Should companies use online media to shame each other on their business practices? The latest battle pits Deep Ellum Brewing Company against Scotch & Sausage. DEBC, never shy about rousting it up, posted an update with an accusation that S&S asked them to "pay to play" — i.e., give S&S a discount to feature DEBC beer. As follows:
"Dallas, we have a problem," it began. "Earlier today, one of our sales reps visited the newly opened Scotch & Sausage. We were all really excited for their opening, and the possibility they'd carry our beer, but today we got hit with, 'Want your beer on tap? Then pay us $120 per week or give us half price beer.'
"This is called pay-to-play, and although it happens all too often, it is illegal — not to mention, unethical. It's unfortunate, as we were all very excited for this one, but our standards (and the law) will win every time."
S&S responded with a statement that they didn't really want DEBC's beer in the first place:
"A salesman came by today and tried to entice my partner and my bartender to carry his brew, but we were not interested. I don't feel the need to discuss the extent of his pitch, but, based on the knowledge I have, I'm pretty confident his supervisor would not approve."
Basically it's a he-said, she-said argument with no resolution that requires you to choose a side. The post has received hundreds of comments. Some are siding with DEBC; others are siding with S&S.
Pay-to-play is a not-legal practice that appears in the entertainment industry as well, wherein bands who want to get a gig are asked to pay club owners. One club owner in Dallas who asked not to be named said that, in the beer industry, it's common for large companies to offer freebies and financial incentives — a free neon sign, a free keg — in exchange for featuring the beer, but that, so far, the practice hasn't hit the craft beer realm.
"What's funny is that I know for a fact that management at Tailgaters has been trying really hard to get your beer on their taps, but their phone calls and emails are constantly ignored," said one commenter. "And you want sympathy? Stop being picky on who carries your beer, and maybe other establishments will be less likely to dick you around."
"The last thing we want to do is bash other small businesses, and quite frankly, this isn't the best post for us," DEBC said. "However, allowing pay-to-play to continue unnoticed would spell disaster for our industry and be the death of small brewers."
The last time a juicy online imbroglio erupted was between the dog people and Mutts Cantina, when a dog owner objected to the venue's restrictions over breed. Mutts Cantina got past it and survived.
Dallas PR maven Martha Tiller says that the controversy might not hurt either party. "These things might not seem good to do at the time, but it is great PR," she says.