How I got Blacklisted for Mentioning Samuel Adams’ PR Company

blacklisted

Boxes.  So many boxes.  Box upon box full of beer arrive at my house and pile up in the front hall.  They come from brewers around the country who would like me to write about their beer for Today.com or FSR Magazine.

I’ve been a little lax in keeping up lately, letting two weeks worth of samples collect next to the front door until my wife asked if we were opening our own UPS Store.  Message received, I took some time this past Saturday to open everything up and see what treasures lie within.

There were things there from the usual suspects – Stone, New Belgium, Kona, and several other brewers who regularly send me their wares.  But I realized someone was missing – Samuel Adams. 

Samuel Adams has a great PR company – the send samples, they regularly invite me to events, and they’ve always been super responsive when I’ve sent a request their way.  But I realized I hadn’t heard a peep out of them since January, when I wrote about a conflict between Lagunitas and Samuel Adams.  Strange.

A brief background for those of you who missed that story.  Lagunitas founder Tony Magee claimed that Samuel Adams was using shady “big beer” tactics to launch their new West Coast style IPA, called Rebel IPA.  Magee said Boston Beer was specifically targeting the bar and restaurant taps held by Lagunitas IPA and other West Coast IPAs for takeover, something that craft brewers don’t do (distributors try it all the time, but the brewers stay above the fray, according to Magee).

I sent a list of questions to both Lagunitas and the PR company that reps Samuel Adams, and posted those answers here on the site without editing a word of them.  I mentioned in the post that Magee answered my questions and that Jim Koch supplied a statement through his PR company.

And now I’ve had zero contact with the Samuel Adams camp since I hit “publish.”   No packages, no emails, nothing – just total radio silence since the day that post went live.

I reached out to the PR company to confirm what I already suspected – I’ve been cut off.  But the reason given was surprising.

I was told that my crime was mentioning Samuel Adams had a PR firm in the Lagunitas piece.  What?

I can see why they might be sensitive to this fact coming to light, especially because Tony Magee used it to paint Samuel Adams as being too big and corporate when he responded to my questions, saying:

You mentioned to me that you were waiting for an answer from the other brewer’s PR firm. There is no PR company responding for Lagunitas here and that in and of itself might tell you something about the nature of things.

But Tony’s wrong – lots and lot of small, friendly, crafty brewers have PR companies.  These brewers grew up in the digital age and know that sometimes you need help to get the word out about your brewery.  It’s not a valid knock on Samuel Adams, especially because of their size – a company that large better have a PR firm!  It should also be noted that breweries that don’t have PR firms usually employ a PR person or a whole PR team to manage and promote the brewery’s public image (including Lagunitas).  Everyone’s doing it – outsourcing this function is really no big deal.

But apparently mentioning it is, which I find baffling.

Now’s a good time to mention that the PR firm said it was their decision to back away from me – no one from Samuel Adams was mentioned as being part of the decision-making process.

Of course who knows what the truth is – these are spin doctors we’re dealing with, after all.  It could be simply that the PR company wanted to remain invisible and I crossed that line (which is a very weird line to draw), or perhaps it’s the fact that I shed more light on a story that could make Samuel Adams look bad in the eyes of some.  Whatever the real reason, I know this –  it’s bullshit.

I’ve been a defender of Samuel Adams as a craft brewer on these pages, and have featured their products several times on the TODAY Show’s website.  Sharing these stories was a great way to introduce a mainstream audience to the wonders of craft beer through a brand that they are comfortable with.  I’ve written about Utopias, their new cans, their Longshot homebrew winners, the wedding beer Brewlywed, their Boston Marathon beer, etc., etc., etc.

And now a single mention of having a PR firm on my personal blog gets me blacklisted?  That’s crazy.

Of course sharing this story with you folks probably won’t help, but I always try to be honest and give you some insights on what happens behind the curtain in the craft beer world.  I don’t really care if I miss out on Samuel Adams samples (although I’ll miss the Utopias) or if I’m denied access to Jim Koch moving forward (who’s always been charming and gracious when I’ve spoken with him).

I just think it’s a shame that being transparent and fair got me in the doghouse – that doesn’t sound like the craft beer industry I know.

 UPDATE:  I was contacted by the folks at Samuel Adams a couple of weeks ago, and everything is patched up.  They stressed they had no hand in the events described above and would like me to deal with them directly moving forward.  Hooray for hoppy happy endings!

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Author:Jim

Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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66 Comments on “How I got Blacklisted for Mentioning Samuel Adams’ PR Company”

  1. April 25, 2014 at 12:44 pm #

    I think your last line is most troubling: you did the open, ethical thing, and were punished for it. That sends a dubious message to other writers/reviewers, during a time I think the entire industry would benefit from more transparency. Thanks for sharing your story!

    • April 25, 2014 at 12:46 pm #

      Yeah, I really tried to toe the line and be abundantly fair when I wrote up that whole Lagunitas thing, too – guess I failed!

      • April 25, 2014 at 2:47 pm #

        I don’t think the failure is on your part. I commend you for trying to keep the balance!

        • April 25, 2014 at 3:07 pm #

          thanks, Oliver. Looking over the piece, I honestly don’t think the PR company mention is the issue – it’s such a tiny little thing!

  2. April 25, 2014 at 12:52 pm #

    Did you blacklist me? My last comment didn’t post.

    • April 25, 2014 at 12:53 pm #

      What I was saying is that I will boycott Sam Adams and their PR firm in your honor. Of course, that means I will buy less than the zero bottles of their beer I buy per week. Plus, I will start a hashtag movement with #SamAdamshasaPRfirm.

      • April 25, 2014 at 12:59 pm #

        I like the hash tag idea – I’m sure it’ll take off like “#myNYPD”

  3. Michael
    April 25, 2014 at 1:18 pm #

    Publish the truth. Never heard of such a thing.

    • April 25, 2014 at 1:25 pm #

      Crazy, right?!

  4. April 25, 2014 at 1:43 pm #

    Maybe Jim Koch was too busy studying sobriety methods while pounding beers to be able to respond.

    • April 25, 2014 at 3:09 pm #

      He was distracted working on his new line of yogurts brimming with Fleishman’s yeast. It’s called Alchtivia…

  5. Craig
    April 25, 2014 at 1:55 pm #

    Now you can spend more time drinking good beer instead of their crap (most of it, not all).

    • April 25, 2014 at 3:10 pm #

      Mostly it went in the garage and collected dust, except for the big bottle stuff and the Utopias.

  6. MarkS
    April 25, 2014 at 1:56 pm #

    This is even more ridiculous when you note one of your responses in January: “I should also note that their PR company is helpful and pretty straight forward. The guys and gals on the account seem to know and care about beer. They’re a huge company, so a PR company makes sense. Most breweries have a person or team that helps with PR – being media savvy shouldn’t be a ding against any brewer.” At this point, can you name this PR firm so we can begin a social media campaign against them?

    • April 25, 2014 at 3:11 pm #

      Nope – won’t do that. I’m trying to share my experience without dinging anyone too hard, even if I don’t agree on how they’re doing their job.

      • MarkS
        April 25, 2014 at 6:19 pm #

        Looks like the Karma spiders are already doing it on their own. This article is #4 on Bing and #5 on Google when you search for “Sam Adams PR.” Why won’t anyone learn you can’t control the Internet? This move on their part is now giving them 100x the negative publicity, making them look MORE like what they were concerned about than you did.

        • April 25, 2014 at 8:13 pm #

          Yeah, I think it was silly to blacklist me at all – I’m very fair and have been an ardent supporter of Samuel Adams even whe others were taking shots at them. A dumb move that deserved to be brought to light. We’ll see what kind of karma comes my way from this. The move is not without risks.

  7. April 25, 2014 at 2:03 pm #

    A thin-skinned PR firm? Bizarre. If they’d bothered to read the post, even they could have seen you were fair.

    Maybe they will start sending those samples my way…

    • April 25, 2014 at 3:38 pm #

      I’ll send them your address and assure them you’re quite docile, Norm!

  8. Don
    April 25, 2014 at 2:24 pm #

    Wow Jim. How odd. You pissed someone off? Never heard of such a thing!

    • April 25, 2014 at 3:39 pm #

      What can I say – it’s a gift! ;)

  9. April 25, 2014 at 2:43 pm #

    Weird. I know this is a personal blog where rules of journalism don’t normally apply, but you took the journalist approach and transparently cited your source. If their PR firm takes issue with that, perhaps SA needs to look at their PR firm a little harder.

    • April 25, 2014 at 3:40 pm #

      The whole thing smells fishy to me. It could simply be the PR company taking the hit for an angry client (this would be a much different post if that was the case).

  10. April 25, 2014 at 2:59 pm #

    Couldn’t agree with you more. One of the PR battles that I think Boston Beer has been fighting with inconsistent success among the craft beer community is their image as a craft brewer. They’re very large, very widely distributed, and very highly advertised. Let’s face it, but for their heritage and quality of many – though certainly not all – of the brews, they’re every bit a smaller, higher quality mega brewer. Of course they have a separate PR firm. Where’s the story there? If they’re sensitive to the mere fact that you’ve cast the interwebz flashlight on that otherwise mundane issue, it simply means they’re uncomfortable with their role in the “are they real or are they PlayBev” debate.

    Sorry though that you were black-listed. I don’t have that problem. The Sam Adams PR firms of the world don’t read my blog. Hard to be black-listed when you publish in a black hole.

    ~Cheers!

    Oh, and for what its worth, Rebel IPA is anything but a classic West Coast IPA. Latitude 48 comes closer to that profile.

    • April 25, 2014 at 3:41 pm #

      I like the commercials where they talk about weathering all of the upstart flash in the pan craft beers that are littering the marketplace now. Seems they want to have it both ways.

  11. LEW
    April 25, 2014 at 3:23 pm #

    I haven’t consumed an ounce of Boston Beer Company/Sam Adams Beer in over three years. And that has everything to do with stories like this. I stopped giving them business when I learned of their ridiculous non-compete clauses for entry-level employees. This is a similar scenario. They want to be seen as craft brewers but they try to control the market by throwing their weight around rather than competing on the quality of their beer. Of note – I haven’t missed their beer at all. Almost everything I have tried instead has been significantly better.

    • April 25, 2014 at 3:45 pm #

      I think everything but Utopias is replaceable – that’s a truly unique beverage. Plus I love me some Cherry Wheat, in the same way I love Pizza Hut and Doritos. Not the most sophisticated stuff, but strangely satisfying.

  12. April 25, 2014 at 3:43 pm #

    Its Boston Brewing’s loss.

    • April 25, 2014 at 3:45 pm #

      Yes, I’m sure they’ll really miss me! :)

  13. Paul Brown
    April 25, 2014 at 5:22 pm #

    Boston Beer makes craft beers, won’t get into the quality/taste part, but by their actions in many business areas, they quit being a craft brewing company quite a few years ago. Subtle yet distinct difference.

    • April 25, 2014 at 8:13 pm #

      It’s looking more and more like that’s the case, Paul.

  14. Brendan
    April 25, 2014 at 7:57 pm #

    Iron Hill, a chain of 10 brewpubs in 3 states (PA, DE, and NJ), has a PR firm. Victory manages the task in-house. Almost everything that Dogfish Head does has a PR aspect to it – Sam is a celebrity.

    Nothing wrong with any of this, but if you are trying to pretend to be small and thus afraid of anything that seems largish then I guess this makes sense.

    Boston Beer has jumped the shark.

    • April 25, 2014 at 8:16 pm #

      I’ve dealt with dozens of great PR people, both internal and at agencies, who love craft beer and really get what the culture is about. I’m sure this comes at least in part from the culture of the brands they work in support of.

  15. April 25, 2014 at 8:02 pm #

    That is crazy but then, people are complicated (and not always in a good way). Rock on! I’m in the Stone IPA camp myself and happy to enjoy their fine brew. :)

    • April 25, 2014 at 8:23 pm #

      Love Stone IPA, it’s a regular in my fridge. But I love Ballast Point Sculpin just a *little* more! :)

      • April 25, 2014 at 8:26 pm #

        well now … seems they’re local so I’ll go put some in the fridge and give them a taste! Thanxxx man.

        • April 26, 2014 at 3:51 pm #

          Hope you enjoy it – a tad thin, but a huge gush of west coast hoppy goodness!

  16. April 26, 2014 at 10:52 am #

    Lagunita’s argument aside on the Rebel IPA, I find the beer to be very misleading and here’s why. I was in Atlanta staying out in Smyrna where there is a good amount of beer bars and growler stores. As always on my travels, I enjoy trying the local beer scene. Having never heard of Rebel IPA, I ordered one for dinner assuming it was a local craft beer based on the name. I was in the South, right? Rebel had to be a fun play on, well, the South. After the beer was poured I asked who made it. I was disappointed to learn it was Sam Adams. Not that I dislike Sam Adams (or even that beer) but it wasn’t local. I felt duped by a corporate conglomerate.

    • April 26, 2014 at 3:51 pm #

      It’s not horrible – just a Laugintas turned down to “8”

  17. April 26, 2014 at 12:51 pm #

    Never bite off the head that feeds you, I get you are angry but this perhaps just will dig a deeper hole.

    • April 26, 2014 at 3:50 pm #

      You gotta think about who’s feeding who here.

  18. April 27, 2014 at 8:00 pm #

    “No packages, no emails, nothing – just total radio silence since the day that post went live.” | Just spitballin’ here, but publishing w/o offering the subjects of the piece a ‘preview’ was an ‘unforced error’. #justsayin A (common, I would guess) ‘courtesy’, that in the future, I’d recommend (even if the subjects don’t specifically request it).

    • April 27, 2014 at 8:22 pm #

      Ha ha – no way I agree with that.

      I did my part – I reached out and got their side of the story. I could of simply shared my suspicions that I had been put on the naughty list without verifying it before writing, but I reached out and spoke with the PR firm and have documented it here.

      I’m sure as hell never going to ask permission to write something or let a source become my editor. I’m not pumping out press releases on their behalf, I’m writing to inform a pretty savvy audience. You don’t ask permission to write the truth.

      • April 27, 2014 at 9:38 pm #

        Point missed. Not suggesting you ‘ask permission’ – or – allow them to edit – OR – become a ‘steno’ (pumping out PR for the PR firm). Just recommending a ‘courtesy’ (that many journos follow) that in turn, gives them ‘fair warning’ (and/or an opportunity to clarify/revise/extend their remarks folks do make ‘mistakes’) thereby offering you an ‘unburned bridge’. Or,…not.

        • LEW
          April 28, 2014 at 5:32 am #

          Whose shill are you, BeerHere2010?

  19. April 28, 2014 at 5:51 am #

    The bridge is burned as I see it and there is no turning back, the PR places will turn to other sources now.

    • April 28, 2014 at 6:51 am #

      I’m okay with that. All I did was be fair and tell the truth, they were the ones who lit the fire.

      • April 28, 2014 at 7:03 am #

        Point missed. Samuel Adams is a public company traded on the stock market with open reporting to include US GAAP procedures. By them communicating with you and therefor you communicating with them publicly this can be seen as a huge issue for Corp Relations.

        The entire issue will or did have to go through the board of directors, it is bigger than you think.

        • April 28, 2014 at 7:06 am #

          With the SEC companies do not want to have problems with insider trades and or other issues, so they cut ties with you.

        • LEW
          April 28, 2014 at 7:14 am #

          Huh? BeerHere2010/Daniel Laizure – this is, to say the least, a reach. How did we get from sending samples of new offerings to insider trading?

        • April 28, 2014 at 8:45 am #

          Do they make a corporate version of the tinfoil hat?

        • April 28, 2014 at 8:56 am #

          Yes. It’s called Fox News.

        • April 28, 2014 at 9:04 am #

          That would explain all the yelling!

  20. April 28, 2014 at 7:17 am #

    I once had an experience that dovetails off of this. I had written a piece about Bud Light, it’s broader marketing ambitions and a series of summer music festivals it was sponsoring. I had incorrectly referenced “Budweiser” in one paragraph, whereas Bud Light is a separate brand identity.

    I got a very nice email from a woman who was on the (external) Bud Light PR team asking for the edit, which I happily obliged. I also marked in the new text that I had made the change from the original post, citing the woman’s name and agency. She wrote back, asking that the agency not be named specifically, but was very cordial about it all. We found a middle-ground and moved on, but I still found it odd that there was sensitivity around acknowledging that existence.

    • April 28, 2014 at 7:51 am #

      As such they don’t want and can’t be seen making decision for a public company as that because of the SEC had to be done by the executives of the Company. This opens a can of worms for the PR company that represent not just one but hundreds of public companies as such they are not willing to risk the business relationship. They they give up the easiest pawn in order to keep the problem simple.

    • April 28, 2014 at 8:51 am #

      I would have been okay (kind of) if I had been approached when I wrote the piece in January to redact the mention of the PR agency if I was given a fair reason to do so. I’m reasonable. But I was never alerted to the fact that there was an issue at all, so I was never given that opportunity.

  21. April 28, 2014 at 9:21 am #

    Jim don’t take this stuff personally, but lots of this stuff only comes with experience, alot of this stuff really has to be known. What I am saying is, if you are blogging and are serious you also need to have at least two people checking your work at a higher level if you are not able to confirm issues are about to happen. In the end ignorance is not a defense!

    • April 28, 2014 at 9:50 am #

      I’m not claiming ignorance, Daniel, I’m simply sharing my story and could give a damn if it makes me unpopular with a PR firm. I always appreciated their support, but I can certainly continue to write for the Today Show and FSR Magazine without needing to give coverage to Samuel Adams. And my editors have never had an issue with me making bold and honest claims because I’m fair and back them up with first-hand facts.

      As far as the SEC stuff you’re spouting, MANY, MANY, MANY publicly traded companies use PR firms to manage their public image, so it’s not like there’s some kind of taboo for those relationships to exist. I think this is more of a case of Sam Adams wanting to protect their folksy image.

      Anyway, I don’t take it personally. I understand that I’m likely burning a bridge with a PR company, and possibly with their client (which is a shame). That’s okay – there are thousands of other exciting, vibrant and trend setting brewers from around the world that I’m happy to spotlight with my writing.

  22. April 28, 2014 at 6:55 pm #

    Hi Jim,

    Scott fom Australia.
    Do you have any issues with companys sending beers to you again.
    E.g. say you didnt particualy like a Stone beer, would they send more to you in the future.

    Regards,
    Scotty (Beardface151)

    • April 28, 2014 at 7:45 pm #

      No issue at all, especially with a brewer like Stone whose stuff I enjoy. There are some other brewers who send me stuff that I really don’t want, but it’s a good way to try beers that I might otherwise never pick up. It does tend to pile up, but every once in awhile it sparks a fun story idea, which is always appreciated.

  23. April 29, 2014 at 3:15 am #

    Jim, forget about it and keep enjoying the samples that you’re receiving everyday! (by that way, I’m jealous). And keep writing! Cheers from London!

    • April 29, 2014 at 5:24 am #

      Thanks, Braca. Wish I had more time to,wrote, but I’ll certainly stick with it!

  24. May 19, 2014 at 12:25 pm #

    For all those who have been following this story, I was contacted by the people from Sam Adams directly and they apologized for the whole deal. I’ll be working with them directly moving forward, which is a pretty good outcome indeed!

    • May 19, 2014 at 5:51 pm #

      I LOVE happy endings! And you can tell those fine SA folks that because of all this chat, my husband tried their Rebel IPA and it’s his new favorite go to beer. :) I can safely say, we love your blog. lol. Here’s raising a glass to you!

      • May 19, 2014 at 6:00 pm #

        Thanks, Sharon. He should also give Ballast Point Sculpin a go – sweet and juicy!

        >

        • May 19, 2014 at 6:24 pm #

          I love the Sculpin but it was too rich tasting for him. We loved the tips and beer conversation!

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