It's February, and you know what that means. We are less than one month away from our Beer Industry Summit, the annual executive conference we throw for the top 500 executives in the beer industry, which is a year in the planning, but really a month in the real preparation -- the last month -- February. So naturally February, being the busiest month of the year, is when "The People" start coming out of the woodwork.
"The People" are those friends, acquaintances, complete strangers, and obscure relatives who appear out of nowhere wanting special favors that they think will only "take a minute" but would actually, if I said 'yes', take days of work. These people invariably forget that in addition to doing favors for strangers and friends, we also put out two daily publications and a yearly Summit. Since that's what people pay us for -- not favors -- forgive us if we tend to put those things first.
There are several types of "The People":
The Student -- We get this one several times a week. A student from such-in-such business school thought it would be cool to write their term paper on the beer industry. Cool right? Because beer is cool. Right on, bro. Except that they don't want to do the research for their term paper, because they don't know anything about the beer industry, so they want me to do their research for them.. Usually it's an email that says something like, "it will just take a minute, but I need Stella Artois draft sales for each month of 2005-2009." These students can't understand why I can't spend an hour digging up that information when I have a plane to catch in 45 minutes. They should have done their term paper on beauty aids or baby food. What they have failed to grasp is that while, yes, "beer is cool," it's also one of the most highly complex, regulated, and fragmented industries in the world. If you want to understand the beer industry, get a law degree first. Yeah, shoulda picked candy bars, brah.
The Do-Gooder -- This is somebody, usually an acquaintance, who has started or joined the board of a charity due to some misplaced vague guilt they feel about something horrible they did in their past and have now, in mid-February naturally, come to the point where they either need 200 cases of beer for a gala they are throwing, or need money to fund their charity. I can only imagine the board meeting where they discuss how to achieve this goal -- a logic funnel that invariably leads to me. "Hey, you know what industry is sinful and yet rich and so probably has lots of money/beer to throw at charities like ours: the beer industry! Let's see, who do we know in the beer industry? Harry!! He'll be thrilled to help us out."
Thrilled is a strong word. While I admire people who work on charities, I always give an automatic and authoritative "NO" to these requests on so many grounds it's hard to list them all. (I did once arrange for a small amount of beer for a charity function for my mother-in-law, because I'm sleeping with her daughter. But that's where I draw the line: If I'm not banging your daughter, sorry, I'm not asking for beer/money on your behalf).
So why can't I help the little children?
1. I am a journalist covering a pretty small and insular industry. A journalist. A journalist cannot ask the people he covers for a favor, not even on behalf of a charity, because regardless of how well-intentioned the charity is, an obligation is secured. If a journalist asks for a favor from a person or company he covers, that person or company will expect a break in your coverage of them.
2. I'm often asked to just "put the charity request in your newsletter." That doesn't work either. First of all, it always irritates me to no end when people who have never read my publication ask me to just "put" something in. Our publications are successful, and command a very high price, exactly because we don't "put" things in, particularly charity requests. People don't pay for what's on the page, they pay for what we leave out. And if that's what they're paying me for, I'm going to continue doing it.
3. Beer companies are asked to give beer/money to charities about 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 times a day. Most beer companies, distributors and brewers, have a full time staff that does nothing but field requests from charities. Apparently your idea to hit up a beer company isn't a very original one, because EVERY SINGLE OTHER CHARITY in the history of the world has already thought of it. They don't need me piling on.
4. I not only cover beer companies, but beer companies are my customers, and I am their vendor. Do you see how that relationship is supposed to go? They ask me for favors, not the other way around.
5. And this is always a shocker to people, but BEER ISN'T FREE, not even for beer companies. "Oh, they can just give us some beer." I hear this three times a month from people asking me to ask for free beer. Only thing is, it's not free. And I suppose you want them to deliver it too? On a Saturday?
The PR Maven -- This person comes out of the woodwork any time of year and says, "You know, you oughtta do a story on me" (or my brand or product). This is a tough one, because about one out of ten times the story might actually be one that my readers might be interested in, so I can't dismiss it out of hand. But 90% of the time, yes, my readers would keel over of boredom reading something about a new type of tap handle that delivers the right amount of nitrogen. Sometimes people get indignant when I politely decline the content. Usually these people have never read our publications and so have no idea that we write short, exclusive, newsy pieces about the beer business, not feature articles on tap handles. The ones who are the most indignant and haughty are invariably the ones who don't even subscribe.
The Chatty Friend -- Friends are constantly complaining to me and my wife that I never return phone calls. But when I get busiest my friends start leaving long windy messages on my cell phone just to ask a yes or no question. Note to my friends: Put it in an email! The five minutes I just wasted listening to your message, and the ten minutes it will take me to call you back, get through the requisite pleasantries, and answer your question, is 14 minutes and 50 seconds longer than it would have taken to answer your question through a text or email on my phone. See, I have a hour cab ride, and I have about 6 calls I need to return that have to do with what's going into tomorrow's issue of Beer Business Daily, so I don't have 15 minutes to answer a question. Sorry, I love you, but just email me next time (unless I'm screwing your daughter, then you can call). The problem with phone calls versus emails, is with phone calls you have to return them sequentially, one at a time, and make small talk. They take too long. When you have thousands of readers, dozens of which want to communicate with you about something on any given day, you have to learn to communicate with more than one at a time. With emails, you can have several "conversations" at one time, and the small talk is limited to "hi." Also, I'm a better writer than a talker, so email was a godsend to me when it came along. So, yes, non-business phone calls always go to the back of my priority list. And as you know, my dog Chica taught me how to prioritize.
Learning to say "no" in February is hard to do. But, hey, I'll always try to lend a hand the rest of the year. /End of grouchy rant.