Publicity is an interesting thing. But firstly, I really have to remind readers that it simply isn't good enough to make great beer. It is important to make great beer of course, and it is pointed out that some breweries focus more on PR than really great beer, but great beer needs PR if it is to sell. Getting the balance right is a reality of business. A reality that is not limited to beer, although many people erroneously see beer as "different" which it is not. I understand that people who live, breathe and enthuse about beer are going to want it to be different from other products. But it is, at the end of the day, an FMCG. Pete Brown wrote last year about why he thinks it is dangerous to think of it like that, but, from a business point of view, that is exactly what beer is.
This situation is exaggerated by the fact that the vast majority of beer sells based on price and marketing success. Low value well advertised beer is what makes the best profits. This is true of beer, bread, cheese and beans. Product consistency plays a huge part and so does fashionability of tastes.
If you can accept these truths, as I do, you start to see the PR from all the brewers as exactly the same. They all try and claim to be different, but they are not. The ones that try to ignore the necessity for PR might trundle along, but ultimately survive due to a small and local word-of-mouth promotion. Although arguably this is PR of sorts and there is also nothing at all wrong with serving a small personal market.
Of course the style of PR varies, but ultimately the same game is played by all. This became very obvious to me recently when I found ourselves in the middle of two good friends of mine, on opposite sides as I see it, both looking to maximise on the situation. For me, damage limitation was the key focus. I sensed the smell of blood had enticed one PR guru outside an otherwise successful, but false, altruistic shield.
That was a little bit of a long preamble to get to the point I'm trying to illustrate. What I've tried to do is not to be too outspoken and negative just to gain publicity. There is a lot of good and interesting things going on in the beer world, some of it happening at the smallest of breweries and some happening at the very largest. I've tried to maintain contact with most of this.
I have friends at Molson Coors, Fullers, that current big baddy that is BrewDog, as well as my peers in the likes of MagicRock and Summer Wine and local brewers to me like Stringers, Cumbria Legendary Ales and Hawkshead. Apologies if you are reading this and think you should be in the list, I could make the list very long indeed and I'm sure you deserve to be there.
A special mention should be made to The Kernel. It seems that everyone has to do that. But, it would be daft of a brewery not to say that the British Guild of Beer Writers brewer of the year 2011 was a good brewer, surely?
From time to time I see a spat between some of my friends. Sometimes I even wonder if banging their heads together might be appropriate. But still, at the end of the day, I go away and remind myself that we are all playing the PR game.
There are things I have a go at, CAMRA and The Portman Group being the notable ones. I feel they sit badly with what we are trying to achieve. That doesn't mean that I see them as an enemy, or even that I can't see their perspective. CAMRA and The Portman Group are tools of the brewers PR game too and the alignment brewers choose can influence their market position. These organisations are not brewers, and as I feel these organisations aren't trying to be friends with my part of the brewing community I feel justified in challenging them sometimes.
I try to be friendly with brewers who wish to be friendly with me. This is part of the reason why I deflect criticism of any brewer. I think it is bad form for anyone who is a brewer, or involved in the brewing industry, to publicly criticise another specific person or organisation. I don't always get this right, I'll admit. As a blogging beer writer there are times it is difficult to be sure where the line is, especially if important issues of an interest to readership are to be explored.
The PR stunt that does baffle me is the position of siding against nearly every other brewer and beer organisation. Equally, it does seem to be the one that is working the very best in terms of gigantuous growth for one brewer. This particular issue is very much work in progress for me, and under constant evaluation. I am, of course, constantly warned not to align with these forces which are apparently, I'm told, evil to the beer world. I certainly often worry about the fact that I seem to be doing so, even though I've now been lumped with every other brewer in the country.
The reader will know to what I'm referring, I'm sure. However, no one was named. Go and look at it again, there is an admission to generalisation. If you dissect the text you will also find that it is easy to assume that reference to oxidised beer flows through to every brewer, but in fact this is not quite what is being said. Is it in fact not just the same thing as every advert says? "You have to buy our product because everything else is rubbish" - it's the level of subtlety, or lack there of, that's all.
I am minded to ask the apparently bad-ass brewing friend if I'm included in the general lump of brewers that aren't the two best. Hopefully the answer will be a desirable one. Perhaps that way a mutual PR benefit can be gained.
And so, for the approaching New Year, there are many things that Hardknott needs to do. Alex has joined us this year and his passion and ability is a great benefit to Hardknott. I am confident that his role will grow with Hardknott and be a crucial part of the learning process too. For me, I hope one of the things we'll carry on doing is making more friends in the brewing industry. I can't promise that I won't criticise organisations that aren't brewers, but I'll certainly try not to take any sides with my brewing friends.
1I changed the to the more appropriate "amused" because actually, when looking from a distance, most PR simply amuses me, especially when people get upset.