Pubpaper 850 – CAMRA Revitalisation

Posted: 2nd April 2016 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

Last week CAMRA launched its revitalisation consultation inviting both members and non members to have their say on the future of the organisation.   The problem CAMRA now has is that they have won the war, real ale is thriving all over the UK, there are now over 1000 breweries in the UK, the battle again the Big Six brewers from the 1970’s and 1980’s is one sitting in the past.   It has gained such a momentum that it doesn’t need CAMRA to keep the momentum up, it can do that all by itself.   You’ve seen this doubt of their own purpose over recent years when they have repeatly debated regarding the inclusion of “keg craft beer” and ended up looking like something which belongs in the past.

Their key question is how inclusive should CAMRA be.  The options are 1) Drinkers of Real Ale 2) Drinkers of Real Ale, Cider and Perry 3) All Beer Drinkers 4) All Beer, Cider and Perry Drinkers 5) All Pubgoers 6) All Drinkers.  In my opinion it should be none of the above, but let me explain why these are wrong first.  Option 1 is their position from the 70’s, is too closed for todays need for such an organisation and would render them as effectively a national beer festival organiser.   Option 2 draws similar arguments as Option 1, Real Cider and Perry are standing on their own two feet nicely at the moment and are a major growth market within pubs and in off sales. Option 3 is too wide,  frankly CAMRA representing craft beer, the best cask ale and Fosters would kill the organisation totally as it would ruin any credibility they had, the same arguments counting against Option 4 also as who want a body that supports Strongbow.  Option 5 and 6 are just plain silly, imagine if you asked CAMRA what they stand for and the answer came back “Everyone at the pub including the Bloke at Yates drinking a pint of Rekorderling ‘Cider’”, you’d laugh them out of the room.

CAMRA needs to totally re-align itself.   It doesn’t need to campaign any more, there is nothing to campaign for.  My analogy is D-Day, CAMRA is the fleet of boats, the real ale trade are the allied soldiers, the big brewers are the Germans.  Except now the Germans are sitting back in Berlin no longer a threat and the allied soldiers have made their own boats, rowed to Blighty and are sitting in front of the fire back home safe.  There is no one to rescue and no enemy to rescue them from, it was just a waste of diesel.  If a producer or sector of the drinks market is creating great tasting products they will get picked up and talked about.  

The internet has become a game changer, all you need is a few hundred quid to set up a website, a few hundred more to get the right branding which will grab peoples attention and to invest a lot of time promoting your presence whilst making sure the right people get samples they’ll talk about.   It isn’t like the 1980’s or even 1990’s where the way to get your products known to the trade was slow, expensive and was hindered by the number of pubs that the PubCo’s had locked down. If you wanted to market your products you had to spend money on trade advertising and hit the road meeting people just to get known.  That first step of getting known is so much more accessible now, you can market to the whole world for the same price as marketing to a single pub landlord.  Of course the follow up face to face skills are still crucial, but getting that face to face is so much easier.  Also there are so many more freehouses out there now who’ll buy a couple of boxes, kegs or cask to see how it sells.  If it is good, you’ll get repeat orders and word of mouth will spread, if it isn’t I’d get back to the brewing plant before coming back. Just look at Brewdog as an example, founded less than 10 years ago, adopting a low budget marketing campaign (compared to other nationally aware brands) and now close to raising £25 million through direct investment from beer drinkers.  The internet was key in this.

What should CAMRA become, the first thing that should be done is to change the political nature of the regional branches pub of the year / season, it shouldn’t be “it’s their turn”, it should be “they deserve it”.  Just look at our local CAMRA branch list of winners and you’ll see no-one holds on to an award for a second season or year or even gets repeat awards.  There are a number of pubs that should have won more than one seasonal or annual awards in the last few years.   Local branches still have their place though.  Nationally it should do the things they do well, national campaigning on politically relevant issues and organising their successful large beer festivals.  But the fight is done, they need to sit back and enjoy the spoils.