Recently, FSC has been part of a collective of agencies contributing to the Pub, Restaurant and Coffee Shop 100 Day Brand, Marketing and PR Playbook. For many smaller operators considering their marketing mix, PR may well be a bit of a mystery, so we like to frame it as ‘Earned Media’, writes Ed Whitehead.
Why? Because PR helps your message work harder – it literally has to earn its way into traditional or social media, without payment. But also because PR and Communications can actually earn their way into people’s lives, in a way that no other part of the marketing mix can.
How does PR do that? By getting people talking about a brand or product, showing relevance and tapping into cultural touchpoints, adding fame. During the Coronavirus crisis, no brand has shown a better knack for earning column inches and generating talkability than Brewdog, and for years to come, experts should highlight them as a best practice example of how to act in an unprecedented crisis.
At a time when their founders admitted the business faced a ‘Fight to Survive’, the Scottish craft beer innovators could have battened down the hatches and looked after themselves. But instead, they stayed true to their values, doubling down on their belief that businesses should be a force for good, while never losing sight of the brand’s famous rebellious streak.
Purpose has been at the heart of how Brewdog responded in recent months. It started, before lockdown had even begun, when the company announced that it would tackle the shortage of hand sanitizers by creating batches at its distillery, to be given away for free. Two months and 400,000 bottles later, production is still going strong.
Then, with concerns over job security, founders James Watt and Martin Dickie announced that they would forego their entire 2020 salary, in an attempt to safeguard as many jobs at the company as possible.
In April, with the death-toll rising and lockdown continuing, the craft beer giants provided a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel by offering everybody a free beer, post-lockdown saying; “Good beer has always brought people together through the best of times and the worst. Soon, beer is going to do that again.”
And, most recently, the Punks nailed it once more, demonstrating fantastic agility to be able to capture public sentiment and reveal the creation of ‘Barnard Castle Eye Test’, just hours after Dominic Cummings’ address in the Downing Street rose garden – with profits funding free hand sanitiser for the NHS and healthcare charities. Being able to call the New England IPA a ‘Hazy Durham IPA’ was the cherry on top, and pre-orders were so popular that they crashed Brewdog’s website.
At times of crisis, a brand’s purpose is really put to the test – and arguably, the brands who have continued to walk the walk are the ones for whom purpose is ingrained, rather than a CSR bolt-on. It’s been a great relief to see that COVID-19 has actually brought the best out of many businesses, large and small, particularly in the leisure and hospitality sectors.
Just amongst the clients we work with, there have been countless examples of Hawthorn Leisure and Ei Publican Partnership community pubs providing much-needed local services during lockdown, while Parkdean Resorts has provided more than 1,000 nights’ free accommodation for frontline NHS workers at its holiday parks and donated £30,000 worth of food to food banks, Diageo announced a £1m package of support for British bartenders, and Starstock used its e-commerce expertise to help pubs become community stores with mypubshop.
Being able to tell culturally relevant stories has always been at the core of good PR, and during Coronavirus, the businesses, big and small, who have been able to tell people, “Because of this problem, we’ve decided to create this solution, to provide this benefit”, are the ones who can earn their way not just into conversations, but into consumers’ hearts.
Ed Whitehead is an Associate Director at Fleet Street Communications.