The focus of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has obviously been blurred and dispersed over the last 45 years. This realisation seem to have recently reached the threshold and CAMRA stepped up to sort it out through a revitalisation project. The first stage in this process is a consultation launched at the beginning of April. The tone of the reports and comments about the project has greatly varied, which supports my feeling that CAMRA’s communication has been rather confusing. For a start, the consultation document neither defines the actual problem the project is meant to solve, nor sets a clear objective to achieve. CAMRA is apparently “enjoying a record membership and greater influence than ever before” which is insufficient to necessitate an overhaul, in my view. The document, instead, briefly summarises the changes in the beer market, the story of CAMRA and makes a good deal of assumptions. The big questions asked are related to different groups of products and consumers and what CAMRA is actually for.
The process of the consultation is not entirely transparent or self-explanatory: although it is “[a] consultation open to all CAMRA members“, the “initial short online survey” was open to anybody, and it is unknown how the responses of different stakeholder groups will be weighed in. In addition, it is not entirely clear how the responses to the online survey will be channeled into the entire consultation procedure, in particular the events for CAMRA members. (On another note, the online survey was still accessible through the CAMRA website after the official deadline of 30th April.)
In my interpretation, the essential question CAMRA is looking for an answer to is a difficult one: who thinks what CAMRA should (not) do about what? It seems, though, slightly redundant to ask this question to people that had become members of an organisation due to their interest in a campaign for real ale and/or community pubs and/or consumer rights (as per CAMRA’s introduction).
The fact that the revitalisation is explained by the pressure due to changes in the external environment gives it a rather opportunistic appearance. An organic revitalisation, in my view, should have been based on the changes within: what is CAMRA like now for the members, what the members are like in terms of their interests and need for representation. Also, knowing what they think CAMRA should do isn’t as good or sustainable as knowing what they actually need. (I suggest these needs be mapped out in a structured way, e.g. along the four Ps of marketing.)
At the time of writing the book, I did not know about the revitalisation project, but predicted something like it:
It’s 2020 (…) One thing is obvious to everybody, though: there are more beer brands and products generally available, although the products on offer have become rather hard to navigate given the coexistence of conventional brews in unconventional presentation, unconventional brews in conventional presentation, unconventional brews in genuine presentation and import brews that are not obvious imports. (…) There is a common notion, though, that the link between brands, businesses and locations has weakened, and this is eventually underlined in a study commissioned by an industry association. Discussions are taking place with CAMRA about a potential campaign for all beer, as opposed to just real ale, that is actually produced by British businesses on British soil.
NB: I am grateful for CAMRA’s achievements which I can benefit from every day. Probably, this is also why I find it important to emphasise that the campaign started off distinguishing between beer and beer. The consultation, though, suggests broadening the product ‘portfolio’. Regardless, whether the battle for real ale has been won or not, this could potentially mean letting go of the achievements of 45 years by eliminating the founding distinction.