“The unexamined beer event is not worth attending.”
From July 22-24, The Beer Store Presents The Toronto Festival of Beer (TFOB) returns to Toronto for the 24th time.
Touted as Canada’s largest beer festival, TFOB will once again go down at Bandshell Park in Exhibition Place. And apparently organizers need my help.
At least, that’s what the email asking about media accreditation said.
Noting: “Your application does not guarantee your approval, as space for each day at Toronto’s Festival of Beer is extremely limited,” the media accreditation process includes a request to “provide us with as much detail as possible in your application so we can understand who you are covering the event for, what you’re most interested in seeing and how you can support TFOB 2022 before the event weekend.”
I understand that as an event organizer, you hope that providing free shit to “media” will translate to positive media attention for said event, but can you just…ask for it? That feels bold to me. I mean it’s one thing to wine and dine “journalists” in your socially awkward media VIP area while the Spin Doctors play, but to proactively vet candidates for media passes based on their planned activities to “support” your event seems pretty blatant.
So I clicked through from this email to the actual application for media accreditation to see that, because “the live event business has been hit hard over the past two years” (fair enough) TFOB asks would-be media types to “share [. . .] how you plan on pre-promoting TFOB 2022 [. . .] Please provide examples of how you can help drive awareness and potential ticket sales for our event, ahead of our event.”
This, to me, feels pretty darn greasy.
Based on this language, I don’t think it’s that crazy to infer that if you can’t detail your “pre-promotion” efforts on this form sufficiently, you won’t get access to the event. Which, to me, kind of defeats the purpose of inviting media at all. “We’d love to welcome critics of beer-related events after you detail how you’re going to help us sell tickets to this event” is, of course, not an invitation for “media coverage.” It is a solicitation for free PR.
And so, as one does in 2022, I absent-mindedly took my gripe to twitter, and not long thereafter received a response from Greg Cosway, the founder of TFOB (now no longer affiliated). Greg, who is just a delight on twitter, let me know that it’s “been like that for years now,” and this was a policy borne out of of “guys like [me] showing up, enjoying the hospitality, only to slag the Fest afterwards.”
My dusty, ungreased wallet aside, I have some opinions about what you might do if the people you wined and dined didn’t have a good experience at your event. My suggestion would be to examine the criticism you’re receiving from accredited critics of your industry and consider making adjustments to the event to make it better. TFOB seems to have chosen option B: Stop inviting people that don’t promise glowing reviews.
(And for the record, I did attend TFOB for free at least once that I can remember in 2012. Two other years tickets were provided to me without the implicit request for positive coverage so one year I sent a couple that I was friends with as “correspondents” and another year I gave my tickets to a total stranger whom I told organizers was my photographer. So yeah…I might be part of the reason they’ve tightened things up since then…)
That said, Mr Cosway, vocal on the subject though he may be, no longer represents TFOB so I reached out to Les Murray, the owner of TFOB to share my opinions on the language of the accreditation form and give him a chance to respond. “We do have a media accreditation process that’s been in place for 10 years. It’s the first time I’m hearing that this process is “tacky” or “egregious,”” Murray said, via email.
“At no time have we ever – in your words “vetted Media candidates based on their willingness to commit to positive coverage of your event.” TFOB has been around for 25+ years and we receive many requests for media accreditation. We do have a limited capacity, so yes we vet the requests to ensure that those accredited are journalists, writers, reporters, broadcasters, beer/entertainment bloggers, etc. Most requests are valid, from accredited media and who are happy to share and provide examples of their event coverage. However, we also receive many requests from persons that indicate they work for XXX media company or “are working in media” but aren’t actually writing, reporting or otherwise covering the event and we do not automatically guarantee those persons will receive accreditation.
The events and hospitality industry in Canada took a major hit in 2020-2021, so of course we all appreciate any support that brings awareness to our industry, as we get back up and running. We are small business owners that employee 150 gig/production staff and hire multiple 3rd party event suppliers, in addition to promoting/showcasing 80+ craft brewers and local restauranteurs. Again, any coverage is appreciated.”
Murray definitely has a fair point about ensuring media types are actually representing a media outlet (some dickhead blogger might send a stranger to the media tent just for laughs, for example) but I don’t think his answer addresses my concerns about soliciting positive media coverage and how that can negatively impact the beer scene.
The Ontario beer scene has come a long way since TFOB started. We now inarguably get to enjoy “World Class Beer.” The beer here is great. But I would argue the two things still lacking in Ontario’s beer scene that could make it even better are a) considered criticism of the industry, and b) really great beer events.
We are largely lacking in the latter due to the former, and we’re lacking in the former due to the fact that approximately no one is willing to pay for “beer writing” any more. [Tangent Warning] When I started writing about beer in 2011, Toronto enjoyed multiple outlets that actually paid qualified writers to report on the beer scene. I had my shitty little corner of blogTO, Jordan St. John was a syndicated beer columnist for Sun Media, Crystal Luxmore wrote for an excellent free weekly paper called The Grid, even the Toronto Star had a beer writer, Josh Rubin. All these people (and more!) got paid to think about, critique, and then regularly publish their thoughts about the city’s beer scene. Did it sometimes lead to people churning out shitty little listicles about beer just to meet a weekly deadline? You’re god damned right it did. But it also meant that people were paying attention to the industry and having a conversation and there was active engagement in making the scene better. I’m not trying to say that beer writers made Toronto beer what it is (fuck no) but they certainly helped. These days I can’t even name four people who still get paid regularly to cover the beer scene in Ontario and what has filled the void is of course influencers slathering on praise for free shit they get [/end tangent].
With virtually no accredited outlets covering the beer scene or its events, subpar or otherwise, there is no longer a public conversation being led by critics to educate about what is working or is not working about beer events (and no, reddit doesn’t count). And so when the little media coverage that IS out there, for example, coverage of “Canada’s largest beer festival,” is solicited with the demand that the media coverage of said event be a) positive and b) preceded by “pre-promotion” efforts, we get bullshit handjobs instead of actual professional reviews and there’s less incentive to improve things.
I won’t be attending this year’s TFOB (obviously) so I won’t be able to offer up my unfiltered thoughts on why the MANSCAPED™ Lambic Yurt is a terrible idea. Instead, you’ll get influencers there dutifully hashtagging #FunkyBeersNotFunkyBalls and organizers will see the engagement and feel empowered to add the bet365™ Kolsch Pavilion next year and The Labatt Presents the Axe Body Spray Light Lager Pergola the year after that and our beer events, bolstered by vetted media “support,” will just keep getting shittier and shittier.