Hair of the dog?

By Teamspirit on Friday, 11 June 2021

Trawling through the headlines generated this week concerning the Scottish Brewer, Brewdog, and how it treated its staff makes for very sobering reading. And seeing the CEO James Watt finally showing some humility and shifting uncomfortably in his interview on BBC earlier suggests perhaps the penny has dropped and some responsibility is being taken.

Its fair to say the business has never shied away from publicity from its dwarf protest outside parliament to its spoof Aldi beer campaign in response to the retailer’s ‘copycat’ product, but I suspect this week’s news was the not the sort they expected or wanted to see.

In an open letter from a clutch of former employees, the brand- and more crucially its founders- came under intense fire and faced claims of a culture of fear and toxicity across the business. Describing their former employers as pursuing a strategy of “growth at all costs” with talk of “lies, hypocrisy and deceit” the ‘Punks with Purpose’ delivered blow after blow to Brewdog in an eloquent, emotional and extremely brave way.

And it wasn’t long before the letter was trending on socials and journalists, commentators, other employees and founders were all giving their ‘take’ on the Brewdog fallout. And rightly so. It is a damning example of what can happen when intent and integrity are not driven from the inside out. Masquerading as a brand that insisted “everything we do is for our team” and one that spoke liberally of creating a “great community”, Brewdog positioned itself as a business with purpose. And sadly, saying all these things doesn’t really hold any water. Instead you need to do them.

There’s a reason we talk about ‘actions not words’ when we are building brand purposes and corporate narratives for our clients. Because that is what counts. Not just what you promote on your channels (although done well that can work a treat too!) but what you actually stand for and what you encourage others to believe in. Purpose cannot be seen as something that has an external focus only to satisfy the demands of rising consumer activism, it must be driven from within. The best purposes are those that give the people who work for the business – arguably the biggest brand ambassadors- something to belong to and something to be proud of.

I would venture that this was at the heart of its thinking when Brewdog started out. But I am sure many will now be questioning whether every LinkedIn post they liked or commented on was genuine and whether all the claims they made happened or were just “vanity projects” as the letter states. What will be crucial is how and if the business recovers. Today’s humility is a start but I know that a lot of us in the communications industry will be watching closely to see if any hard evidence follows.