OPINION: NEWS ANALYSIS - Booming brewers start to get serious about PR. Consumers are buying more beer, but fragmentation means brewers are finding it more difficult to reach them. Which is where PR comes into its own

The brewing industry has been undertaking something of a pre-millennial marketing shake-up - in the past quarter, several of the UK’s largest beer brands have undergone agency changes.

The brewing industry has been undertaking something of a

pre-millennial marketing shake-up - in the past quarter, several of the

UK’s largest beer brands have undergone agency changes.

Bass Brewers, home to the UK’s best selling lager brand Carling, has

decided to consolidate PR and has appointed Shilland and Co across its

five major brands, although its sports sponsorship contracts remain with

Paragon Golin/Harris.

Guinness has appointed Lexis PR as its retained agency, having

previously used The Red Consultancy for project work. And the world’s

largest brewer, Anheuser-Busch, is currently reviewing PR for its

Budweiser account, which has been handled by GCI Group for 12 years.

These changes can be seen as evidence that the sector’s biggest brands

are getting increasingly serious about their PR needs.

Bill Jones, managing director of Guinness’s new agency, Lexis PR says:

’I think a lot of brewers have come to a similar conclusion at the same

time - that PR has an important part to play in communicating to the


He points out: ’In the past, brewers have thought of PR as nice to have,

rather than a must-have. But as disposable leisure spending becomes more

fragmented, only strong brands will have the mass consumer appeal to cut


According to Stuart Cain, brands PR manager for Bass Brewers, the

increased emphasis on PR is due to an improved understanding of the

different marketing disciplines. He says: ’The mix is becoming more

sophisticated. For instance, PR is playing a more important role in

sponsorship deals, so breweries are taking a closer look at it.’

The industry is in good shape. Despite being an established market,

lager sales have grown by over 20 per cent in the past five years,

according to market research by Mintel.

However, brewers still face lively competition from pre-mixed alcoholic

drinks and traditional spirits such as Jack Daniels and Absolut


In addition, tastes have changed, and consumers now switch between a

variety of drinks. According to Mintel, last year alone there were 405

new product launches.

One tactic adopted by established brewers has been to launch new

versions of their existing brands, for example Bass’s Carling Premier

premium lager or Anheuser-Busch’s Bud Ice. And these launches have

provided more work for PR agencies.

’Modern consumer tastes have caused the market to open up,’ says


’The key is to create a tight portfolio so there is a Bass product that

appeals for all kinds of occasions.’

Another trend is that off trade lager sales are increasing at the

expense of sales through licensed premises. The big five supermarkets

are now responsible for half of take-home sales. As a result, beer has

become a fast moving consumer good which needs to be marketed to a

supermarket audience against other FMCG products.

Brewers are now looking to develop partnerships with the supermarkets to

create category management techniques along the aisles to improve

business, and this is another area where PR can help.

Cain explains: ’We recently did a Bass promotion across men’s lifestyle

titles within the EMAP Metro Group. This type of work means that when a

consumer walks into a supermarket it focuses their mind on the


Perhaps PR’s most significant role in the beer market is


When Lexis begins working on Guinness next year, the first big date on

its schedule will be St Patrick’s Day, the brand’s biggest marketing


Most major sporting events now have an equally major beer sponsor. Two

of the most notable examples are Scottish Courage, whose Fosters lager

has exclusive UK rights to Formula One racing, and Bass, which sponsors

the Carling Premiership and the Worthingtons Cup.

’Sponsorship for Bass Brewers is very important for brand

communications,’ says Andy Sutherden, account director for sport

marketing at Paragon.

According to independent research by RSL, there have been significant

increases in the amount of positive messages attributed to Carling since

it started sponsoring the football premier league. In 1995, 45 per cent

of those questioned described Carling as the lager rated by their


The figure had increased to 62 per this year, and more importantly

Carling is the best selling lager brand in the UK.

According to David Jones, corporate communications head at Scottish

Courage, PR involvement with Fosters’ sponsorship of Formula One is

designed to project an exclusive status for the brand.

’The stakes are being raised the whole time; the major brands are moving

from traditional advertising spends because of increasing competition

between the big players,’ says Robert Phillips, founding partner at

Jackie Cooper PR, which works for Scottish Courage on Fosters and Becks.

’Sponsorship without PR just becomes wallpaper.’

Sponsorship support has been seen as one of the frothier and less

well-paid PR areas. But now that brewers are pouring more money into

sport, and at the same time recognising the value of PR, sponsorship

accounts are becoming a valuable prize for the best consumer agencies.

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