A bill in the Wisconsin legislature earlier this year was ostensibly designed to help brewpubs with economic development.
But close inspection convinced small brewers that the law would negatively affect them and even force some to close down locations. So the Wisconsin Brewer's Guild teamed up with Zigman Joseph Stephenson (ZJS) for an old-fashioned PR stunt to build opposition to the proposal.
The bill was filed rather surreptitiously on the afternoon of July 3, so ZJS had to work quickly. "They frankly thought it would attract little interest," says Michael Horne, ZJS editorial director. "The Boston Tea Party came to mind." A quick public stunt was deemed the best route for attracting publicity and galvanizing those against the bill.
The "Beer Party" was born. Horne notes that the "protest" part of the effort's official title is obviously one against the bill, but adds that "the 'demonstration' was how to blow open a couple kegs of beer." To illustrate the point, ZJS obtained some super-primed beer barrels and issued a press release that attracted media attention, political allies, and the public. The next day, the group gave a few speeches and then let the beer blow in spectacular fashion with cameras rolling. Augmenting the effort was a blog that documented the issue, event, and coverage.
The demonstration drew front-page coverage in Milwaukee, and an AP story was picked up nationally. In addition, a clip of the beer explosion ran on NBC's Today. The publicity gave exposure to the campaign against the bill, which was subsequently tabled without action.
The bill does not appear likely to be revived any time soon, but brewers stand ready to blow up more beer, if necessary.
PR team: Wisconsin Brewer's Guild and Zigman Joseph Stephenson (both of Milwaukee)
Campaign: The Spirit of '07 Milwaukee Beer Party Protest and Demonstration
Duration: June to July 2007