five points brewery in London

David, Goliath and Beer

WE Communications Blog: CEO Melissa Waggener Zorkin

1/30/2018
— Melissa Waggener Zorkin 

Last week I was in London where my Global Executive Team met to take a look back at how we did in 2017 and, more important, decide what’s next.

By any measure, WE was on the move in 2017. We added amazing new brands to our client portfolio; brought on new leadership at many levels; welcomed Red Bridge and Watatawa to the WE family; strengthened the PLUS Network; introduced our revolutionary Brands in Motion tool and — as always most important — worked arm in arm with our extraordinary clients to share their stories with the world. But we didn’t come all the way to London to rest on our laurels. On the contrary, we’re revving our engines, gearing up for all the challenges and opportunities that await us in 2018.  

First, though, we put our feet up and had a beer. Actually, we tasted a range of most excellent beers.

Five Points Brewing Company

 

On Wednesday night, we headed over to the Five Points Brewing Company, an innovative, independent brewer based in East London. We were lucky to be accompanied by the writer and strategist Pete Brown, who gave us insights into how microbrewers, in arguably the world’s highest per capita beer drinking market, attacked and are winning versus establishment brewers. And this entrepreneurial phenomenon of disruption goes beyond the London market. 

If you’ve been to a bar lately, you know that craft beer — that is, beer produced by small, independent breweries — is everywhere. Not even 10 years ago, nearly 90 percent of the beer Americans drank was produced by one of just two big companies (Anheuser-Busch InBev or MillerCoors), but the tide is turning. According to the Brewers Association trade group, in 2016 craft breweries claimed about 13 percent of the American beer market by volume — and in dollars, that comprises nearly one-quarter of the $107.6 billion market. This is great for beer drinkers (especially for late bloomers finally inspired with tasty new selections), but it’s also pretty good for the rest of us. Just last week, in fact, the Atlantic published an article whose title sums it up: “Craft Beer Is the Strangest, Happiest Economic Story in America.” Reporter Derek Thompson writes:

“Between 2008 and 2016, the number of brewery establishments [in the U.S.] expanded by a factor of six, and the number of brewery workers grew by 120 percent. Yes, a 200-year-old industry has sextupled its establishments and more than doubled its workforce in less than a decade. Even more incredibly, this has happened during a time when U.S. beer consumption declined.”

David and Goliath

 

“Goliaths are tumbling,” Thompson concludes. “Davids are ascendant.”

We can relate. That’s why we spent the evening with Pete Brown and the Five Points founder plus his leadership team: to get a peek behind the curtain and see what we could learn from a fiercely independent company that is, in some ways, not so different from our own. And I did learn, in spite of doing beer tastings on top of zero sleep the night prior:

  • LOVE THE BEER. Stay focused on WHY you do it — always. Not for profits, or simply to get big, but to give customers precisely what they crave.
  • QUALITY IS QUALITY. Not sometimes. Not when it’s convenient. But always do it right.
  • PROVIDE PLAY SPACE. Push people to experiment and explore. Embrace flops, surprises and genius. 

When I asked the Founder, Greg Hobbs how they get the word out he simply said “community is everything.” He spoke about building a community, where honest critics and strong advocates are all part of what they are doing every day. He also spoke of the importance of being a big part of the local community where the brewery is located and as this tweet shows, supporting the local community is one of their top priorities.

As I sat listening to Greg and sipping my Railway Porter, I was reminded how important it is to be in an unfamiliar place regularly, trusting someone else’s expertise, using all my senses to take in something new. What’s more, I was reminded again that the things we love — what we’re passionate about and committed to — tell our stories better than anything else. To listen to these entrepreneurs wasn’t just to hear what they had to say. It was to share their experience, to be caught up in their passion, and to embrace their story. In this case, it’s a story of disrupting an industry where there hasn’t traditionally been a lot of fiercely independent startups who hang in there beyond where being bought would be easy. As we left I fist-bumped with the owner and simply said to him “don’t sell.” To which he replied “I won’t. I love the beer.”

Cheers.

 

Follow CEO Melissa Waggener Zorkin on Twitter.