VCBW Myths and Lost Opportunities
Now that a couple of weeks have passed by since the inaugural Vancouver Craft Beer Week has finished, there’s been time to get feedback in various shapes and forms. Given that we sold out most of our events, that the mayor officially proclaimed Vancouver Craft Beer Week and came to celebrate the festival kickoff with us, and that the mainstream media gave VCBW some good coverage, one could deem it a success for craft beer. Nevertheless, VCBW did not work for some. I want to address a few of the issues that have come to my attention, especially some myths and misconceptions that result in lost opportunities.
First off, I want to point out this was the first such festival for Vancouver; in fact, for Canada. You never get everything right on the first go, but you hope to be in the ballpark (see above). In getting third parties on board, it also didn’t help that we had the Olympics, the Playhouse International Wine Festival, Dine Out Vancouver, and the playoffs as a significant combined distraction. Under the circumstances, one may have to forego the ideal and opt for what is expedient. Next time around, we hope parties will get involved early enough so that we can achieve the ideal for the 2011 VCBW.
So what exactly is Vancouver Craft Beer Week? Well, it is different things to different people, but more than anything, it is a major marketing opportunity targeted at those individuals and businesses not yet in the craft beer fold. It isn’t a party for the converted, but the converted should be actively promoting VCBW just the same. Why? For selfish reasons – the more people there are drinking craft beer, the more there will be for people to choose from. In a nutshell, more demand = more supply. Instead of brewpubs closing down, there could be new ones opening up. Instead of the typical pub offering ten taps of crap, they will decline the inducements because there will be enough thinking drinkers to make serving microbrews worth their while. Instead of BC liquor stores hiding craft beer behind cords of Wonder suds, they may realize that the 40% increase in “cottage” beer sales over the last year is not a flash-in-the-pan fad, but part of a trend in which people are voting with their wallets for quality over quantity. Time to put microbrews in the spotlight, maybe even help encourage sales instead of sitting back and expecting a brand to sell itself with its label.
Vancouver Craft Beer Week manifests itself as a celebration of craft beer. In this regard, participation is open to all businesses, regardless of what social or economic strata represents their market. The VCBW organizing committee arranges signature events for each day of the festival, but it is completely open for others to come up with their own event ideas. Featuring craft beer is the only stipulation for the latter and there is no requirement to have a brewmaster/beer pairing dinner. It could be a tasting seminar highlighting a particular aspect of beer or it could be more focused on the pursuit of some other cultural activity, but enjoying it with craft beer. The opportunities are limited only by the imagination. You don’t need an invitation to sign up; knock on the front door.
So why should a business pay a VCBW participation fee if the event is something they could organize and promote on their own? Well, how easy is it for someone to hear you if you were the only other person in GM Place shouting from the other end? Compare that to 500 people bellowing the same message in unison. So, then, how easy is it for you to get mentioned in the West Ender, The Province, The Vancouver Sun, The Peak, the CBC, and 24 Hours if all there is to talk about is your lone event? How much would you have to pay a PR agency to get that coverage?
When you get brewers, hospitality establishments, and craft beer enthusiasts all working together to put on a series of events over the course of an entire week, it is pretty hard to ignore that or, somehow, not hear about it. The more people there are working the various media channels at the same time with the same messages, the better the chances are that word-of-mouth will get around and it spill upwards to print, radio, and television. Paying the VCBW participation fee doesn’t mean you should sit back and leave it all to VCBW to make it happen. That just limits the potential number of people who may become aware of your business. The more people there are who are part of the chorus, the louder and richer the sound, and the greater the reach.
Finally, there may be some who think that because they will have no trouble filling their establishment during Vancouver Craft Beer Week, that it is of little value to them. This is very short-sighted. There are another 358 days in the year. Do you get enough business where reaching new potential customers doesn’t matter? Great if you do! But would you not want to take advantage of the media spotlight that focuses on this event to increase brand awareness to stave off the point when your existing customers may lose interest in your offerings?
At its most basic, media looks for stories – people or businesses doing something new and/or novel. If you come up with an innovative idea for an event that plays to the customers whom you expect to visit during VCBW, you will be in the ideal position of being able to pique the interest of the press while having little trouble putting bums on seats. Alibi Room owners, Nigel Springthorpe & Raya Audet understood the value of this. Look at what they got in return, which was broadcast just before the hockey game. Worth it or not worth it?