03 July 2014

Hoosier Beer Geek Six Pack Interview: Tristan Schmid, Communications Director, Brewers of Indiana Guild

The Brewers of Indiana Guild is the trade group that collectively represents Indiana's brewers. They promote Indiana beer through advertising, communications, and festivals. The Indiana Microbrewers Festival on July 19th in Broad Ripple is a BIG event. Last week, the Guild hired Tristan Schmid as their Communications Director. You will find him, amongst other places, tweeting from @drinkindiana.

1.) Tristan, how Hoosier are you? Or, where are you from, where have you been, etc.?

I was born in Angola and grew up in Greenwood. After high school, I ventured toward the mountains and lived in Boulder, CO for a year and half (where I learned to love skiing), then went to school at IU Bloomington and IUPUI.

My wife and I have lived on the east side of Indy and in Broad Ripple (where the Indiana Microbrewers Festival takes place), and we're now in Fountain Square, just a few walkable blocks from Fountain Square Brewing.

2.) How beer geek are you? Or, how did you come into the craft beer world, what do you like to drink, etc.?

Not that they're craft, but I had my first beers--Labatt Wildcat and Labatt Crystal--on a fishing trip in Canada with my dad. I still have the cans [will send you a pic]. I started moving toward craft beer when I had Blue Moon while I lived in Colorado. It didn't take me long to find out that Blue Moon's marketing was more crafty than the beer was craft.

I discovered Bell's Oberon when I moved back to Indiana, then drank a lot of Upland Wheat in Bloomington. I started getting into IPAs and the rest of the craft beer world when I tasted Stone IPA at one of Bloomington's beer festivals over a decade ago, and started drinking more varieties from more breweries from there.

I met Clay Robinson, Owner of Sun King Brewing and President of the Brewers of Indiana Guild, when he started Sun King five years ago, and I observed how a combination of great beers, personal outreach and powerful marketing helped them grow rapidly.

Two years ago, I approached Jeff Mease and Mike Fox of Bloomington Brewing Co. to see if I could help them strengthen BBC's brand; they hired me, I drank a lot of their beer and spread the message of how good it was, one thing led to another, and now I'm representing not just them but all Indiana craft breweries.

I'll drink pretty much any fresh beer you put in front of me. But I spend my money almost exclusively on local beer. It's not a cheap habit, but I'd rather buy one premium pint of Indiana craft beer than two or three or four PBRs, for a variety of reasons. When you buy local beer, you're supporting the local economy, local culture, and the environment: Shipping a keg or case of beer across the state takes a heck of a lot less energy than doing so cross-country.

3.) For most, social media is a hobby. For you, it's a profession. Tell us about your experience and your approach.

I couldn't have cared less about social media when Facebook started. I only started using it and Twitter when I became Communications and Marketing Director at the Humane Society of Indianapolis in 2008; I quickly saw the power it had to share stories about things that I love. And it's been an integral part of my professional life ever since.

I regard social media as a professional tool, not as something that you just use for your organization because it's there and it's (for the most part) free. It has the power to reach more people more quickly than any method we've had before, and it's not something to just be handed over to an intern because you don't want to worry about it. I've seen countless examples of of companies or non-profits failing to use best practices on social media, which are not that complicated.

I try to respect my audience, writing to one person at a time and recognizing that they've chosen to pay attention to me as well. When you see a TV commercial or a billboard, you typically haven't chosen to see it. But with social media, people have opted in to your messages; from a marketing perspective, that's an enormous privilege that shouldn't be taken for granted.

So I try to respond to people as quickly as possible when they share a question or concern on social media--we all expect immediate gratification online. A fast response shows that you care, whereas no response implies the opposite.

For example, tens of thousands of people check in to thousands of craft beers every day on Untappd, and many of them tweet their check-ins, too. Breweries can offer "cheers" to drinkers on Untappd or Twitter who like their brewery and check into their beers, but you'd be amazed at how few breweries actually do this. That's too bad, as it's easy to do and shows people that you care and are listening.

Finally, a good website is actually the most important part of any social media strategy. It's the hub that all other messages--social media, email marketing, even traditional media--should radiate from. Different people prefer to consume info in different ways, so if you're putting something important on Twitter but not on your website or in your email newsletter, you're automatically excluding groups of people who might love to hear your message but just haven't signed up to do so on the services you're using.

4.) Communications Director is a new position for the Guild. What will be your responsibilities?

Well, I just mentioned the importance of a good website, so I have to mention that I'll be looking at how we can improve our website, which needs some love.

I'll ramp up our presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and will start using email marketing a bit more.

And I can't leave out traditional media: Print, TV and radio are still very important, so I'll be working to share our message there, too.

I'm helping to improve internal communications on efforts like legislative alerts for our members and welcoming new breweries to the fold.

And last but not least, I'm helping to improve the Guild's brand in general and working on specific campaigns that I'm really excited about, which you'll hear more about soon.

5.) What are your goals for Guild communications? What can we expect to see?

My biggest goal is to use all the tools at our disposal so that the Guild speaks as a unified voice, which will in turn help all Indiana craft breweries. Because my position was basically one that many people shared different aspects of before, it was hard to get a consistent message across. A little bit of dedicated effort will go a long way.

In terms of what to watch for from the Guild: We'll be at the Indiana State Fair in the DuPont Pavilion in August, so stop by and say hello--and don't forget that there will be craft beer for you to enjoy at the Fair this year!

Also, we're working on some special things that will help Indiana beer fans show their state pride while helping the brewers who brew the beer they love.

6.) We know you love @hoosierbeergeek. Who/what are your other favorite Twitter, Instagram, etc. accounts that we should follow?

I don't want to play favorites, so I'll urge you to simply follow your favorite local breweries on the social networks you're on: Even if they aren't very active online yet, there's a good chance they will be in the future. And sign up for their enewsletters; email is still one of the best ways to get the heads-up on new brews and events.

Since I follow thousands of accounts, I'll just point out a few, not necessarily related directly to brewing. I enjoy following visitbtown on Instagram because their photos bring back great memories of the years I lived in Bloomington. On Twitter, I'm a fan of @DenverBeerGuy because he shares all kinds of interesting news from the beer world (and he's from one of my favorite states.) On Facebook, I love Outdoor Indiana: Frank Oliver posts gorgeous photos of the natural beauty across the state, which, of course, you can check out as you explore new breweries and new locales.

Bonus question for an even brewer's half-dozen: Is there anything else that you want the Hoosier beer community to know?

We are ridiculously spoiled in this state when it comes to local craft beer, and we should be proud of that fact. Last summer, my dad and I took our own brewery/distillery tour in Wisconsin. I expected to be wowed by the beer selections, but was surprisingly underwhelmed. And I just got back from southern California, where I visited a number of both small (Strand, Monkish) and large (Stone) breweries. Sure, I enjoyed many fine brews out there, but the variety of local choices we have in Indiana is impressive even compared to that region.

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