The Story Behind “Pabst Unsold”

If you’re reading my blog, there’s a good chance you know the name Rob Walker.  Rob writes the “Consumed” column for the New York Times Magazine and also writes a great blog called Murketing.

Whenever I see or hear Rob’s name, it instantly takes me back to 2003.  I was the Pabst Blue Ribbon Brand Manager at Pabst Brewing Company and had been working with Rob as he was writing a story for the NY Times Magazine about the increased popularity of Pabst Blue Ribbon.  I hadn’t met Rob in person, but I talked on the phone with him several times and facilitated his interviews with my boss and some other people in the company.

Although I knew Rob’s story was going to be extremely positive for the brand and he seemed to be a nice enough guy, serving as the primary media contact for Pabst was an extremely painful process.  Our upper management was fairly scared of what media coverage could bring.  They worried that the writer might say “something bad about us” or could divulge this “secret strategy” we apparently had.  All of this culminated as I ended up talking to the NYT Fact Checker on speaker phone as I sat in the CEO’s office, and tried to balance the truth and what the CEO wanted me to say as furiously scribbled his directions on a legal pad.  I remember comparing the experience to “diffusing a bomb” after it was all over.

A couple months later, I was celebrating my 30th birthday in Vegas and I was pretty sure the story was in that Sunday’s edition.  I stopped by the newsstand at Mandalay and picked up a paper.  Sure enough, Rob’s piece titled, “The Marketing of No Marketing” was on page 42 (he calls it “Pabst Unsold”).  Although it was a huge honor to have my brand and strategy documented in a publication like the NY Times Magazine, I was still really scared what the big shots would think of the final article.

Five years later, I was in New York for a conference and after a huge night out on the town with the guys from VICE Magazine, I met Rob at a coffee show in Tribecca.  I was really hungover, but it was fun to finally meet Rob and tell him about all the behind the scenes shit that went down for this story.

Fast forward to 2008.  I got book in the mail a couple weeks ago and I noticed it was written by Rob Walker and had some post-it notes bookmarking some pages.  I jumped to those pages and started to laugh.  Sure enough, it was the extended version of the NY Times story from five years ago.

Buying In

Rob’s new book, Buying In hits the shelves on June 3, 2008.  The entire book is a great read, but I’m kind of partial to Chapter 6, called Rebellion Unsold.