Representing

Around the country it seems craft-centric beer joints are hosting “tap takeovers”, “pint nights” and “meet the brewer” events – all evenings geared toward promoting a brand or brewery. The events have a certain formula to them, one you have likely witnessed if you’ve been out for such an occasion: brewers or brewery reps show up, may give out a few trinkets, might buy a few beers for guests, likely has a drink or two for themselves before calling it a night. They’re pretty basic soft skills that seem intended to at least let the folks in attendance know the beer or brewery exists.

This known, there is an inherent problem in these events. Often the folks chatting it up with the reps are folks that already know the brands, or the reps. Too many times I have seen (and been party to, I fully admit) beer reps sit with a group of beer geeks as a chance to catch up and maybe tell stories about the industry. This, in itself, is not a problem, it has something of a ‘neutral consequence’ if you will – nobody is offended, but nobody really benefits either. The beers are sold, the customers come and more often than not all parties involved leave feeling good. However, I believe there is a better way to represent your brands at events like these.

With the recent roll outs of major brands like Goose Island and even Hop City Brewing (to a lesser degree) I have seen a better way to represent a brand. For those that don’t already know, Goose Island is now part of the InBev-Anheuser Busch family, whereas Hop City is owned by Canadian giant Moosehead. Craft-loyal drinkers may frown on the ownership of these brands, but that doesn’t mean they’re not successful and able to teach us a few things. Below are a few observations I’ve made with the “big boys” in how they “represent” their brands at events I’ve attended. This isn’t really a judgement on anyone, or even the industry as a whole (the craft beer industry, that is), but more a few areas that might help small brands better represent their product to the general public.

First, have a goal. For those that have taken any sort of business class or seminar, you’ll know that goals should be measurable – so don’t go in with a simple goal of giving trinkets away and having a good time. Do you want 100% of the people in the bar to try your beer? How many new faces should you interact with? How will you define success?

At the before-mentioned Goose Island event it was clear the reps had a 100% goal in mind, and they worked efficiently to make it happen. They purchased pitchers, provided small sampling glasses and made sure that everyone in the bar had at least a taste of the product they were representing. They also conversed casually with everyone they poured for – again, with great efficiency. They brought their own pitchers, paid for the beer up front and worked the entire room in just a couple of hours. It was effective, too. If you consider the cost of the night for them, they spent the equivalent of six or eight pints to make sure everyone in that room had a taste of their beer – just a taste, a few ounces and basic info on what the beer was about. At the end of the night the reps new they had a successful night, not because they had a good time, but because they achieved what they set out to do. It sounds simple, but I’ve never witnessed a small brand brewery work this way at a pint night before.

Second, come to work. Yes, as a bar manager it is awesome to sit and shoot the shit with some of my favorite brewers and beer reps. Yes, as a beer drinker I love it when a beer rep wants to buy me a beer. Yes, when the night is over and I’ve had good beer and good conversation, I feel great about the awesome event I just attended. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Remember, however, that these events aren’t for me – or for you – they’re for the brands that pay to be represented. If you’re a rep and you regularly attend Pint Nights, carve time to shake hands with the owner of the establishment, take time to personally acknowledge the staff behind the bar, but spend at least an equal amount of time ‘working the room’. Bring pitchers, pay to have them filled at the bar, and walk around pouring for the customers – answering silly questions about IBUs and if your beer tastes like Pliny. Just be sure to interact with as many folks as you can – it’s good for the brewery, it’s great for the bar and it is good for you. I can’t tell you how many customers remember just brief encounters with brewery reps – and they’re ALL POSITIVE! Shake hands, be warm, tell them how great your brewery is and let them know the product is available to them outside of this brief encounter (tip: don’t tell them to go to another bar, that’d be very poor behavior, but if you have cans or bottles at the local store – send ‘em that way).

Look, we all like to feel like we matter and right now the craft beer thing is crazy – yes, it’s just a job for many of you, but simply by representing a craft brewery you bring with you a sense of importance. You, in fact, are important. It may seem trivial, but your handshake and eye contact with the folks at the bar is kind of a big deal. No, you won’t be asked for an autograph, but your kindness will be remembered and likely shared with others in future conversations – and hopefully in the beer aisle.

Finally, you don’t need trinkets. I know there are a lot of new breweries that are cash-strapped and can’t afford things like glasses, stickers, coasters and whatnot. That is not a big deal. Really. If you come with your head up, eyes open and a good nature, you’ll find that folks just like good beer and nice people. Sure, there’ll be people that ask for little trinkets, but if you warmly express that you’re small company can’t afford such things right now – that your focus is on making good beer and getting it out to market, all will be well. That said, I do think you should budget a certain amount of money to get beer in people’s mouth – not pints, as mentioned above, but just a four-ounce taste that allows the person to experience your beer while engaging with you, personally.

This is clearly an exciting time in craft beer and right now it may seem easy to promote beer, but it seems that everyone in the industry knows that there is a bubble out there waiting to burst. Whether it does, or not, doesn’t really matter in this context. If we all better represent the industry and the brands we are associated with, I think we’ll be alright.

For all you reps out there day in and day out – you’re amazing people. Honestly. I hope this doesn’t seem critical of the work you do, I simply have a few observations that may make a difference or may not. Clearly this is not rocket science and clearly I didn’t create a new way of selling stuff – but if it’s just a reminder, that’s good enough for me. Cheers!

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