Yesterday I was told I'm biased because I received a free gift as part of a presentation on beer glassware at the 2012 Beer Bloggers Conference in Indianapolis, IN. I wasn't asked if the sponsor's generosity played a role in my opinions. I was simply told that the gift had such an effect.
Mind you, no one called me out specifically by name. The comment was made by a person who is not participating in the conference and did not take part in the presentation. She doesn't know me and doesn't follow me. It's a person who has cultivated a rather brash personality in the beer world which serves her well, if not generally advancing the parts of the craft beer world that most of us beer writers seek to explore.
I have no need to name names because this post isn't about her, it's about the question. When does sponsorship play too big a role and are beer writers smart enough to know the difference?
There's a significant difference between asking the question and presuming the result. It's the difference between investigation and predetermination. It's the difference between digging deeper and being satisfied with the sound bite.
The collection of participants at the Conference is an interesting cross section of society. There are a handful of professional writers, but there's also lawyers, accountants, security consultants, computer programmers, bottle shop owners and more. As I've observed my fellow participants, one consistent theme has emerged. Traditional marketing does not work with this group.
Some of the sponsors get this, some don't. There's a wide range of craft beer sophistication among the participants, but universally they're an inquisitive group. If anything, the main area we must work to overcome is an inherent bias against the sponsors.
While I didn't appreciate being told I was biased, I do appreciate being challenged to check my line of thinking. Sure, the comment was intentionally antagonistic rather than naturally inquisitive, but I'm pretty good at keeping an open mind.
Oh, and the glassware is awesome.