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Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Someone (formerly?) at Diageo is probably having trouble sitting down at the moment...

It's the drinks PR omnishambles that makes George Osborne look like a competent chancellor.

Brew Dog have long been known for their spectacular PR stunts, but the storm that broke on Twitter today seemed breathtaking even by their standards.

In this sensational statement, Brew Dog claimed that at the Scottish BII Awards last weekend, Brew Dog were voted clear winners of the Bar Operator of the Year Award.  They knew this because the judges were sitting at their table and told them so.  So everyone was surprised when another company's name was read out, with judges saying, 'That's not possible.'

The plot thickened when the 'winners' took the stage and refused to accept the trophy because it had Brew Dog's name engraved on it!

Later, according to Brew Dog, the BII phoned and said this had happened because Diageo, the main sponsors of the award, had threatened BII officials, warning them that any future sponsorships would be cancelled if the award was presented to Brew Dog.

Another stunt?

Well... no.  Brew Dog are famous for stunts, but this would be suicide if it were not true.  And this was all about the bars - say what you like about the sensationalism of the head honchos, love or hate the brand, but as I've said repeatedly, the bars are about nothing but genuine passion and hard work.  Could this really be spin and exaggeration?

No, it couldn't.

I asked Diageo for a statement, and here it is:

“There was a serious misjudgement by Diageo staff at the awards dinner on Sunday evening in relation to the Bar Operator of the Year Award, which does not reflect in anyway Diageo’s corporate values and behaviour.

“We would like to apologise unreservedly to BrewDog and to the British Institute of Innkeeping for this error of judgement and we will be contacting both organisations imminently to express our regret for this unfortunate incident.”

I've got more to say about the increasingly shameless bullying and anticompetitive tactics employed by some (but not all) big brewers, but this one really takes the biscuit.  Diageo, having been caught red handed, had no option but to blame it on a rogue element, and we must take them at their word.  But does this reveal something deeper about the attitudes of some global brewing corporations?

Brew Dog's facility with social media means that the hashtag, #andthewinnerisnot, was trending globally by early afternoon.  Would Diageo have rushed out this grovelling apology before the advent of social media?  I'm not sure they would.  We may well look back on this as the start of the tables turning in how different types of brands manage their media.  We live in a very transparent and interconnected world these days - interesting times, as the Chinese would say...


Gareth said...

"Which does not reflect in anyway Diageo’s corporate values and behaviour."

Err... Quacks like a duck?

Jordan St.John said...

What kind of old school PR idiot do you have to be to have thought that this was going to fly in an age with the internet? That's the kind of behaviour that's going to resonate with people other than just craft beer and CAMRA types. That's actually reprehensible to anyone with a modicum of sense.

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

shades of the fixing of the charts back in the 70s when the Pistols had made it to number one but were kept at number two.

Cooking Lager said...

Diageo have followed the 1st rule. Fess up early and apologise. It won't affect the sales of Blossom Hill wine or Smirnoff vodka one bit.

BII now look like sponsorship buys you their awards. They will need a new sponsor for a tainted award ceremony next year.

coldclimate said...

And are they going to post an apology on their own PR section one wonders?

Mark Seaman said...

And the guys at Brewdog come out of a PR / social media "incident" whiter than white, with everyone on their side. That WILL be a novelty!

Anonymous said...

People who say "We would like to apologise" annoy me beyond belief.

Well, go on then, nobody is stopping you, in fact they're waiting for it, so go on and apologise, then!

Ro said...

Anti-competitive? Really? Where's the evidence of that. And if there is some, why haven't you taken it to the OFT?

Tony Leonard said...

Diageo look like corporate bullies but no real surprise there. What I'm really shocked at is BII Scotland going along with the whole corrupt debacle. Would they have fessed up if Diageo hadn't been caught out?

Anonymous said...

ummm anti-competitive as in using corporate sponsorship as a tool to divert the award from its intended recipient

you know, threatening to withdraw future revenue in order to change something you don't like

to change the result that had been achieved through a level playing field, independent judges and so on

are there any other ways of putting this in a way that you will understand it as anti-competitive?

Pete Brown said...

Ro... that was a more general point.

Why am I not taking it to the OFT?

One, because I'm a writer and it's not my place to - that's up to Brew Dog. Two, because this story only broke this afternoon and I only just confirmed that it actually happened!

Oh and three - because I can do (or not do) whatever I like.


Martyn Cornell said...

I'm guessing someone thought it would be worse PR for Diageo if Brewdog, which I presume doesn't stock Diageo's beers in its bars, won a Diageo-sponsored award, and so put the pressure on the BII, only to be steamrollered by the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Fascinating to watch it all happen in real-time, though, like a slow-motion car crash. This will be taught in business schools in the lesson labelled: "How not to behave in the era of social media".

Cooking Lager said...

To add another point, it may be that Brewdog come out smelling of roses but the message to observers is clear. Invite Brewdog and expect a shit storm that damages all its its wake. The Brewdog conspiracy looks self fulfilling. Diageo say sorry. BII look like they can be dictated to by their sponsor & Brewdog look more trouble than their worth.

Eoghan O'Neill said...

BII seem to be the big losers here. First of all by playing along with the nonsense, then, presumably, by breaking the implied confidentiality of their sponsor. Diageo threw around some corporate muscle and got caught, but the integrity of BII seems to be more toxic to me.

Curmudgeon said...

What do Diageo have to worry about from BrewDog? It's a bit like a gnat biting an elephant on the bum, really.

Anonymous said...

...the message to observers is clear. Invite Brewdog and expect a shit storm that damages all its its wake. The Brewdog conspiracy looks self fulfilling. Diageo say sorry. BII look like they can be dictated to by their sponsor & Brewdog look more trouble than their worth.

Now in sharp contrast to the original event this looks like quality modern PR.

Anonymous said...

...very likely the behaviour of an old school salesman who has never heard of Twitter and kept falling asleep during briefings on corporate social responsibility, as it seemed irrelevant to him and his incisive business skils !! Diageo global elephant will keep rumbling on into new markets but big brands have a problem with brand power vs quality products in mature markets

paul salvadori said...

Let us not forget the complicit role of the BII, the British Institute of Innkeeping. It is the BII that the government have entrusted with policing fairness and transparency for tied tenants in their disputes with pubco and brewer landlords. That they can be seen to sell their soul so cheaply proves a less suitable appointment could not have been made.

J Mark Dodds said...

Priceless stuff from the depths of the BII's slow trainwreck to oblivion. An organisation in shambles, perhaps this is the nadir that BII's 'administration' needs to reach to shake it awake.

As for Brewdog, it's difficult to imagine anything more excellent happening to raise their already rocketing profile. Brewdog deserve to benefit from all that fantastic free publicity and the many more opportunities that are about to open up as the affair rolls out.

Difficult to believe, however, that anyone at Diageo board level could possibly be so crass as to be involved in this except at damage limitation level.

Diageo are proud to be good guys:

Anonymous said...

Stepping back from the "Big Bully" picking on the "little guy" aspect to this story, I have to ask myself why.

What if the brewery in question was Williams Bros or Fyne or Black Isle?

Would the Diageo representative have acted in the same way?

Is there something so reprehensible about Brewdog, their beers and their bars that would make this Diageo employee risk their job?

Shame on the BII for caving in. Every award given by them must now seem tainted.

PivnĂ­ Filosof said...

I have to give Diageo here the benefit of the doubt. Someone did cock up there and I find it hard to believe this person was following the corporate line.

I wish there was a video of the moment the Diageo people refused to take the award. Did they do it because they knew they didn't deserve it or because they were outraged that their company's name wasn't engraved in it?

Anyway, this is perhaps the sign of something that goes deeper than that. A company with vested interests as the main sponsor of an award that can affect said interests.

All that said, I can't blame BrewDog for using all this brouhaha for their PR purposes, they'll be stupid not to.

Kristy said...

OFT?? Anti Competitive?? Corporate Bullying?? Crikey, we're a conspiracy theory away from an Oliver Stone movie, maybe that's a tad too far!

Events like this are organised by office juniors or PR execs - not doing it down but I don't expect the Diageo board got their hands dirty laying tables. My theory is an overzealous and naive junior thought "shit, Brewdog winning won't please the boss so I best do something about it" and not only had a stupid idea but were stupid enough to get caught out too. No big conspiracy and I'd be astounded if anyone senior knew or had anything to do with it. As Cookie points out Diageo have fessed up fast (although I'm with anon - I hate "we would like to apologise" - just say sorry!!) and I'm sure someone has earned themselves a new arsehole today.

Brewdog get some positive PR for a change (and by all accounts they do deserve it for their bars) albeit I'm not sure how "punk" it is to make such a fuss about not getting a corporate sponsored trophy.......

Stono said...

vested interests in what though, thats what i dont understand about this mess.

Diageo make vodka/whisky/rum and have a profitable sideline in irish beer, Guinness being the most obviously famous brand, but its a sideline nonetheless even if the marketing budget/profits are big with it.

seriously the volumes of spirits they make (worlds largest maker of whisky) and sell far outstrips by magnitudes of order that of the beer, and their business plan is about expanding into worldwide spirit markets and buying up more spirits/distillers, not beers or beer brands.

So what was the point, Brewdog arent competing on product, whatever any claims this isnt a big brewer scared of a craft brewer & like anyone can name off the top of their head who won last years award, so its not an award that the average consumer cares about.

Its not even some crossover in customer base in any meaningful manner, as really dont think the average Brewdogger finishes their evening with a dram of Johnny Walker or shot of Smirnoff & Brewdog arent suddenly opening a branch in Dublin (are they ?),even if they are, like guinness still wouldnt be the most popular beer sold there.

so what was the issue and why did it erupt at the awards event,as youd have expected a corporate sponsor to have been fully versed of the conclusions of the judges and known all the winners, signed them off or wielded its influence if it felt it was needed, long before anyone etched any trophies up or sat down for the soup course.

so a grand mess out of seemingly nothing at all,which I doubt we'll ever fully understand

Pete Brown said...

Kristy, I agree bringing up things like OFT is a bit daft, and agree with your read of what happened.

But the Diageo rep was still the Diageo rep, whatever their level, and that means this person carried enough authority to leave the BII feeling threatened, bullied and intimidated.

As it sinks in for me, the point I arrive at is this: the person responsible is a complete numpty and Diageo will hopefully do the right thing and fire their ass. But that person works (or worked) within a corporate culture which somehow convinced them that this would be an appropriate thing to do.

I am certain it was out of line with what Diageo at a corporate level would want them to do, but would argue it is in line with the cultural atmosphere and internal rhetoric of Diageo - that's why they felt it was appropriate.

That's my theory, in a world where you can be fired from AB-Inbev for drinking a competitor's brand even if you're off the clock, where A-B was fined with outrageous regularity for abusing wholesaler relationships and simply dipped its hand into its spare change every time to pay those fines, where football fans can be arrested - ARRESTED - for wearing clothing to a game that the sponsors don't like, and where Heineken's Olympic sponsorship can oust Marston's from a venue they have prior sponsorship contracts with, and allegedly infringe the rights of Brains on their own doorstep.

This is all a looooong way from the 'power of the market'.

I was surprised to learn that Adam Smith - the godfather of the free market - hated huge corporations. I hate them because I'm a socialist. But even if you're a capitalist and believe in the principle of the free market, the biggest corporations today completely distort and abuse that principle.

Thats why I say this is the latest example in a pattern of anti-competitive practices and corporate bullying.

The Beer Wrangler said...

I think the BII look the worst out of this for initially going along with it. Diageo can easily fire the guilty party, distance themselves from him/her and say they were acting alone and not under any corporate orders - job done!

BII are looking like weak spined corporate yes men.

The Beer Wrangler said...

Pete - your comment reminded me of a day during the Vancouver Olympics in 2010 when the CBC (who didn't have TV rights to the Olympics) handed out free Canadian flags with the CBC logo on the streets. If you were seen with one in an official venue then it was confiscated or you weren't allowed.

James, BrewDog said...

It is not just one rogue employee.

Look at the statement. It was 'staff at the award'.

There were at least 10 of them. They all must have been in on it.

Gareth said...

Excellent points about Diageo and corporate influence generally, but Curmudgeon was right in his Elephant analogy.

If it were another brewery who weren't quite so vociferous in their anti-corporate rhetoric would the BII be a bit more worrried? Fair play to BD for accepting the apology in good grace but the BII must be quite glad all the hostility is being directed away from them. They're hardly smelling of roses (hop cones?) right now.

Pete Brown said...

Hi James,

Interesting - did you manage to get any sense of what level the most senior person was?

Dave Bailey said...

You know, I'm not a leftie like Pete. In fact, I run my own little enterprise, as modest as it is, so I guess I must be a minor capitalist. But to me, this does show the sort of back-room, underhand, quiet word-in-the-ear thing that happens.

And it does happen, with approval or not makes no difference.

I know Kristy likes to understate the facts, and it might be true that all-out conspiracy is a label too far, but people do talk, and do deals, and stick together.

It is fact that bigger businesses can have a large influence, especially when sponsoring events. This can be extremely frustrating for smaller growing companies to see.

Conspiracy? or just industry culture making comment against threats that are perceived? When does a comment that indicates disapproval by a sponsor become bullying? Any big brewer that hasn't expressed concern over the growth of micro-brewing, be it craft, Real Ale or any other form of threat, even if the expression of concern has never been made public, must indeed be rare.

I agree with Pete, so perhaps I'm not the capitalist I'd like to be.

Cooking Lager said...

I'm not sure what structure James has for his set up but it would be the 1st company in the history of man if he wasn’t surrounded by yes men that think the boss’s idea, any idea, is just great. Whilst Diageo have not explained the reasons behind their actions I suspect the suit didn’t want the award going to Brewdog because Brewdog are rude people. Do you want some arrogant upstart taking to the stage to accept an award with your brand on and slagging it off? I doubt it has anything to do with supply contracts.

As for the anti competitive practices in the industry, the drinks industry has been a vertically integrated restricted supply chain since my dead granddad was in short pants. It is less restricted now than it ever was. The biggest reason is the supermarkets competing on price, but no one likes them.

Martyn Cornell said...

I think people are being a tad unfair on the BII, who were apparently told that if BrewDog got the award, Diageo would take its ball home right then: not present any of the awards that night. Remember how big Diageo is in Scotland - there isn't a bigger sponsor the BII could find. Is the BII going to wreck its entire evening in front of a crowd of people, and risk being landed with the bill for the whole event, by saying to Diageo: "Right, feck off then, if that's your attitude." You can say you would: I hope that I would. But on the night, with a gun suddenly put to your head, it's a hard call.

Kristy said...

No understatement Dave, just what likely happened and I don't ascribe to the belief that all big organisations are inherently bad.

Of the 10 Diageo people my hunch it was a couple of local sales managers, some guys from marketing and whoever else they could rope in last minute to fill the table. No missive from higher up, just idiots at local level wanting to save face when they go calling on accounts the next day.

And what of the BII - it's a wonder how poor bullied, brow beaten Kenny Mitchell managed to crawl to the phone to tell James "the big boys made me do it" knowing full well the transcript of his call would make the tinterweb. Hardly the actions of the oppressed and has done more to damage their relations with Diageo than telling them to f*ck off on the night ever would have. They seem to be getting off very lightly.

What's worse is that amongst all the calls for Diageo's head on a stick and screams of conspiracy rather than "what a f*ck up" the point seems to have been lost. James and his team at Brewdog rightly deserved to win and should be congratulated. Whatever your views of some of their behaviours to get their bar business to where it currently stands in such a short time is a great success - it's a shame for all their guys at groundlevel that have made that happen not to see that celebrated.

Tony Leonard said...

Martin, that's all well and good but doesn't take into account the BII's self-appointed role within the industry and its consequent need to be seen to be above shabby commercial interests. The cross-party Business & Enterprise Committee has conducted four enquiries over seven years into the abusive relationships between pubcos and their tenants, all recommending a clear government course of action. Despite having previously agreed to act on those recommendations, government ministers then ignored them after consulting with the BII and the BBPA (which represents the pubcos) and is allowing the pubcos to police themselves under the auspices of structures created by the BII (which is known to have serious financial difficulties). Tenants are understandably suspicious of the independence of these bodies and this debacle raises serious questions about the ethics of the BII. Put simply, if the BII will sell out for the cost of putting on an awards dinner, how much (or little) do the pubcos have to pay for the BII to turn a blind eye to the plight of their tenants?

Anonymous said...

It was wrong, the company apologised. The individual is more than likely to lose their job. (deserved or not? I'm not sure...)

I can't understand the link between brew dog and diageo and why said individuals in question are actually remotely interested in trying to change the result.

None the less... Well done brew dog on the award.

Your pic on website doesn't leave me wanting to associate myself with a brand that seems so unprofessional and desperate for publicity it resorts to sticking a finger up. Oh and it's not responsible to have a website with no age check on entry... Think of the poor kids boohoo

Anonymous said...

The Diageo representative could only have been at senior management level in the marketing department if, as reported, this representative thought they had the authority to threaten withdrawl of future sponsorship. Managemnet level rather than an actual marketeer would also explain the lack of social media knowledge.

Plus, the invites land on the desk of the people who decide to sponsor the event in the first place!

Oh, & Brew Dog crying foul on marketing tactics, do forgive me if I don't shed a tear. At least Diageo didn't mock the death of a few thousand innocent people!

Dave Bailey said...


Kind of agree with you on BII actions. I'm tempted to write about that myself. I believe all awards should be transparently fair and independent.

I also agree that it is wrong to suggest just because an organisation is big it is somehow inherently bad. Or the reverse; that a small organisation is all good. Trust me, really, I agree with you there.

However, to pretend that back-room dealings don't happen in business is the same as pretending kids won't pinch the chocolates of the Christmas tree.

Does anyone know of the whereabouts of an official BII comment?

Anonymous said...

Go on, who else is trying to figure out how the pooches set this up?

Anonymous said...

Anyone care to guess at the media value to @BrewDog of this? I mean, if they had to buy all the publicity they've got as a result of being the victims in this...

Will it hurt Big V sales? No. Will it bolster the Brew Dog? Heheh, oh yeah!

Anonymous said...

Could it be that a company that strives to put forward a message of responsible drinking didnt want to be associated with a company that markets beer with strength greater than 35%ABV? Didnt want to be associated with a company that markets beer with nmes like "Sink the Bismark", "Tactical Nuclear Penguin" and "The End of History"? All brands that are more akin to "geting out of your face" than drinking for taste. These are not responsible drinking brands and very much against Diageo's policies.

Pivni, Diageo werent there to win/accept an award only to sponsor and present the awards.

Pete Brown said...

My, what a lot of anonymous posters.

Last Anon - not sure why you're being an apologist for Diageo (unless you work for them?) but firstly, if you'd paid attention to any of the launches you mention, they had nothing to do with getting out of your face - the label copy on BD's extreme beers actually goes to great lengths to say this is about reframing beer and how we think of it. If you;d ever tried the drinks, you'd recognise that they can only be drunk (by anyone sane) as small snifters - which is why BD started selling some of them in resealable bottles - precisely to encourage people not to finish an entire one in one session.

Meanwhile the huge corporation you're sticking up for has a massive portfolio of spirits at 40% ABV+, and sells Smirnoff ice - an alcopop that appeals predominantly to young drinkers looking to get pissed. I'm not condemning them for that, but, you know, glass houses, and all that.

Secondly, even if you were absolutely correct, which you are not, it still wouldn't give an event sponsors the right to do what they did.

Eddie86 said...

The one thing that seems to have been glossed over is the congratulations the crews working the bars deserve. Whatever the reason for what happened at a glossy awards night, we shouldn't loose sight of the recognition these people have rightly earned.

DJ said...

I won't hear a bad word said against Diageo, I've been deaf for twenty years!

Greg Hillman said...

Having worked for a number of months at Diageo's head office in Park Royal , 7HQ, I'm really not surprised by this. They are, to a man, a fairly nasty and smug bunch. They are a marketing company, most of them don't even drink (because to be seen drunk, even during personal time is misconduct) and they certainly don't care much for what they sell or who they sell it to.

They do like to win though.

Thenoisethatwemade said...

I know this thread is from back in May. But hope somebody reads! I have to say I am disappointed with my contact with Brewdog. Back in January (2012) they announced they were looking for new premises around Birmingham and they've promoted a tasty prize on their website to encourage people (& it's beer lovers dream!). I'd sent them pictures and mentioned very good location in Birmingham. I had a response from Brewdog and passed on further detailed info. A few months later they listed the details on their blog. Then a few months later they announced they'd secured such site (only a few months ago). I was really happy as a beer interested individual I thought it would be a really exciting thing. I also thought,yeah, my suggestion was helpful. I also thought I may be inline for as per their web:
We want you to help us find locations for new BrewDog bars. If you want to help, please submit brief proposals to us on suitable, available licensed premises in your area. And if we take you up on the proposal, we will pay you £1000 in cash and £500 in beer and goodies for helping us out as well as giving you a lifetime discount in the new bar. Plus we will pay for a trip for you up to the BrewDog brewery to brew your own beer with our brewers for the grand opening of the new bar!

I heard nothing, so emailed, but still heard nothing again. Even though before when I suggested the area for a venue, someone was quick to reply.
Now it just feels like Brewdog don't stick to their word & I'm having second thoughts about buying their beer or even going to their bars. lover...