Sunday, 4 August 2013

The Birmingham Beer Bash (1) - The Build Up

It won't (or will) have escaped your notice that I have become an absent blogger over the preceding 3 months.  The reason for this is that I have been busy on the Birmingham Beer Bash, assisting my fellow team members in ensuring that it was a roaring success.  This was a big collective effort, but was more than worth it.

So then, now that the Beer Bash is over* I suddenly find a lapse in a my life, a lull in my stress.  It is only fit and proper therefore, that I resume my typing duties today and reflect upon the Birmingham Beer Bash - which I am absolutely convinced was a momentous occasion in the history of beer in the Second City.

In order to properly cover the various aspects of BBB that I wish to cover, I am resolved to produce a triptych post - dealing with the before, the during and the after of the Birmingham Beer Bash.  This first part will deal with what was going on, in the lead up to the 26th and 27th July 2013.

For the sake of telling the whole story, the Birmingham Beer Bash was effectively born on the 21st April 2012, which was the date of the first Birmingham Twissup.  This event was the first time that the Birmingham Beer Bash team had ever met each other in the flesh.  Of course, at that point we were not a team at all, we were just a group of bloggers and tweeters who shared a set of values with regard to good/craft beer and it's availability in Birmingham.  During that first meeting, we toured the city's pubs and chatted about the kind of pubs and brewers who we hoped would come to Birmingham sometime soon.  We were exasperated that beers from the toppest, freshest, most excitingest microbrewers never seemed to pop up in the pubs of Birmingham.  At all.  We drunkenly discussed the idea of mounting a showcase event - a new kind of beer festival, which would present these fantastic new brews to the beer fans of the Midlands, and introduce the city of Birmingham to all those cool breweries.

And thus the idea was born.  In the following months, things started to get a little bit organised: a company was formed, paperwork was signed, there were shareholders.  With a group of enthusiasts signed up, the ball started rolling.  Fast forward to the Birmingham Beer Festival of October 2012 and we were {mostly} all together once more.  By that time we'd already ditched out first version of the event name (Brumcraft anyone?) and needed to decide whether we really were going to do this thing.  Well... as we crowded around the international bar, we looked each other in the eyes and sort of knew the answer.  The answer was "Yes".  (The question was does Birmingham really need a craft beer event.) 

Post Christmas, it all got serious.  Suddenly, in a cavalcade of developments we had a new name, a new logo and a venue.  Our Twitter account started to gather a large number of followers, people were mad keen.  This was going to be a cinch, yeah?  Build and they'll drink, right?  Well, sort of.  Between 1st January 2013 and July 26th 2013, an incredible amount of progress was made, and each step was paid for in stress and sweat.  Mainly that sweat belonged to David Shipman (our Leader and inspiration), but all of us did our bit.

My bit was the social media and PR portions of the project.  The Twitter thing was OK - we'd tapped into a rich seam of goodwill and were grateful for it.  But what about those people in the world who weren't beer geeks?  How could we get them to come along to our Bash?  That was the tricky part and it was that which drove my preciptiously steep PR learning curve.  Thanks to the generous support of some clever PR professionals, I was able to try a few things to spread the word.  Of course, they didn't all work, but lessons were learnt and we started to play the game, a bit.  Appearances on Radio WM and in the Birmingham Post and Mail were important for us - they won us extra credibility.  The production of our fabulous beer Rotunda poster was also an important step - giving us visual appeal and a bit of class.  Meanwhile we turned up the volume on Twitter and Tim played a blinder of Facebook.

Against a backdrop of wonderful brewers signing up for the event, plus speakers, beer celebrities and talented caterers, we suddenly had a fully formed, enticing offer; a multi-dimensional beer experience awaiting our public.

Now obviously this could not have happened without the support of our sponsors, nor the vision of the organisers (again, I must tip my hat to our Leader).  Perhaps our real success in the first 6 months of this year, was to effectively and persuasively translate our raw passion and enthusiasm into a credible and deliverable business proposition.  Because after all, this wasn't just a bit of a jolly boys' outing - big money was involved in mounting the Birmingham Beer Bash - it cost a fortune and needed to cover it's costs.  This was a RISK.  And with financial risk comes BIG STRESS.

Putting aside for a minute the hard physical work in setting up the event in the 4 days beforehand - the thing that most tired me out was the nerves.  The fear of failure was palpable - not through any lack of planning or organisational skills, but purely because it was our first time.  We did not know what to expect, and the cold, bony finger of doom certainly bumped it's way down my spine on that sleepless night before we opened....

But that's melodramatic isn't it?  It seems a bit OTT given that I'm now on the other side of that stress.  But it was real.  As we opened the doors on Friday morning, I felt nauseous.  I knew that I would give it the full welly, to make sure we achieved our objectives.

And it's worth reminding ourselves what those objectives were.  Where have we come from?  And what did we tell people we were going to do?  A grand statement perhaps, but the original idea, spouted at that first Twissup meeting was this - we wanted to change the beer landscape in Birmingham.  Could we do it?

*for this year, at least

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