Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Joe Sixpack: The Modern Journalist (and Ultimate Lesson in Branding).

Don Russell writes about beer. He runs a beer festival. He writes books about beer. And he makes appearances where he teaches people about beer.

"My life is drinking beer," said Russell, who also goes by the name Joe Sixpack. "It's as good as it sounds."

He launched his career in beer in 1996 with a regular beer column in the Philadelphia Daily News, where he served as a general assignment reporter. His column was popular and then, he stumbled across a story that launched him to beer stardom: he discovered that the vendors at Veteran's Stadium (RIP) were shorting fans beer. Rather than filling cups, the vendors were stopping short. Extrapolated over the course of a season, the lost beer added up to big money.

Russell's story was a front page package, and it lead to an investigation by Philadelphia's City Council (seriously). Russell was proven to be right, the vendors were punished and beer prices at the stadium were reduced. That lead to Russell getting a standing ovation from Phillies fans on opening day in 1999 (seriously).

After taking a buyout from the Daily News in 2005, Russell went in the Joe Sixpack business full-time.

"It's the best job in the world," he said. "Brewers send free beer to my home."

He still writes the column for the Daily News, who officially licensed the name "Joe Sixpack." While the column and other freelance writing is the root of Russell's living, he does numerous things based upon the expertise he developed in the beer world. He writes books about beer. He hosts beer tastings. He is launching a beer tasting/ journalism education program for attorneys. And he runs Philly Beer Week, a citywide event celebrating, well, beer.

Simply put, he is Joe Sixpack, the brand.

"I drink beer recreationally and I drink beer professionally," Russell offered. "The lines are definitely blurred."

Here are a few other things that stood out for me:

• Everything he does is built around and/ or connected to his Joe Sixpack brand.
• He tried selling T-shirts. They didn't sell.
• The wall between the business side and the editorial side of journalism is eroding.
• He occasionally writes about people he works with on his various projects, and that could lead to conflicts of interest. But he is transparent with his work, mollifying potential critics.
• He does not blog. He did for a short time but it did not last. "It took too much time and there wasn't enough money," he explained.
• He doesn't tweet either.
• He might create his own Joe Sixpack beer someday. But he's not going to launch Joe Sixpack's Bar & Grill. That would be too much work.
• He writes about mass produced beers, as well as craft beers.

He attributes the success of his column and brand to two things: 1. everyone drinks beer and 2. the voice in his stories and columns is not that of a beer snob. He reports and presents facts.

"I'm not a critic or an expert," he said. "I'm a beer drinker."

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