Pabst Brewing Company
With a keen ability to identify ways of connecting legacy brands with contemporary audiences, Metropoulos & Co. has established a significant track record for re-energizing scores of household names and elevating them to new relevance. A prime example is the firm’s work with Pabst Brewing Company, the largest privately held brewing company in North America, which it acquired from the Kalmanovitz Charitable Foundation in 2010 for $250 million.
Under the leadership of co-CEOs Evan Metropoulos and Daren Metropoulos, the company’s flagship brand, Pabst Blue Ribbon, experienced a remarkable resurgence, as did its portfolio of several regional brands, including Old Milwaukee, National Bohemian, Rainier and Lone Star, among others. By driving revenue growth and efficiency through innovation, portfolio optimization and branding and marketing, Metropoulos grew the company’s EBITDA from $35 million to more than $85 million, with the core PBR brand increasing by 65% under its stewardship.
A key focus was targeting a younger demographic looking for alternative brand choices in an environment where craft beers had become the industry’s fastest growing segment. Bucking the trend of mass market brands that relied on big ticket advertising, the team employed a more grassroots, guerilla approach, favoring sponsorships of local music festivals or off-beat events like bass fishing tournaments to drive demand at a local level. They saw tremendous value in allowing consumers to set the trends in an organic, authentic way – rather than dictating trends as a brand. They also embraced pop culture, by engaging celebrities as brand ambassadors – with a twist.
While “Big Beer” invested in slick and pricey Super Bowl spots, Pabst looked to more home grown looking ad spots featuring relatable celebrities like Will Ferrell, who starred in a series of commercials for Old Milwaukee (long a Ferrell favorite) that ran only in select areas. With this unique look and tongue in cheek feel, the spots drew almost instant attention. A local paper noted: “Ferrell’s beer ad: Doesn’t get any better than this,” while television personality Willie Geist devoted a segment to the clever spot on an MSNBC morning show. Other celebrities, such as Mark Wahlberg, were known to wear PBR shirts as a badge, spurring a surge in the beer’s brand apparel across the country, especially on college campuses.
As hands-on leaders, Evan and Daren served as brand ambassadors themselves – personally bringing the beer into more than 250 new restaurants, supermarkets, and bars and earning praise for making “the beer a cool mainstream bargain brew with a global market,” in a relatively short period of time.
While the marketing efforts garnered the most acclaim, savvy operational strategies played a critical role in improving the company’s overall performance.
During their tenure, Metropoulos oversaw new product innovation, complementary acquisitions and international growth, particularly in China, where PBR was “advertised in magazines as a world famous spirit to be savored from a champagne flute,” and became one of the country’s fastest growing beer brands – selling for forty-four dollars per bottle. They also focused on distribution, adjusted pricing and made significant enhancements to back-end functions, such as information technology systems, as well as worked closely with partner distributors to provide consumers with innovative flavors to satisfy changing and regional tastes.
Within four years, not only had the Pabst brands reached new levels of popularity, the company’s operations had improved across the board. In 2014, Metropoulos & Co. sold Pabst Brewing Company to another investor group for a price in excess of $700 million.