Minnesota man becomes brand voice of brewing company
ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) — Jan. 29, 2018, will go down in Minnesota history as the night Stu Neuman broke the internet.
As Super Bowl LII approached, businesses all throughout the Twin Cities were brainstorming ways to stand out to visitors in a sea of football-crazed, Minnesota-centric advertising.
“Some people rented a whole block in Minneapolis to get their message out there,” Neuman, 47, said. “What we decided to do was have me write a blog post after two beers.”
Surly Brewing Co. went live with Neuman’s blog post “Welcome to Minnesota: A Primer” that fateful Monday night. When Neuman woke up the next morning there was chaos.
“Our website was broken because people kept sharing it on Facebook,” Neuman said. “We thought there was a bot attack from like, Slovenia or something, but it was that post.”
Neuman’s tongue-in-cheek, humorous take on Minnesota (and Minnesotans) at large had achieved what all web-based content creators hope for: viral fame. But this was hardly Neuman’s first brush with virtual celebrity.
The St. Cloud man and native Minnesotan (real name Steve Neuman) became somewhat regionally famous for leaving comments on Star Tribune digital sports editor Michael Rand’s RandBall blog, which eventually turned into a freelance gig under Rand. Neuman’s username and subsequent Twitter handle, RandBallStu, became synonymous with whip-smart commentary and it got him noticed.
Neuman had been an IT professional in downtown St. Cloud for 15 years, but his RandBallStu posts began to garner him freelance writing work. After losing both his IT position and a subsequent digital producer job at MPR, a friend introduced him to the folks at Minnesota’s premier craft brewery: Surly.
It was a match made in humor heaven.
Neuman said his naturally self-deprecating sensibilities paired well with Surly’s existing voice: refreshingly self-aware, sarcastic, almost too smart for their own good.
“I think Surly already had an authentic voice just by being who they were, and my job is to not (expletive) that up,” he said. “You know, they were named brewery of the year in 2008 and never did too much to promote it. There was a real sense of, ‘We know we could, but we don’t want to be too braggadocious about it.’”
Neuman took the position of lead copywriter — sorry, “Manager of Words” — for the company in February of 2017. He became the brand voice of Surly, writing all the company’s online content, press releases and even the copy on the side of its beer cans, the St. Cloud Times reported.
His career trajectory from semi-anonymous online comment-maker to professional copywriter at the nation’s 49th-largest brewing company was nontraditional, to say the least.
“Meeting other people through online connections sounds like the plot of a Lifetime movie from 2005 starring Sally Field, or something, but now it’s fairly normal because everyone works online,” he said. ”(My online presence) almost acted like a cover letter.”
“I wouldn’t recommend (that path,) because you have to work in IT for 15 years before you get to it,” Neuman joked. “This was never some grand five- or 10-year plan. I just started writing, and people seemed to respond to it.”
No kidding: His Super Bowl post alone has been shared over 110,000 times on Facebook — and that’s not counting the unsanctioned copies of the post that showed up on popular meme pages, often removing any mention of Surly.
“I think (my mom) and at least one of her sisters shared the bootleg post on Facebook,” Neuman laughed. “It’s like, ‘(Expletive), Aunt Margaret, I wrote that!’”
Kerfuffles with the Aunt Margarets of the world aside, Neuman said he’s grateful to see his work have a quantifiable effect on Surly and his readers.
“We got feedback from people on social who said, ‘I bought Surly because I saw the article.’ Which is nice, because you never know how much your writing will impact the actual goal of the company, which is selling beer,” he said. “It was nice for it to have a tangible impact on my actual job, instead of my ego. My substantial, substantial ego.”
Ego aside, Neuman is actually humbled by all the circumstances and people who helped him find his dream job. He cites Rand for offering him work and helping him make connections, and his brother Tim for getting him into craft beer. And the team at Surly helps to keep him grounded.
“Even though we have a lot of beers named after Satanic rites, none of us worship the Devil,” Neuman advised.
“When I got named the Best Tweeter of the year (by City Pages in April), they absolutely roasted me about it. I didn’t say anything to them about it, I went out to lunch and came back, and they were like, ‘Should we call you ‘sir’ now?’” Neuman recalled.
“There’s a really good back and forth (at Surly). They’ll pick you up if you need picking up, and knocking down if you need knocking down. And I definitely need knocking down.”
Ultimately, Neuman is just a semi-grown-up local kid done good, writing in a distinctly Minnesotan voice for a distinctly Minnesotan brewery.
“A Minnesota brewery, tying in with me living in Minnesota my whole life, with there clearly being a spot for a place like this to be a Minnesota institution, adding my voice to that ...” He trails off in appreciative thought.
So what is that voice, exactly? After all, Neuman is representing the whole state of Minnesota when he writes for Surly. How would be describe the quintessential Minnesotan voice?
“Proud to be from here, but apprehensive to admit it,” he replied. “Pride of place, but let’s sort of let other people figure that out.”
Sounds awfully close to the way he described Surly’s approach to public relations, doesn’t it?
“There you go!” Neuman laughed when this similarity was pointed out. He took a sip of his Todd The Axeman IPA and shook his head, flashing a wry, self-deprecating grin. “God, I really wish I could say that was intentional.”
Information from: St. Cloud Times, http://www.sctimes.com