Penny Sippe. Shot by Declan Roache.

Welcome to The Shout’s Industry Women Spotlight Series. In this series, we share the stories of women from across the industry, raising awareness for the challenges they face and passing on their advice for the next generation.

Through these regular profiles, we aim to hero the visibility and inspiration that is common on International Women’s Day, supporting the voices of women in different sectors of the liquor and hospitality industry. It’s important these conversations happen more frequently than just once a year.

For this profile, I caught up with industry icon Penny Sippe, creator of Australian Cocktail Month and a marketing contractor for a range of companies, brands and venues. She’s a creative powerhouse known for pulling together incredible events, activations and campaigns for an industry she loves.

Sippe originally studied fashion marketing and merchandising, before beginning work in the fashion industry. That path eventually took her to work in marketing for Selfridges department stores in London, which she describes as one of her favourite jobs ever because of the creativity it allowed. 

When Sippe returned to Australia, she followed her Selfridges boss from David Jones to Myer, working for the latter for over five years in a time before online shopping, where bricks and mortar stores needed to go the extra mile to stand out. This meant that creativity was key for marketing teams attached to such department stores.

After a while, Sippe was ready for a change and found a six month maternity cover role at Bacardi-Martini Australia, and thought that would be a nice thing to try, not realising at the time that she would actually end up staying there for more than nine years. 

Sippe started as Sponsorship Manager, working largely on festivals and parties with largely simple drinks. 

“Over time, my role developed into more experiential and building that arm of the business, which is all about – if you’re going to brands to consumers, make them feel something, don’t just give them a drink,” Sippe said. 

“That’s how I fell into the industry, through the love of experiences and creating something special for brands and consumers. I stayed so long because there was always another great project to work on, always something exciting on the horizon.”

Things changed for Sippe in the pandemic when her role was made redundant, in an environment heavily impacted by lockdowns, restrictions and uncertainty, which changed the nature of events and experiences in the industry. But having fallen in love with the industry so deeply, Sippe was determined to stay with it, and came up with the genius idea of Australian Cocktail Month. 

“I knew I wanted to stay in the industry, but I didn’t want to move to representing a different portfolio of brands straight away. I wanted to do something that would keep me connected to the industry, but I also wanted to do something to help venues coming out of COVID,” Sippe said. 

The original iteration of Australian Cocktail Month included 72 bars in four cities, and encouraged people to get back into local bars with an exclusive cocktail special. By the next year (2022) it had expanded to reach 145 venues in 12 cities. 

“We know that the bartending talent is so good across all of Australia, so I wanted to showcase that as much as possible,” Sippe said. 

Now ready to start planning the third year of Australian Cocktail Month, Sippe also contracts with a number of brands in and out of the industry, for everything from events, new releases, initiatives and venue openings. 

Passion for people

When asked what drives her love of the industry, Sippe said it all comes down to the people. 

“When I was in the fashion industry, I made some lifelong friends who are really dear to me, but I definitely think I have made more in this industry,” Sippe said. 

“Some of the closest friends I’ve got are from this world, and it’s the people that keep me here. I think once you’re in the industry, it would be really hard to leave and go somewhere else. I feel very privileged that even though I’ve moved on from Bacardi, I can still make my career in this industry.”

Some of the highlights of Sippe’s career so far also revolve around people, celebrating their success and showcasing their talents. 

“Doing cocktail competitions has always been amazing, but I’ve also been conscious of people when I have been able to do big launches for brands, including international brands. I always think, ‘how can we incorporate talent from Australia into those launches?’ It’s not going to rocket their career, but it will give them a little boost and build more awareness to help their career,” Sippe said. 

“In everything I’ve done, when I’m selecting bartenders to work on an event, I’ve always tried to represent a mix of sexes but also represent a mix of cities and stretch those opportunities out to everyone.”

Progress in the right areas

With more than a decade of experience behind her, Sippe said she has been pleased to see the progress that has been made in some areas, by the industry as a collective. This includes the industry’s support of women and its commitment to creating safer and more positive working environments. 

“I think there’s been a big shift in the industry in the last five years or so, of women saying enough is enough and not putting up with anything, whether that be situations where they feel uncomfortable, or where they’re not being represented. And there’s really a lot of support within the women in the industry to help push all women up,” Sippe said. 

One example of this was a waitress coming forward to tell Sippe she felt uncomfortable by a certain patron’s actions towards her. After being confided in, Sippe immediately escorted that patron out, however recognised that if the same incident had occurred four years prior, the reaction might not have been so immediate. This shift is key, because fostering an attitude that inappropriate behaviour will not be tolerated discourages the behaviour in the first place.

Sippe explained: “There’s no second chances now, and why should there be?

“I think that’s the responsibility of leaders within the industry, to look out for the ones below you, or the ones coming up in the industry, and supporting them. People automatically tend to listen to older people or people in more senior positions, so they’ve just got to do the right thing.”

While that is an example of positive change, there are still some other areas that Sippe said the industry needs to focus on improving for the better of all its members, no matter who they are. One of the big issues she identified, that has been discussed a lot recently, is mental health alongside excessive alcohol and drug use. 

Sippe said she has been happy to see more industry people speaking out more about choosing to not drink and why it’s important to not single people out for doing this. There’s also a growing recognition for what can impact your mental health and how you can take more care of yourself. According to Sippe, when there are more role models discussing these matters publicly, it will help break down stigmas which in turn can help people when they are struggling and create more positive and supportive working environments for everyone. 

Advice for other women

Looking back on her career, Sippe said there are a number of key learnings that form the basis of her advice for young women starting out in the industry. 

“I think in my first two years in the industry, I literally did my job, whether it was in or out of the office, then went home. And I enjoyed that, but I didn’t really connect with the industry on that next level or make true friends in the industry for a while,” Sippe said. 

“But then I flipped and I thought, ‘I’m going to try and really get into this.’ And I did, and it was amazing. I’ve now met so many contacts.

“There’s that struggle of balancing what you need to deliver with having fun and making connections, but my advice would be to find that time to really connect with the industry. It doesn’t matter what your job is, it all comes down to relationships. If you need something, these people are who you will call, so you need to connect with them.”

Sippe said she believes all of these relationships deserve the same respect too, no matter what level or career stage each side is at. The power of true connections with people can not be understated. 

“There’s nothing more disturbing to me than seeing people treat someone else – whether it’s a supplier, server, waitstaff or whatever – as if they are just working for you. With every supplier I bring into a job, we are a team… I’m not a client above them, we are one team,” Sippe said. 

“I would never ask someone to do a job that I wouldn’t be happy to do myself, or that I hadn’t already done myself. I think that kind of respect has gotten me a long way and helped me in my endeavours.”

At the same time though, Sippe’s final piece of advice for other industry women is to remember to help yourself. Often we become so focused on the job at hand we forget to lift ourselves up, develop the skills we want, and celebrate our achievements. So apply for mentorships, go to workshops and masterclasses, and put yourself in the light.

“If you want to develop in the industry, whether it’s in your current work stream or elsewhere, I would recommend putting your hand up for every opportunity… it’s like everything, you’ve gotta put a little work in to get the benefits” Sippe said.

Catch up on all the previous profiles from our Industry Women Spotlight series here.

Brydie Allen

Brydie Allen is the Editor of National Liquor News. She has been with Food and Beverage Media since 2019, when she joined the company as a journalist across National Liquor News, Bars & Clubs, The...

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