Surly toasts destination brewery

A Prohibition-era Minnesota state law preventing breweries from selling alcohol on site stymied Surly Brewing owner Omar Ansari's vision to build a $20 million destination brewery.

Client: Surly Brewing (Brooklyn Center, MN)
Agency: One Simple Plan (Minneapolis, MN)
Campaign: The Surly Bill, Empowering the People to Change a Prohibition-Era Law
Duration: February - June 2011
Budget: $36,000

A Prohibition-era Minnesota state law preventing breweries from selling alcohol on site stymied Surly Brewing owner Omar Ansari's vision to build a $20 million destination brewery, including a beer garden and restaurant, that could produce enough barrels a year to distribute nationally. Ansari hired One Simple Plan to help.

“We'd never really done any PR,” Ansari explains. “This campaign was crucial. The only way [to change the law] was to get the discussion into the public forum. We wouldn't have a chance if it was debated behind closed doors -- we didn't have the money, relationships, or resources, but we did have a big fan base and no one really agreed with the opposition's argument.”

Strategy
Rallying Surly's social media base helped gain lawmaker support and drive media coverage.

“We turned it into a public debate that was bigger than beer,” explains agency president Clint Roberts. “It was about growing a small business, jobs, and tourism.”

Roberts says the term “destination brewery” helped define the story, adding that it's difficult for lawmakers to oppose a destination.

Tactics
A February 7 press conference announced the campaign. Roberts notes journalists didn't initially believe the law could be changed.

Surly's 17,000 Facebook fans were asked to contact legislators and express support.

Pitches focused on a small business trying to expand, which would create jobs and stimulate tourism, got media traction. Roberts also noted that breweries sell beer in 30 other states. Ansari says reports of opposition leaders saying Surly should build in neighboring Wisconsin ignited public outcry.

A bill allowing pint sales at Minnesota breweries was drafted February 20. State senate and house committee hearings followed in April. Ansari argued his case. The team supplied lobbyists with talking points and research.

Fan appreciation parties in February, an e-newsletter, Surlybrewing.com, and brewery tours, which increased from one to three per week through May, also drove messaging.

Results
The bill was signed into law on May 24.

Facebook likes increased to more than 25,000. Twitter followers increased from 5,996 in January to 9,963 in May and 11,608 in August. Social media impressions exceeded 300 million in May.

Between February and June unique website visitors increased 24% compared to the previous five months. About 420 people per week toured the brewery.

Media hits topped 215 in local outlets and national outlets, including MSNBC and NPR.

More than 2,000 attended a June 18 victory party.

Future
Surly will continue working with the agency.

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