Meet Matt - Siren's Events Manager
Hey folks, I’m Matt! I’ve been at Siren since early March, coming on board to oversee Events and the Tap Yard. That’s right, you read that correctly, overseeing events. In a pandemic. With no events.
Needless to say, since joining my job has changed somewhat to what it was supposed to be. So 9 months on and a hell of a lot of web orders later, I thought it would be interesting to give you a behind the scenes view of how an Events Manager worked through lockdowns in the year of the pandemic.
I came aboard the good ship Siren after finishing 2 years at Foodism. I’d been running their beer club, in charge of commercial deals, championing the London beer scene, running events and had a hand in creating content.
My most notable achievement was curating a 200 square foot activation at the 2019 London Craft Beer Festival, selling top craft beer from around the world and hosting 20+ talks and tastings with breweries such as Mikkeller, Northern Monk, Cloudwater, Anspach & Hobday and many more. That was the part of the job I loved, creating fun and creative events and spaces that championed good beer and the people that were responsible for bestowing these glorious beers upon us.
Starting at Siren
When Siren approached me about an Events & Retail Manager role it was an absolute dream come true. It’s a role that combines my passion and strengths for one of the best Breweries in the UK, nay, the world!
But as we all know, COVID-19 was about to take its grip, creating turbulence in everything, everywhere.
But most notably for me, events.
One by one every single event in the calendar was slowly cancelled. It was of course the right thing to do, having that many people in one place with what was happening at the time was not a great idea.
However, that didn’t make it any easier for me. I was hired to plan, manage, and run both the Tap Yard and Events – within a week or so of my first day the Tap Yard was closed and Events looked like a thing of the past. I don’t mind admitting that I wasn’t sure how long I’d be kept on.
The first thing we faced was the imminent lockdown and Furlough. Quite possibly one of the most commonplace words in 2020, having been virtually never heard of by most beforehand. This presented new challenges, but also some hope of financial survival, but ultimately a need to adjust.
At Siren, we were told that preserving jobs was priority one and that meant taking advantage of the Furlough scheme. Every single employee was offered it, employee health was a priority. If someone didn’t feel safe, they could happily take the time to isolate. Others, like most of the sales team, had to be furloughed.
For those of us that stayed on and kept the machine running, we had to quickly adjust. We put new processes in place and learnt to work with new distancing measures and cleaning routines. At the same time, web orders went through the roof.
I had to quickly learn e-commerce, logistics, and create a fulfillment team capable of sending out 200+ orders a day. The majority of us had never taken on jobs like this, let alone of that magnitude. The Tap Yard staff adapted magnificently, and these were to be our new roles for the foreseeable future.
Of course, lockdown meant that brewery tours were no longer possible. I think I managed to do a grand total of 2 before we had to put a halt to them. It was a real shame; brewery tours are always really fun to host and were highly regarded by all those that joined in. It’s one thing that I’m looking forward to eventually bringing back the most in 2021.
Challenged with the idea of how we could still show people around the brewery, our content creator, Tim, came up with the idea of a social media friendly 2-Minute Brewery Tour. It was a bit of an ‘on camera’ debut for me, but this was how events and tours were to be, and so be it. Massive Thanks to those who watched and enjoyed it.
Shortly after the brewery tour video we had the idea of hosting virtual tastings for new releases, broadcasting live to all the amazing people ordering our beers. In normal times we’d have had the opportunity to do this at the Tap Yard, or across the country at Tap Takeovers and festivals. But with the Tap Yard being closed and not having that face to face opportunity to talk about our latest creations we had to get inventive.
We hosted a few of these (and the obligatory quiz night!) through YouTube. Tim and I would essentially host a drink along with tasting notes, technical data on the beers and how they were brewed, and even embedded video messages from the brewing team. Technology wise this was ambitious and, in classic 2020 style there were some interesting issues like no sound and too much sound.
Issues dealt with and learned from we drew in amazing online crowds and it was truly brilliant to be talking to people about the brilliant beers they’d been buying by the shed load. Familiar faces and new fans testing our teams limits to get the beers out to them on time so they could join in which, again, was really humbling.
A Beer With... chats
Next up was an Instagram Live series called ‘A Beer With’, which Tim had been booking and hosting but he handed off to me to take over. I’m guessing there are a fair few of you reading this that tuned into one. They’re essentially a one-on-one chat with awesome people from the industry chatting about their beers, and how COVID was affecting them. Each chat was designed to last the time it took to drink a beer whilst chatting, but I’ll admit that some of the chats have headed into 2 or 3 beer territory!
Speaking to incredible people such as Jordan Mower (UnBarred), Melissa Cole (Author and Journalist), Mads (Mikkeller UK), Matt Brynildson (Firestone Walker) and Wayne and Neil from Cigar City gave myself, and our audience, some great stories covering all manner of subjects.
We had some great questions and feedback, but ultimately, they were just a bit of fun. These are all people we’ve sorely missed over the last few months, people we would have been having beers with and catching up at festivals, so it was great to chat and introduce them to our audience, and vice-versa.
All this experience put us in good stead for the big one, the main event for Siren in 2020. Releasing a brand-new flagship beer is an achievement at any time. But doing so in the middle of a global pandemic lockdown with a live launch event, a stargazing night, an astrophysicist and a branded planisphere is just mad, right?
We pulled it off though, at the same time selling over 1,000 "Stargazing Mixed Cases” enabling people to join in with the live drink along, lesson in stargazing, and a bit of fun outside toasting marshmallows. This was also another massive win for the brand new webshop team (who at this time were also juggling the Tap Yard, freshly re-opened for collections and growler fills) - getting all those out there into the wilderness was no mean feat!
Virtual Beer Tasting
With all that focus on such a huge event, everything took a bit of a back seat. Web orders were still piling in and Tap Yard duties demanding constant attention with the changing rules. However, I’m still always looking for a good way to introduce beer to new people and that’s where I discovered virtual corporate events.
Initially it was a chance meeting with a company looking for a solution to a problem. Much like us, they’d seen a business focus shift to digital and needed a way to entertain their clients and employees. Entire work forces were home based, there were no Friday desk beers, after work drinks or team building days out. That presented an opportunity.
With a little bit of hard work we pulled off a giant beer tasting for 70 people, with the Siren team sending out beers and snacks to every single attendee. Via Zoom, I then guided them through the beers, one by one. It was a completely different experience and undertaking from our YouTube tastings, a bit more chaotic sometimes, but it was amazing to be able to present our beers and story to a new audience and have some of that interaction back. The Q&A at the end is always my favourite part, being able to answer all those questions that come from opening a Lemon Cheesecake IPA!
While the corporate tastings were still bubbling away nicely and I was finding myself doing more and more, I still wanted to see what else I could get going. The lockdown had ended and had ended and it felt like some normality was returning, with places opening back up. The time for a hybrid event had come, combining online and digital events with actual events in pubs and bars.
Siren In... was born, and Liverpool was first up. The idea was to focus on a great beer city and introducing our audience to beers from further afield. We wanted to support the breweries, pubs and areas that had had it tough, and shine a light on an area to show people how amazing the indies were, what they’d been up against and maybe get people thinking about visiting there (in a socially responsible manner). The people already in those areas would be encouraged to try different venues, support their locals, and get talking about what else the city has to offer including restaurants, music and creative scene, and culture.
Mixing everything I’d learnt along the way, and from my experiences before Siren, the team and I put together a series of Tap Takeovers, beer and food menus, digital talks and social media interactions that really got into what Liverpool has to offer. It went really well, and we got so much lovely feedback that we’ve got another planned for next year, but you’ll have to hold on to hear about that!
Most recently, in collaboration with the Stilton Cheese Makers Association, I arranged and hosted a cheese and beer pairing event. Much simpler in concept to “Siren In...”, but adding a new element of food and beer pairing into the mix. 50 beer and cheese lovers all on a Zoom chat, trying pairings that Kim Kettle from Long Clawson Dairy, my colleagues and I and had diligently matched with a variety of our beers and styles.
We discussed the diversity of beer styles and cheese styles, and how that made for the perfect match. After the success of our other virtual events, we even had people from the national press in attendance, and it was a real testament to how far we’ve come from the start.
So, what’s next? Well, onwards and upwards really! Despite the many challenges faced, it's been a truly hectic and pretty crazy first 9 months.
As mentioned, there are plans to move forward with a new “Siren in...” in the early stages of 2020, as well as to continue the chilled out “A Beer With...” Instagram Live chats. I'm booked up for private virtual tastings until February, with more requests coming in all the time. We wanted to provide an alternative for office Christmas parties, stags, and team building exercises, and that we have – I have 30 booked in December alone. If you ever struggle to get hold of me, I’m either on a zoom chat or nursing a hangover.
The way I see it is, 2020 has been such a massive challenge in many ways, both physically and mentally. We all need a bit of fun with loved ones, colleagues and friends every now and then and if I can be part of that solution and bring beer and joy to people’s lives, that's fantastic.
I can’t wait to see what 2021 brings. Hopefully I’ll get to see you all at the Tap Yard or at an actual event at some point, that is, after all, what I was hired to do!
Cheers, and Merry Christmas!