Brewdog bitten by TV show PR disaster

on 09 March, 2016

The most willfully provocative tenet of the Brewdog employee charter is: “We blow shit up.” We know because we were told dozens of times on last night’s BBC fly-on-the-wall documentary Who’s The Boss?. It remains to be seen if the statement's pubic airing causes problems for brewery co-founder James Watt next time he goes through airport security.

For now, that’s the least of his worries, as the show itself has turned into a PR disaster for Brewdog and Watt with words like “boycott” and phrases such as “professional arsehole” being bandied about on Twitter.

The supplier Best of British Beer said it was delisting Brewdog beers and giving away any remaining stock as a result.

If you didn’t see the programme, it was a sort of reverse version of the Apprentice, where a young entrepreneur set out to recruit one of three middle-aged candidates to the position of area manager for its London bars.

The twist – because these sorts of programmes are required by law to have a twist – was that it was an exercise in “collaborative hiring”.

The candidates were secretly being watched during a week of task-setting and interviews by the whole workforce, who would vote at the end of the week for which one they wanted to appoint.

“Myself [sic] won’t be able to over-rule that decision,” said Watt as the process began, summing up a straw poll of assembled head office workers’ criteria for the right person as “we don’t want someone in a suit, we don’t want someone who doesn’t like beer and we want someone who looks good”.

The whole process revolved around the fit between the candidates and Brewdog’s company culture enshrined in its charter whose other articles include “we are geeks” and “if we don’t love it, we don’t ever do it”.

Of course, the culture has informed Brewdog’s public image in the form of wacky PR stunts, extreme beers and dust-ups with big drinks corporations, but behind all the TV bluster perhaps the most striking thing about Who’s The Boss? was the mundane normality of life at Brewdog HQ: lots of people sitting at computer screens, sending emails and doing a bit of internet shopping while no one’s looking.

Given that, it was less of a surprise than it might have been when Watt decided to wrest back control of the recruitment process from his people and reverted to the time-honoured method of matching the skills and experience on the candidates’ CVs to the position under consideration, leading him to conclude that none fitted the bill and to change the job that was on offer altogether.

Along the way there was a cringeworthy and downright rude phone call to the recruitment consultant who’d drawn up the shortlist that marked the point where the lowest depth was plumbed.

Perhaps if Watt had looked at the CVs before kick-off it might have saved everyone a lot of trouble. And maybe one lesson learned is that the old-fashioned way of doing things has stood the test of time because, in the main, it’s the most efficient way of recruiting.

As one viewer observed on Twitter: “We're wild, wacky, all about taking risks – says the boss of Brewdog right up to the point where he wouldn’t take a risk.”

The moving goalposts caused two of the three candidates to withdraw from the race leaving the affable and professional Russ Malone as the winner.

Luci O’Connor – a candidate whose main crime seemed to be not understanding a bizarre question from Watt about how to empty a 747 full of jelly beans ­– departed with a gift of a special, unlabelled bottle of beer. “I’ll call it James,” she said, seemingly with sincerity. “That’s the first sensible thing you’ve said today,” Watt sniped back.

The victorious – but by now bemused – Malone, still wearing his suit and, arguably, the most conventional (and, therefore, in theory, non-Brewdog) of the candidates, was introduced to the re-assembled staff, who said they’d have voted for him anyway given the chance.

Maybe Brewdog doesn’t “blow shit up” as much as it likes to think it does.

After the show hit the screens, a more appropriate excrement-related metaphor saw the Twitter shit hitting the Twitter fan, though some Brewdog employees blamed the poor showing on the way the programme had been edited.

Perhaps the lesson there is: if you don’t want to look daft on TV don’t agree to take part in a daft programme, and don’t put slogans like “we blow shit up” on display in your reception. And if you’re the boss, don’t say things like “I’ve sacked someone on their first day before” to camera.

Or as the charter says: “If you don’t love it, don’t ever do it.”

At least Watt was self-aware enough after broadcast to recognise how he and the company had come across.

“Well, “ he told his Twitter followers. “That was bit of a disaster." James, that’s the first sensible thing you’ve said today.

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