Friday, 30 January 2015

You Can Only Please Some People a Bit

You may or may not have noticed a Twitter spat between me and a guy called Mark Johnson.  Who's that then? He writes a blog called Beer Compurgation - no I don't know what the word means either.  What's the big deal? Well not a lot in many ways and certainly not as much as has been made out on Twitter. It arose by my response to Matt Curtis and his fulsome praise for a blog piece about the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival for which I am the Deputy Organiser.  Now this wasn't an overly critical piece (but see below) and apart from repeating rubbish about being "lied to" at the previous year's festival, was fairly innocuous.  Given that the writer actually said some nice things too, why am I bothering with this then?

Among other things, it's that thing about being lied to again.  Accusing people of being mistaken, or just plain wrong or daft is one thing, accusations of lying are another. It was toned down a little this time to "pretence" - one of the dictionary definitions of which is "lying", but there you go.  What was our offence this time you ask?  Well it seem that our arrangement with Henshaws Society, a charity for blind people, has caused a red mist to fall once again. It seems that it was suggested to Mr Johnson by those selling the programme, that the money went to charity.

"Secondly, the programmes were being sold to people under the pretence that the money goes to charity. The latter has all the credibility of a BBC phone-in donation.

The actual arrangements were that the charity got 10p per programme for the first 3000 sold and 25p thereafter. This was the deal they negotiated with us. They sold the programmes on our behalf and no doubt wished to maximise numbers sold. From their point of view it was "for charity".   Funnily enough, as the person responsible for the foyer, I didn't hear anyone say once that it was all for charity, but there you go. Even though we handed over the responsibility for programme selling to the charity, we will ensure in future that they brief their volunteers correctly. (As an aside, the programme, no less that 64 (high quality paper) pages, was sold for a bargain £1. Hardly a rip off given the effort that went into it and the extensive tasting notes. Its costs were not all covered by adverts by any means as suggested and a fixed amount per programme goes to the publisher too - these are complicated deals.) The cloakrooms were operated by Henshaws again.  The Velodrome has only one. We bought or acquired the kit for a second, including the racks and hangars. Out of each pound spent, the charity got 80p. The rest covered our costs.  The implication that CAMRA decided to deceive over this is just not true.

 It doesn’t sit right with me, sorry. I’m sure Henshaws raised a lot of charity money this year. I bet another organisation earned more" 

I don't actually know who made most from these two activities, but since the entire operation was handed over to the charity, we'll have to wait and see.  Not that it would actually matter, as long as that was what was negotiated and agreed upon.  Even if we did make money from it, that's our aim.  No apologies for that. Our expenses are enormous, as is our exposure to risk. The charity was happy with their cut and our aim in involving them was to delegate a task or two and to allow them to make more money for charity than just shaking buckets under noses.  They are in their second year with us and are very happy indeed with the relationship.

We weren’t lied to over tannoy systems this year and they actually remembered to sell beer too. I told them at the end of last year’s post to come back and be better and it worked. They listened to many and learnt from all. They can be taught.

There we go again. Last year's comments about lying are slipped in again, even though they were systematically rebutted at the time. Let's make it clear one more time. Firstly Metrolink always closes the Velodrome Tram Stop for an hour after Manchester City's home games. That's what we announced last year. Metrolink did the same this year. It is their Standard Operating Procedure. Secondly, we ran out of beer last year, because more people turned up than we'd expected and budgeted for. This year we didn't run out - at a pretty big cost to us in discarded beer - because we knew we'd need more - a fact we didn't know the year before, never having been there.   Mr Johnson was pleased though we had plenty of beer, but it isn't that simple. Judging the amount of perishable cask beer is not an exact science. Nobody wants to run out and nobody wants to send hundreds of gallons of good beer down the sluice, which is what we have to do if we get it wrong. Selling cask beer in volume to an uncertain audience is squeaky bum time for us all.  We take it very seriously and certainly try to run that fine line between too little and too much.

Despite his (tongue in cheek I hope) claim of influence, Mr Johnson told us nothing that we hadn't figured out for ourselves. It was better because we used our experience of the first event to make it so, and will use our experience of this event to make it better next time.  We will also listen to the large number of constructive comments too - including the charity one above - which when you strip the insinuation out, is actually a lesson learned. Thanks for that at least.  We'll know more next time too. Continuous refinement and improvement is the name of the game for us.

Moving on. If you read the article I mildly complained about, you'll see it is full of snide remarks.  I for one don't let such things go unanswered when I have had a hand in the event criticised and know how complicated it is. (As a further aside, an event that expects 11,000 people is fiendishly difficult to organise). I am concerned that the few that read Beer Compurgation and didn't attend the event, might be incorrectly influenced by it.  That is why I said "Hmm. Not really" and why I am putting the record straight now. 

A good example of a snide remark is this:

How was the beer not available at the beginning of the festival? "We haven’t finished setting up yet." Oh for God’s sake…

Shocking isn't it that in this huge logistical operation, that we can't get everything done on time and provide Mr Johnson's first choice beer, from over 500, from the get go.  Never mind that people had slaved away for five days to set it all up.  "Oh for God's sake"  is the kind of thoughtless throwaway remark that just makes you want to give up and frankly the whole piece is littered with such sarky asides.

Finally Mr Johnson's allegation that CAMRA seem to be making money out of the festival is absolutely true. Astonishingly, we do try and make money and any we do make goes straight to CAMRA HQ to, err, campaign for real ale.

Despite this, no less than 360 beers were sold at £3 a pint or less, CAMRA Members had free admission at all times except Friday night and apart from Friday, it was just £3 to get in. (£2 with a Metrolink ticket).  Average price of a pint was £3.07,  way cheaper than comparable free houses in Manchester. We'll try and fix these over-measures too - thanks for pointing it out.

Two more tweets to think about:
Point one: I hope this is constructive enough and point two: That's good in principle, but sometimes you need to look a little deeper, read between the lines and check the record too.


StringersBeer said...

Outrageous. Doesn't he realise it's only Hip Brewers allowed to dis CAMRA like this.

Curmudgeon said...

Surely by definition a programme has production costs (even if partly offset by advertising revenue) and so the full cover price isn't going to go to the charity.

Also if you budget to break even, you run a strong chance of making a massive loss, which someone has to bear. So complaints about festivals making money for CAMRA show a lack of understanding of basic economics.

And I'd expect that, if you costed up all the value of volunteer labour at the minimum wage, it would come to much more than any profit made.

Ed said...

I thought there was an awfully of whingeing for a supposedly positive post too.

Cooking Lager said...

Back in the day, wasn't the point of a beer festival to engage the public in real ale, a product disappearing from pubs? Now the point appears to be to make money, for as you say HQ. Gouge the punters and monitize the goodwill of volunteers. You have to budget for a surplus and not a loss but when actually did the whole point of these things become making money?

I can understand why in the 70's you may have attracted campaigners to your outfit and why these days you attract the likes of me, that think CAMRA is a decent retail offer for the fee but sod working for a t-shirt & beer tokens.

Flogging programs that historically at festivals have been free with 10p going to charity is derisory and frankly is a con.

Having said that, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed some nice beers, met some nice people, enjoyed meeting Tand again and had a nice time. It is what it is. If you keep putting it on, I'll turn up and buy a pint.

Simon said...

I've not come across the Johnson guy before, but what a pathetic, entitled little boy he seems.

Blogger gets privileged, free entry to a trade session and moans because...well, apparently because there were some cyclists in the room. Cyclists in a velodrome! My heart bleeds for the guy.

Tandleman said...

Flogging programs that historically at festivals have been free with 10p going to charity is derisory and frankly is a con.

Well, you could hide it with a few pence on a pint. Then everyone pays. You can't win. As you very well know.

py said...

I can entirely understand why you just said marketed the programmes as "for charity" in a deliberately vague way.

If you had said "programme price £1, 10p of which goes to charity", people might have thought you were being a bit tight.

Tandleman said...

It would mean explaining the economics of a beer festival to thousands of people who were just there for a drink.

I don't think they would think it mean either. Millions buy charity Christmas cards knowing a lot less goes to charity.

It boils down to VFM for most I reckon, but if the charity thought it wrong then they would have said "No thanks".

But they didn't.The fact is it suited both of us and the charity looked at the event as a whole no doubt.

Cooking Lager said...

Well, fair enough, nothing is really free. If you give out free programs you are really selling one to each punter when not everyone wants one. Some want to see a full beer list and read the CAMRA propaganda. I like walking about and picking a random beer. I don't turn up to tick owt off. If you gave me a free program it would end up on the floor. I guess those that punt up a quid value it.

But can you imagine anything else sold as "for charity" where only 10p went to the charity? You don't have 90p production costs. Red noses, badges, the usual charity tat that gets flogged. Punters would be appalled and rightly so. People expect the bulk of the quid to go to the charity. I suspect the charidees that involve themselves with CAMRA do quite well, both in funds raised and profile raised. But with a small money grasping measure you create the cynicism and justify your critics.

If the point of the charity is to show support for the community within with you operate and wash the flogging of beer with the moral highground, to confound any disapproval, then you'd be better off ensuring the charidee product revenue went to charidee.

Don't give us cynics and critics the sticks with which to beat you. Make us scrabble in the dirt to find our own sticks.

Tandleman said...

Well of course the flaw in your argument is that it isn't "our money"to play with or give away. I suppose we could provide the content and the charity then put it together and sell it for what they could. I might just be convinced.

There are always sticks to beat folks with. I also refer you to charity Xmas cards.

Cooking Lager said...

I've just done a quick google of charity xmas cards. The ones issued by charities claim 100% of profits go to the charity. So the surplus minus production costs.

Could not find an Alcohol Concern one, though, as I would like to give Mudge one them next year.

But just because rip off ones are not on the first page of a google search does not mean they do not exist. I, like you, see that most years rip off charity xmas cards get to be a filler item on the local news.

So some people issue rip off charity tat. Does that mean you should join them and it's okay?

If the point of involving a charity is to bask in the associated goodwill, then you are selling yourself short for buttons.

The guy on your organising committee that came up with this is an eeejit. Make money out of selling beer, glasses, entrance fees etc. Keep the charity products for charity. Bask in the goodwill. Simples.

Tandleman said...

The ones issued by W H Smith etc don't.

Nobody was ripped off as you well know and as you know the eejit, you can take it up with him. They weren't charity products as you allege. That's the point. They were in effect our product sold by them for a commission. Equally simples. And we still have to pay the publisher.

Another point is that the volunteers that spend hours of their time doing the programme, me included, don't do it for charity, but to support CAMRA. We'd lose that with your suggestion I suspect.

I suppose the law of unintended consequences might apply eventually here, as there is one sure way to avoid confusion. Charity is a welcome add on to our festival. It is not the main show - as they'd be the first to say themselves. You seem to want the tail to wag the dog.

Martin, Cambridge said...

I admire volunteers. All you get is flak. Ignore the idiots.

Phil said...

I was there & paid £1 for the programme on the way in, just as I always do at the Stockport BCF. I didn't hear anyone saying it was being sold "for charity", let alone implying that the whole cover price went to charity.

For a positive write-up, this Compurgator guy's piece left a very bad taste in my mouth. The lowlight for me was just after the little rant about his bestest mostest favourite beer not being available as soon as he came in -

"Taking whatever beer was available back to my table"

"Whatever beer was available". Diddums, did those nasty organisers only give you 499 beers to choose from?

I think the organisers deserve nothing but congratulations on a really magnificent festival; I just hope they didn't get stuck with too much beer at the end of it.

Cooking Lager said...

I agree with Martin that volunteering in our “Big Society” is a good thing. Well done to all that gave their labour for free for something they believe in. That includes you Tand, respect Guv. I will add the caveat that volunteering to help blind kids isn’t quite on the same level than serving beer to middle class people for free beer tokens but that doesn’t reduce my respect for beer festival volunteering. There’s volunteering and then theirs volunteering but heh, it’s about what you think is important and where your values lie. Respect to the volunteers. Big Society in action.

And Phil, bang on. It was a great event. Well run, enjoyable. Great beer in a great location with great people. You can’t knock it. I enjoyed the whole thing.

But back to the charity program. Oh dear Tand. You are now defending it how? Charity going around hawking charity programs “want a program, quid for charity?” wasn’t a charity product? The number one consumer organisation in Europe engaging in a practice they would condemn in any other circumstance? I cannot believe if we sat in a pub enjoying a few cold ones you would defend rip of charity Xmas cards. I cannot believe you would defend the renaming of the football charity shield as the community shield because sod all goes to charity. I cannot believe you would defend rip off TV phone ins. But that’s where your program sits, my friend.

Mate, you have a fantastic event. It is well run and brilliant. The beer quality is top notch. Those coolers you’ve got crap all over the wet towels you see at other beardy piss ups. You have something brilliant. Don’t shit all over that with a stupid charity program where 10p goes to the charity. Sort it out. Give me the paying punter a nice taste in my mouth, not the taste of our mutual friend’s money grasping idiocy.

This has turned into an essay, but a whole other subject is the motivation behind volunteering. If you think your volunteers are working “for the good of CAMRA” and prefer money going to St Albans than a local good cause you are pissing in the wind. You had hundreds of volunteers. About 3 did it for that reason.

Curmudgeon said...

I look forward to your proposals to make the destination of programme receipts crystal clear at your *local* beer festival, Cookie. Maybe next Monday night?

Cooking Lager said...

What?, going to a dodgy rough pub on a monday night in this weather? I have central heating, a beer fridge and a big telly. Youz, Mudge is pissing in the wind.

Stonch said...

I totally get why Peter is upset. Well done on running what sounds like a successful event. CAMRA beer festivals are basically great, if I compare them to every other attempt a similar beer event I've ever seen.

Peter - this chap seems like a chippy, moany so-and-so. But mate: he's MANCUNIAN. If you are going to live in MANCHESTER you are going to have to deal with Mancs, you know.

Tandleman said...

Of course Jeff. Cookie is a great wind up merchant but he can fuck off over the programme. He is talking rot. Cookie. Nobody did it for the charity. The worth and the recipient of free labour is decided by those that give it.

Annoying though Mr Johnson is, you are worse. You know better.

Cooking Lager said...

Not sure I do know better, Tand me old mucker. I think I know why people volunteer for things. As well as working for coin I’ve volunteered and worked for nowt for a few charities over the years. I needed to. I’ve worked for filthy lucre for things I didn’t believe in because I‘m greedy and I needed a shower of sorts afterwards. I can't play the working class lad in need of a quid card, forever. Mercenary behavior rots the soul even when you wear a suit rather than point a gun like they do in films. But that’s just me.

People do it for a number of reasons. Keeping active in retirement, getting a reference at the start of a career, hoping for a paid job that means more than what you currently do, meeting new friends, hoping to meet a likeminded partner and have shag, because you like the activity involved and existing friends don’t. Occasionally, rarely, because you actually want to help disabled kids, and think that might add meaning to life.

I was reading my WB today and a chap was writing about engaging the “youth” in volunteering, suggesting that well-worn acceptance of craft malarkey. Presumably because the future is the kids with trust funds tweeting about trendy beer rather than the lads working as an apprentice necking lout in provincial nightclubs and pulling lasses.

I think that’s bollocks. I think 40 years ago you guys had a campaign and did things that were relevant to it. I think you continue with that same stuff because it makes money and you can’t afford to stop and you like meeting up with each other and enjoy it. I think you now want this generation to take over and continue. I don’t think you realize that maybe we’d volunteer for something relevant in our communities but don’t much fancy volunteering for an endless round of beer festivals to make money. Once a year maybe because it’s fun and you get free beer and can get pissed with Mudge because he's a great bloke. Maybe I’ll volunteer to do something more relevant. I think maybe my generation needs its own campaign and maybe we’ll leave you to yours. A clean slate relevant to what this generation wants rather than yours.

The charity program maybe is just a symbol. The point where is becomes obvious the pigs walk on hind legs, so to speak. I think it’s my problem not yours and in that sense you are right. I should not be critical, as I am not involved. I think your beer festival was great. I’m gonna be a regular customer. The German smoked beer was top notch and your hospitality second to none. I hope this generation is capable of something as good as what you guys did when you created CAMRA.

Stono said...

I honestly cant remember what the programme seller told us about it when we bought ours, so it would be wrong of me to say categorically either way where Id actually thought the £1 was going, I certainly didnt think it was unreasonable charge anyway.

But Ive been behind the bar at a few CAMRA beer festivals, so maybe Im more familiar with the organising hassles and why certain things like having enough beer is like asking how longs a piece of string sometimes, and the scarily high cost of how much these things cost to put on. I thought CAMRA HQs general principle was not to sign off on a beer festival that lost money, except for exceptional circumstances, for obvious reasons, the profits go into the campaigning.

I dont think the average punter attending these things realises how many sleepless nights and total stress of it being a complete disaster is put upon the organisers, and thats just for the things they can predict. The fact these events take place on that kind of scale and look totally professionally and seamlessly run is a total credit to all the volunteers involved as far as Im concerned.

and I certainly thought it was an excellent beer festival its up there with GBBF as being one of the few beer festivals I wish I could visit more than one day of, and I liked the cycling element its got to be the only beer festival youll ever get where entire tables of people are timing people cycling laps around them, and still coming to completely different times :)

Phil said...

The charity program maybe is just a symbol. The point where is becomes obvious the pigs walk on hind legs, so to speak.

Good grief. Where's this come from?

As you know full well, a festival is a commercial venture - spend too much or take too little and CAMRA loses money. And if your projections show that CAMRA is highly likely to lose money, CAMRA aren't going to be happy about you running the festival. So you work out a model which is highly likely to break even or make money, and hope that it actually works.

One small corner of the MBCF's funding model was a deal with a local charity on the programme - and I stress the word 'deal': nobody was conned or arm-twisted.

Apparently people buying programmes were being told that "the money goes to charity". I didn't hear anyone saying this and neither did Tand; did you? But even if anyone did say this in the heat of the moment*, presumably they were Henshaw's volunteers & nothing to do with CAMRA.

The idea that this is some kind of canary-in-the-coal-mine moment for CAMRA is completely unfounded & rather weird.

"Programme? We're selling them for charity" - accurate but longwinded
"Programme? It's for charity" - arguably misleading but short and to the point

Tyson said...

Ha. Thanks for making me aware of this. It's absolutely comedy gold. Cookie has been blown away by this fella.

Hold on...what do you mean it's for real? in that case, what a load of self-righteous pious shite. Not only does he blag his way into the trade session (go on, ban him for 2016) but he moans about having his FREE Saturday ticket queried. Just one of the many trial and tribulations he apparently faced. Oh what a cruel mistress life is.

Paul Bailey said...

As I’ve come along quite late to this debate, and as others have already responded to the rather childish and nit-picking post from Mr Johnson, I won’t waste time in making a detailed, point by point reply.

What I will say is that unless one has actually been involved with the organising and running of a beer festival, one should learn to keep one’s mouth shut. People who snipe from the sidelines and make cheap remarks have absolutely no idea of the months of planning, organisation and shear hard-work which goes into the running of these events; and that’s before the first pint is even poured! To whinge because Quantum’s Imperial Buckwheat Stout wasn’t available at the precise moment Mr Johnson deemed that it should be, really is throwing one’s toys out of the pram.

He then makes the comment that there was plenty of beer left on the final day; blissfully unaware that this represented an over-ordering on behalf of the organisers. We found ourselves in exactly the same situation at our beer festival at the Spa valley Railway, back in October. Yes, it is heart-breaking having to pour gallons of perfectly good ale down the drain, but it is the hardest thing in the world trying to get the quantities spot on. You’re cursed if the beer runs out to early, but also criticised if there’s too much left afterwards. Talked about being dammed no matter what!

Finally, the vexed subject of the programmes. Although a friend prepared the tasting notes for last year’s programme, I know only too well all the detailed work which goes into writing this important section. I know that my colleague spent a considerable amount of time collating all the information; as did others who had input into the programme. I would quite happily hand over a quid for such an item, irrespective of which organisation the money goes to so, again, I really don’t understand where Mr Angry is coming from.

Finally, if you don’t like cycling or cyclists, why go to a festival which takes place in a cycling arena? Equally, if you’ve got a problem with CAMRA, then why go to a CAMRA-run festival?

Unknown said...

Sorry I'm late to this particular party. Actually, I thought this year was somewhat better than last year. And I thought last year was OK too.

Maybe I'm biased because we had three beers there, and they all seemed to be in quite good shape too.

Well done.

Oh, and I think the cyclists training whilst we're having a few beers quite amusing, as it happens.

Birkonian said...

I'm not a great fan of British beer festivals but Manchester is spot on. I enjoyed it last year but it really stepped up to the plate this year. Spacious, seating for thousands, great beers at very reasonable prices, friendly staff. the programme was great value at £1. No one said to me that it was for charity. Of course the idea is to make a profit for CAMRA! it is used for campaigning. What about the increasing number of beer festivals run by commercial breweries and other organisations? They goodwill of volunteers allows profits to go to the organisers pockets in many cases.

Erlangernick said...

I'm late to this as well, but purposely so. I wanted to sit for a few days and then re-read Johnson's posts, to see if I could wrap my head around them. Maybe I'm just dim, but I really don't get it.

He himself seems to say he needs to have something to be upset about. I can't figure out what his problem with the cycle track is, where he wants to ram his pint glass into his eyes. In the post about last year's fest, he seems to like the place. Did some mad cyclist run over his mum in the interim year or something?

As has been well covered, the outrage at the various things (last year, the dastardly trade session, this year, the particulars of the charity's takings, a particular beer not being on at the start of the trade session -- for God's sake!) is just strange and childish. A real charmer, this chap.

Or I just don't get it.