising funds for charity.
I truly wish Tony and Bar Termini well and we applaud them for their efforts to raise funds for a wonderful charity. There is certainly room for both events to continue to thrive and grow. We would like to thank Tony for his support of MARTINI through the years and truly wish him and Bar Termini continued success in the future.
Global Head of Advocacy, Martini