Top 3 Takeaways from SweetWater “Behind the Brand”

PRSA Georgia special event highlights a unique integrated communications approach

On Tuesday, July 10, PRSA Georgia hosted a special event at SweetWater Brewery to look at how one distinctive brand deployed communication tools within the PESO model (Paid, Earn, Shared and Owned channels) to tell its own authentic story. SweetWater Brewing Company hosted a happy hour, brewery tours and a behind-the-scenes look at the launch of one of its newest brands for PRSA Georgia members and guests. Through the behind-the-scenes presentation, participants heard from Tucker Berta Sarkisian, SweetWater’s “Talking Head” about how to effectively build buzz across key consumer sets. 

The event spotlighted the SweetWater story and how a beer brand that didn’t even advertise until the last year has grown to become a powerhouse in the craft beer movement.  Berta Sarkisian used examples and case studies with the brand to illuminate how a flexible, iterative approach to communications planning and execution is actually reflective of SweetWater’s particular brand of culture – laid-back, approachable and here for a good time. Our own marketing and communications whiz, Chelsea Hinkel, attended and provided her insights.

Local to Atlanta, SweetWater has been brewing for nearly 19 years. During that time, they’ve focused on building relationships with their hometown community and audience. Chelsea Hinkel says, “What’s so phenomenal about their story is that up until this past year, they’ve spent zero dollars on advertising. But, as the craft beer scene has become more Red Ocean [competitive], they realized they really had to cut through that clutter to stand out. So, they partnered with an agency to develop a clutter-busting advertising campaign to reach their key audiences.” 

1) Build Authentic Connections

Conservation-minded outdoors types make up a core base for the brand. Instead of going after a large footprint and getting a small sliver of that audience, SweetWater would rather get directly in front of their core consumer. Chelsea Hinkel says, “The fishing community has always been a fundamental base of support. Their founders are really passionate fishermen, so one of their ways to authentically connect was Save Our Water, a campaign to give $100,000 to clean water organizations. This ad-supported campaign allows SweetWater to sell beer, save water and create community, all at the same time.

2) Creative Thinking Pays Off 

What might normally be a crisis can be turned into a brand win, when you empower quick thinking and creative problem-solving. Chelsea Hinkel says, “SweetWater was launching Goin’ Coastal. They boosted production for July 4th – when their sales skyrocket – and had two tractor trailers full of Goin’ Coastal stolen just days before the holiday. Instead of going low-key or focusing on negative news, they turned it into a PR goldmine. Pitching media, they turned it almost into a circus. ‘They’ve located the tractor trailers. Unfortunately, most of the beer is gone.’ This play-by-play created a lot of buzz with multiple national news outlets tracking the beer ‘fiasco,’ and they actually had one of their highest months of sales ever.”

3) Don’t Float the Mainstream

When determining how to create those authentic connections, SweetWater capitalized on some truly unusual ways to do it with their earned media approach. Where would you see most beer articles or stories? Mass audience magazines or large media outlets. Chelsea Hinkel says, “They have actually been going after fishing trade publications for some of their placements and some of their content bugs. Thinking about it from a totally different way: what is my audience reading and how can I get in front of them? So, as opposed to focusing only on craft beer or the consumer side, they’re actually targeting those trade publications that their audience is actively reading.”

Building credibility and staying true to its roots and culture enables a brand like SweetWater to break through the crowded craft beer marketplace. For more insights about building brands, contact us at

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