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Maintaining a Buzz: Craft Breweries Look to Social Media and PR Agencies to Spread the Word
Wynwood Brewing Co. hasn’t quite brewed 1,000 barrels of beer yet, but it’s already surpassed that number in tweets, Facebook posts and Instagram photos. As an upstart craft brewery—it became the city of Miami’s first when it opened in October—Wynwood recognizes the importance of spreading the word about its brand, but it has limited resources to do so.
“Social media is imperative to our business,” Wynwood founder and president Luis G. Brignoni says. “We don’t have the budgets that most large breweries have, so social media is an affordable option for us. It allows us to have a one-on-one conversation with our patrons.”
With a marketing and public relations budget of less than $50,000 a year, Wynwood pays attention to the nuances of social media. Brignoni knows which days of the week—and which specific hours—to post brewery news on Facebook to reach the biggest audience. He understands that identical cross-posts among various networks tend to come across as noise.
“We treat Twitter and Instagram differently than Facebook,” Brignoni explains. “The demographics are different and the theme is different. We post more on Instagram than any other social media platform. There’s something about just being able to scroll through pictures that people really enjoy.”
But as Wynwood’s brand grows and beer flows, Brignoni has brought on an outside public relations professional to manage the brewery’s “official” communications: news releases to mainstream media and bloggers, both local and national.
“We decided to hire a PR pro to help get us in to the vast media outlets out there,” he says. “Getting news coverage is a very effective way to reach an audience when you’re on a budget like ours.”
Craft breweries lacking Super Bowl-size marketing budgets is nothing new. But as craft beer continues to gobble up Big Beer’s market share, small breweries are increasingly grappling with the question of whether to handle communications in-house or farm it out to an outside PR agency, or some combination of the two.
Both have their advantages.
When breweries handle their own communications, it saves money and comes with the assurance that every post and press release is coming from someone who intimately understands the brand. (Wynwood’s social media is managed by Brignoni and his taproom manager.) Public relations firms, meanwhile, have built-in relationships with influential media outlets and know how to effectively communicate stories to large audiences. They also know how to handle crises both big and small, the latter of which Randy Clemens recalls from his former days as Stone Brewing Co.’s media and communications linchpin.
“When I started at Stone, I had zero PR experience, other than knowing how I didn’t want to run their PR,” says Clemens, who left the brewery on good terms in 2012 to pursue his writing career. “That said, because I had zero PR experience, I had a couple of blunders that I’m sure would have never happened had a professional agency been running the show. Having a firm available to help with the occasional damage control would have been immensely helpful for the few flubs I inadvertently helped create or magnify.”
Clemens says he made it his mission to keep common PR-speak—“SEO-friendly buzzwords and meaningless gobbledygook”—out of Stone’s official and social media communications.
“By keeping PR in-house, we could tell a story that people could connect to that wasn’t disingenuous,” he says. “If there’s one thing craft beer people can sniff out, it’s a phony. Bombastic as our blog posts and press releases and social media posts could often be, there was no doubt that they were from Stone and that we could back up what we were saying.”
In St. Louis, Troika Brodsky has been the voice of Schlafly Beer for five years as The St. Louis Brewery’s communications director, and has been with the company since 2002. In that time, he’s seen the rise of social media—he started Twitter and Facebook accounts for the brewery in 2008—and the steady expansion of his company’s footprint. As Schlafly has grown from a local brewery, mostly distributing around the St. Louis metro area, to a regional brewery with markets on the East Coast, the Midwest and in the South, so has Brodsky’s role in the company.
“My role continues to change as we grow because I have to constantly think about all of our audiences,” he says. “We don’t just have one audience anymore. There always needs to be content being shared, and what that content looks like from platform to platform and who its audience is are under constant consideration.”
So while Brodsky empowers and encourages his coworkers to share social media responsibilities, the lion’s share falls to him.
“The first thing I do when I wake up and the last thing I do before I go to bed is check the Twitter and Facebook accounts for questions or concerns or comments, and then I check my inbox,” he says. “I sincerely believe that for a brand operating at our level, and how critical we consider every single person who supports us, someone needs to be manning the channels during all reasonable hours.”
Schlafly recently spent a chunk of its marketing budget on billboard advertisements, and Brodsky says the brewery’s in-house team is working alongside a creative marketing and design agency on big-picture brand things, like “helping us refine who we are and where we want to go.”
Still, Brodsky says he believes that no price can be put on the value of an in-house expert with the ability to make real-time, human connections. He gives an example of a traveling beer blogger passing through St. Louis who mentioned Schlafly in a tweet; Brodsky tweeted back, inviting the blogger in for an impromptu insider’s tour of the brewery.
“An agency isn’t going to be able to replicate that in an ongoing way,” he says. “You can’t farm that out. You can farm out a campaign. You can farm out a specific promotion. But you cannot farm out truly and sincerely believing in something.” ■