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Commentary: The Power of the Beer Press

Harnessing the Power of the Press - Media and Beer

Last night I had the pleasure to sit in on a panel discussion, focusing on how the media covers the brewing industry, specifically within the realm of Portland. Moderated by Hopworks Marketing Director Eric Steen and featuring three of the town’s prominent members of the media, there was much covered and certainly quite a few things to learn.

The event, “Harnessing the Power of the Press: Media and Beer,” was put on by The Caputo Group, a local HR, management services, and marketing company. It was clear that the intended audience for the event were brewery owners and/or their marketing department. The media asked to speak were The New School’s Ezra Johnson-Greenough, Willamette Week’s former Arts & Culture Editor Martin Cizmar, and the Oregon Beer Growler’s Editor-In-Chief Andi Prewitt.

Each of the panelists brought their own unique perspective on generating content about the Portland beer scene, with one being a daily writer, another managing a weekly, and the third managing a monthly periodical, respectively. As a result, most of the angles were covered.

As moderator, Eric focused the proceedings on the process itself: communicating with writers, PR emails, lead generation, content, lead-time for stories, etc. All are great things to know and anyone who’s worked with the media should probably already have a grasp of, but I’m certain there was new insight to be gleaned by the audience.

To me, the interesting bits of info that should have been focused upon more was what writers can do to help breweries get the word out, how to build relationships with the media, what they can do to build their social media presence, and/or how they can better market themselves.

I say this because just as there are a number of larger breweries in town who can afford to hire outside marketing firms and line up articles with Willamette Week and the Oregonian, there are also a wealth of smaller brewers who are going it on their own – generating their own social media content and working directly with smaller writers, such as myself.

From what I saw, there were quite a few smaller breweries in the audience, most of whom seem under-represented in the local media today. So while I think the event met it’s goal of building better a understanding between brewers and the media, there were definitely some missed opportunities – namely their choice to not include any local, freelance-only writers who utilize the tools of social media daily to promote and attend local brewery events.

And maybe there’s a disconnect between how the major periodicals write about breweries and what breweries expect in the coverage they receive. The New School and Oregon Beer Growler are “niche” periodicals that thrive on the beer nerd masses of Portland. By contrast, Willamette Week’s audience is more geared toward the general public, with fewer words and space available to provide smaller breweries.

For instance, take a look at New School’s coverage of the new Willamette Ale & Cider House, recently opened in West Lynn versus the space Willamette Week has recently given Feckin Brewery or Culmination Brewing. The first is long, detailed, filled with pictures and definitely for the beer folks, while the latter two are quick blurbs with a link to the brewery, not much more. I get it – two different audiences, content built for online reading vs. print, but was this difference in coverage really discussed last night? Not really.

I do appreciate the time and effort Caputo Group put in to create an event that gathers breweries to discuss and ask questions of the press in hopes of improving their media plan (we need more of them). Overall, I think it was a great success.

Simultaneously, I don’t think many creative options, beyond communicating with the media, were provided for the smaller breweries in attendance. I’d presume they were seeking new ideas, yet walked away without as much new insight as they may have hoped.

Further, while I think it was great having a representative from Willamette Week in attendance, having Martin Cizmar de-facto represent them, who is no longer employed by them, may not have been the best choice. His decision to make jokes about the Oregonian’s coverage of the industry and assume his expected role of critical Jester of Curmudgeon-ville – while entertaining, often took the proceedings far off course.

Next time, I’d love to see more time devoted to a realistic mix of classic journalism, blog content, and social media driven measures that small brewers can undertake immediately. Old school journalism is no longer the only method for reaching the widest audience possible and new media should be a larger part of the conversation.

Craft beer has become less of a niche market in Portland today. Breweries would be better served to learn the in-and-outs of the entire media landscape, not simply the way it’s always been.

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