In liquor leader Pernod Ricard’s latest annual report, Hervé Deschamps glares over wire-rimmed glasses at Elena Adell. Deschamps’ bushy mustache curls toward his ears and Adell’s lips are rounded as though she is singing into the payphone she is holding in a gloved hand.
Adell and Deschamps are not models, celebrities or members of Pernod Ricard’s board of directors. They are two of the company’s wine makers; she an oenologist with Spanish brand Campo Viejo and he Perrier-Jouët’s French cellar master. While other public companies illustrate their requisite annual reports with stale shots of people working or multimillion dollar corporate art collections, Pernod Ricard commissions unique portraits not of a product or the CEO but of a group of the company’s 18,800 employees.
For the last three years the French wine and spirits giant, whose portfolio includes Absolut vodka, Chivas Regal scotch and Malibu rum, has invited an up-and-coming fine art photographer to shoot a series of portraits for its annual report, building a one of a kind collection in the process. In 2009-10 they used Argentinean Marcos Lopez, known for his vividly colored, highly staged pop-art photographs. The next year acclaimed French portraitist Denis Rouvre was their choice. This year’s artist is Eugenio Recuenco of Spain. Recuenco is known for moody, story driven works inspired by film.
Starting the 1970s, the company asked contemporary artists to liven their reports with a single painting of a brand bottle on the cover. When Olivier Cavil took over as vice president of communications in 2009 he wanted to create a new look that matched the ideals of the brand. “We are creators of conviviality. We have great people,” Cavil said to his team. “Why not put our employees at the heart of these art works?”
And so they did. Adell and Deschamps are paired in one of nine group portraits featured in the 2011-12 report. Elsewhere Havana Club International’s Brand Director Grégory Alibaux shouts through a megaphone at Marketing Manager Ferdinand Barckhahn of Pernod Ricard Deutschland. Both are wearing red sailor hats, ghost white face powder and striped shirts. Customer service managers chat through a tin can phone and finance staffers smile at one another through a ticket window. Heavy shadows make the images look like they were painted rather than photographed. The ambiance a surrealist black-tie circus. Flipping through it is easy to forget that the document technically exists to provide stakeholders with financial information like revenue ($11 billion), profit ($1.5 billion) and historical stock prices (closed at $123 today).
Pernod Ricard gives the photographers virtual carte blanche. Their only brief is the theme of the year. Recuenco’s directive? “Connections.” Recuenco say he chose a 1930s motif because the period was recent enough to be modern and connected, but enough time has passed that he could dream his way in. He expressed the idea of connections by incorporating imagery like telephone wires and hot air balloons, and shooting couples instead of individuals like Lopez and Marcos had. Employees with similar jobs were paired to make communication on the set flow comfortably.
To choose the employee-models the holding company asks marketing managers from its many brands to submit candidates. Then the photographer has the final say on his subjects. The only condition is that the photos must represent the company’s make-up: men and women, young and old, diverse positions, says Stephanie Schroeder, director of external communication who oversees production of the report.
On a phone call from France, Deschamps says he often works with artists to design bottles but described his annual report experience as an “opportunity to share conviviality across the company.” And to wear make-up – a new experience for the 30 year champagne veteran.
An American calling from Sweden, Billy Burgess, a marketing manager for Kahlúa, is featured in this the 30,000 copies of this year’s report in a leather jacket and thick black eyeliner. He talks about how different it is to be in front of the camera rather than “the guy paying for the shoot.” While he was thrilled by opportunity (Burgess “fell off my seat” upon learning he had been chosen and co-workers joke that he is “a big star now”) but he realizes it wasn’t really about him. He says the experience, “helped me understand a bigger picture of the company and how global it is.”