Whether the focus is on the product itself or on marketing strategies, David Ward finds beer companies have always done well at tapping into each outlet's coverage slant.As big a part of American culture as it is, beer would seem to be a perennial media category. The reality is that the media's interest in beers and breweries varies widely, depending on what brewing fads are in vogue. "In the mid-'90s, there was a huge surge in craft breweries and a lot of brew pubs opened up," says Michelle Sullivan, senior PR manager for The Boston Beer Company, makers of Sam Adams. "At that time, there were more people writing about beer for consumer publications, as well as more trade titles. But since that surge, which ended around 2000, a lot of breweries haven't survived. There are fewer brew pubs and fewer breweries. Therefore, there are less people reporting on beer for consumer publications." Bettie DeBruhl, VP with Houston-based Steven/FKM Public Relations, notes this dip hasn't really been felt on the trade side, as publications such as Beer Marketer's Insights and others remain an incredibly important avenue for influencing retailers and distributors. But DeBruhl, who represents Shiner, adds, "On the consumer side, it's more of a challenge only because there are relatively few top beer writers. So we really focus on that core group, and they're always pretty interested in writing about a new line or new packaging. If you can get that group interested, it can become a domino effect and you can get pick-up across the country." Increased general-media interest While there may be fewer pure beer reporters, others argue the slack has been taken up by increased coverage by more general reporters. Most food sections in newspapers cover beer on a regular basis, although not nearly as frequently as wine. In addition, beer gets featured on TV shows ranging from The Man Show to programs on The Food Network. "For a while, the wine reporting really took over, but now the beer coverage is really starting to come back," says John Dannerbeck, director of sales and marketing for San Francisco-based Anchor Brewing. "There's a kind of healthy competition between the beer world and the wine world. People are increasingly realizing that they need to write about beer the same way they do wine. It needs to be about quality and style." Beer coverage has also gotten a boost from the rise of the new-generation men's lifestyle outlets. "Publications like Maxim, FHM, and Stuff report on beer more frequently than the GQs and the Esquires of the world, which have generally stuck to more traditional coverage of spirits and wine," says Sullivan. "Both Stuff and Maxim, for example, have done a good job getting experts on staff who can evaluate beers." But given that beer is marketed far more as a lifestyle accessory than as a beverage, there is some debate as to whether beer reviews really matter that much. DeBruhl, for one, says, "We do not pay very much attention to that at all. It's not something that our clients worry about." For the top national sellers such as Budweiser, Miller, and Coors, coverage of beer is often more about market share and advertising than it is about the beer. Coors spokesperson Hilary Martin, who specializes in marketing issues, says, "We're pretty reactive in terms of how we handle media, especially advertising calls." Tapping into new media In the past few years, Coors signed deals to become not only the official beer of the NFL, but also the official beer of film studio Miramax, both of which triggered a surge of stories. The Miramax deal allows for product placements in movies, as well as for Coors to be the official beer at premieres and the sponsor of the studio's Golden Globe parties. In addition, Martin says, "The Miramax deal has continued on as an interesting story because of all the cross-promotions, such as Scary Movie 3, which comes out is October and features the Coors Light Twins from our advertisements." As far as tools of the trade go, Boston Beer's Sullivan says she has largely shifted away from printed press releases to e-mail contacts with reporters, since it allows her to better tailor her message to each reporter. But she says the majority of her PR efforts are spent getting Sam Adams into the hands of reporters. "In our business, the proof is in the bottle," Sullivan explains. "It's hard to ask someone to write about a beer they haven't tasted." ----- Pitching...beer media
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