In case there was any doubt, allow me to make something clear: I routinely receive free beer.
As you might also imagine, most beer writers do. In fact virtually all beer writers with any sort of respectable following have probably received at least a few free beers and I imagine a handful of them got into the beer writing biz for the express purpose of receiving free beer.
Shocking stuff, I know.
That earth-shattering revelation aside, you might not realize that there are actually some mixed feelings about how we should talk about the fact that virtually all of us receive freebies. On the one hand, there are some beer writers who thoroughly enjoy flaunting their freebies. The job of a beer writer isn’t exactly one that typically makes a ton of dough so the beer perks might be considered something like the job’s “benefits.” For some, I imagine, bragging on social media about being among the first to try the next experimental offering or new one-off from a brewery are simply extensions of those perks.
On the other hand are folks who see bragging about these freebies as unprofessional. There are some beer writers out there who, as a rule, don’t t talk about the obvious perks we all get. Sure, we get free beer, this school of thought goes, but it’s a bit crass to brag about it. It’s simply part of the job, so accept it, review the beers that you need to/want to review and shut up about it.
Personally, my point of view skews somewhere closer to those who openly brag about the freebies. But not because I like to show off; rather I think that it’s important to be transparent about the fact that I get free beer. I think anyone who writes about beer critically should always do the same. When I get a beer delivery or an always-welcome sample from a new brewer, I don’t post an image of said beer to twitter or instagram because I’m humble-bragging (OK, a little bit I am, but also), I’m doing it for something akin to fair disclosure: I get free beer. Here it is.
It would not only be pointless to pretend that I don’t, it would be dishonest.
If I expect people to take me at my word when I recommend or pan a beer, it’s good for people to know which ones I may have received gratis. I’m not saying I’m more likely to give a good review for something I get for free (because that’s absolutely not the case), but I feel the need to make sure my audience has all the facts. I can understand that people might object to tweets or boasts that come off as, “I get free beer and you don’t, so fuck you,” but I’ve never seen a beer writer talk about free beer that way and I don’t imagine there would be too many beer deliveries for that person for very long if that was their approach.
I also like the beer deliveries for ridiculously lazy personal reasons. I have a six month old baby at home and I work full time. As you can imagine, I don’t get out to the pub too much these days. As such, beer delivery helps me maintain some modicum of relevancy since I largely wouldn’t get a lot of chances to try new stuff otherwise (I know, small violins are playing somewhere).
Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, receiving free beer is fun and exciting. I want to talk about it when I get something cool. If you’re a beer writer and you don’t get excited when you receive a package from a brewer or get a call from a beer rep who wants you to try something new, I’d venture that you’re in the beer writing game for the wrong reasons or you’ve become too jaded to remember why you started writing about beer in the first place. Beer is fun! It’s ok (and appropriate) to get excited about it. And so while I respect all beer writer’s personal philosophies about dealing with the freebies, I’ll remain firmly in the camp that prefers to talk about it openly.
But what about the brewers…
Having said that, there are some philosophies related to free beer that I can’t fully understand, and those are the views of breweries who either don’t believe in giving samples to writers/bloggers/critics or simply don’t bother doing it.
Forget for a second that I am a beer writer and allow me to don the other cap I wear during the day, that of someone who works in information management with a background in professional communications and marketing. Speaking strictly from a communications and marketing standpoint, the “we-don’t-do-samples” approach is short-sighted. And here’s why: There is no better way to make sure that influential people are trying, judging, and talking about your beer than to simply put one in their hands.
It seems simple, and it is.
For the cost of a beer and some travel time (i.e. having a delivery person drop off said beer) a brewer who provides free samples to beer writers and influential bloggers is afforded potentially massive targeted market exposure.
By way of explanation, let’s imagine a case study. Take fictional beer blogger, Jen Bonson. Let’s imagine Jen has 1342 twitter followers, to choose a number. Jen likewise has 300 instagram followers, and 588 facebook friends, and writes a fairly well-read blog that averages a couple hundred hits a day and as many as 800 hits on the days where she writes a popular post, say one where she writes about running for mayor. Jen may or may not even write for a popular daily Toronto blog where her posts enjoy 3000-5000 visits, but for the purposes of this exercise, we’ll leave that out.
Now let’s imagine a brewery opts to give Jen a free sample of their new beer that will retail for $9.95.
If Jen then opts to take a picture of said beer and mention it across her social media platforms, the potential gains for a brewer are myriad. Clearly there’s going to be some overlap here in terms of the people that follow Jen on each platform and/or read her blog, but even allowing for that, anyone with a basic understanding of math should be able to see that if Jen opts to talk about the beer to the 1342 + 300 + 588 + 800* people she interacts with, your brewery stands to receive a shit ton of exposure (that’s a technical term).
More importantly though, the exposure isn’t just billboard-on-the-side-of-a-highway-exposure. If Jen has any sort of standing in beer circles, which it’s probably safe to say she does given her popular beer blog, then the people who read her blog, follow her on twitter, and are her friends on facebook, are also probably people who like craft beer. In other words: A craft brewery’s target market. As an added bonus, presumably a lot of these people turn to people like Jen for the word on new, interesting, and exciting beers to try.
So, for $9.95 (retail), Jen offers you targeted exposure to your most valued demographic via the means that most of that demographic makes their purchasing decisions.
And, if for some reason you don’t see the clear value of building your brand within your target demographic and the vague promise of “exposure,” then you should at the very least be able to see that giving Jen a free beer just makes good business sense. If her tweet/instagram post/facebook update/blog review helps sell just two bottles of your brewery’s beer, you’ll see a 100% return on the investment you made by dropping off a beer for her. 100%. That’s a number that’s tough to scoff at.
So if you’re a brewer and you’re still asking why you should send free beer to beer writers, the answer should now be clear: You’d be dumb not to.
Incidentally, feel free to email me if you need my address.