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Fighting the good fight.

John Gavin leads the Century Council in the battle against alcohol abuse

The Century Council is an organization developed to bring the alcoholic beverage industry into the fight against alcohol abuse. Drawing inspiration from the United Kingdom's successful Portman Group, the Century Council has drawn strong support from U.S. wineries and distilleries. The Council has received a somewhat cooler reception from the brewing industry, although it does count the Stroh Brewery Co. and the Guinness Import Co. among its subscribers. The organization is headed by John Gavin, former U.S. ambassador to Mexico. Prior to joining the Century Council, Gavin enjoyed a long and distinguished career in international business and diplomacy. Gavin graduated from Standford University, and served as an officer in the U.S. Navy from 1952 to 1955. Gavin served as U.S. advisor to the secretary general of the Organization of American States from 1961 to 1974, and as U.S. Ambassador to Mexico from 1981 to 1986.

MBA: What has motivated you to join the fight against alcohol abuse, Mr Gavin?

JG: I saw it as a great challenge, and a great opportunity to help do some good.

I also had some personal reasons. I know very few families that have not been visited by alcoholism. Mine certainly was. So I was sympathetic, if you will, on this issue.

Lastly, I was an aide to an admiral, a wonderful man who became a surrogate father to me, and he had a son killed who was commissioned on the dame day I was, by a drunken driver, while he was on his honeymoon in Maryland. I know what that family went through. I know their suffering, because I went through it myself, with them.

I think that this is the kind of issue that should attract our attention. I think it should have everybody's attention. That's part of our copy, you know. You've seen it in our ads. We say, |It's a very simple problem to solve, all it takes is everybody.' Of course, that's what makes it so difficult, because it does take everybody.

MBA: Why has the brewing industry proven resistant to the concept of the Century Council?

JG: Well, not everyone in the brewing industry has. Admittedly, several of the major players have, but we do count the Stroh Brewery Co. among our subscribers, and we do have some importers.

In addition, I recently addressed the Brewer's Association of America (BAA), and afterward a number of people came up and expressed interest in joining. We expect to make presentations to some of these regional breweries in the very near future, and we hope that they will join the council.

MBA: Why have the major players in the brewing industry refrained from joining?

JG: Well, I think that's a question that you really ought to direct to them.

MBA: You haven't heard anything from them on that score?

JG: Well, we have had contact with Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors. We have gone to St. Louis, Milwaukee and Golden, and we'd like to go back at some time with a review of what we're doing and what we're trying to accomplish, and to answer any questions that they might have.

MBA: You mentioned in your address to the BAA that the Council's marketing code had been reviewed by the major brewers.

JG: Yes, it was.

MBA: Did they sign off on it, at least initially?

JG: When we first started in this process in 1990, we had a representative from the Miller Brewing Co. on our executive committee. I think that's well known, so I'm not talking out of school. We also had contact with representative of Anheuser-Busch in an informative sense, and attorneys from A-B formed part of the legal committee review of our code. So I think we can say they were involved, since their attorneys were part of the process.

MBA: So you don't think that any portion of the code of responsible marketing could be unacceptable to them?

JG: Well, my own feeling, and that of observers of this industry, is that it should not be. The code that we have developed is a code of responsible marketing and advertising practices, and i underline marketing because it has that particular aspect which I believe the other codes for the trade associations do not.

The code covers all three segments of the industry as well. We made sure that everyone's concerns were accounted for. Nothing in the Council's code is specifically aimed at television, where beer is the predominant advertiser from the licensed beverage sector, and where wine and coolers are also typically advertised.

The code's provisions cover all forms of advertising and marketing, but are not specifically aimed at any one sector or any one product. I think if you look at it, you'll see that observation is correct.

MBA: One of the industry trade papers has asserted that some provisions are aimed specifically at the brewing industry. Is that erroneous?

JG: I respectfully suggest that anyone who makes that kind of statement has not carefully reviewed the code. I invite them to do so.

MBA: In your view, is the brewing industry using the equivalency issue as a stalking horse for their opposition to the Century Council?

JG: Well, I have been informed that some people have alleged that the Council supports equivalency. In point of fact, in my speech to the BAA, and in other documents we have put out, you will see that we have specific stated that we are not involved in equivalency or in any tax issues.

The president of this organization, Ambassador Peter Daley, and I, have both publicly stated that if the Century Council ever becomes embroiled in the issue of equivalency, and by that I mean it becomes part of our agenda, we would resign. That has been the policy of the Century Council. But, just to be certain it was reaffirmed, we asked our board to pass a resolution that the council has no interest in or policy on tax issues, and specifically has no interest in or policy on, or intentions to promote the concept of equivalence. Now , I don't think we can be any more specific than that.

Let me give an example. In my BAA speech, at one point, I pointed out the difference that we found in the Wirthlin study, and other studies we had seen, the difference between the public and the policy maker's outlook towards products from alcohol beverage companies. Not only their outlook, but the outlook for the producers and marketers themselves.

Everybody differentiates. Everyone says |This is beer, or this is wine, or this is some kind of distilled spirit.' Below the line, in the area that we call abuse, people just see abuse. And they don't ask you, for example, if God forbid, one of your loved ones is run over and killed by a drunken driver, they don't stop and ask, |Was that driver drinking wine, a sic-pack of beer, or a bottle of scotch.' What I've said, is a |Drunk is a drunk is a drunk.' It was then reported that I was talking about equivalency, that I had said a |drink is a drink is a drink.'

That's unfortunate. Because that is a distortion. i would like to think that it is an innocent or unconscious distortion, but it is a distortion nonetheless.

MBA: You mentioned the Wirthlin study, a report commissioned by the Century Council to gauge public attitudes about the beverage alcohol industry. Have you taken flak over commissioning that survey?

JG: Well, yes. Some people felt that it was a survey that should not be done. others have done something that I think is unfortunate - they have reported those findings as facts as opposed to opinion. That's unfortunate. Dr. Wirthlin's organization measured opinion, and the data was very specific about certain things. It confirmed information that had already been developed by, among others, Gallup, Roper, Cambridge Associates, and so forth.

For example, the Wirthlin survey indicated that nine out of 10 American adults believe that alcohol misuse is worsening. Well, that happens to be a report on opinion. It's a fact about opinion, if you want to put it that way. As it happens, the evidence contradicts that perception. There has actually been 22-percent decline in drunk driving over the past decade, a good indicator that the situation may be improving.

The Wirthlin data also indicated that the licensed beverage industry, as a whole, was perceived as contributing to misuse. The licensed beverage industry was perceived as being socially irresponsible, according to the people polled. There was also a perception that the licensed beverage industry's product advertising was contributing to underage drinking. That is what people thought.

In fact, three out of five policy makers, according to the Wirthlin data, don't believe the licensed beverage industry is making a good faith effort to combat abuse of their products. There are people in the licensed beverage industry saying that this survey should never have been done. But all that the Wirthlin data does, in my opinion, is confirm pieces of primary and secondary research that have already been done by others.

In our case, this information was brought together for a very specific reason: To develop certain strategic imperatives, based on the positive findings of the Wirthlin data. And one of those positive findings is that 79 percent of the respondents, an overwhelming majority of the public and of policy makers, support the idea of a voluntary, self-regulating organization along the lines of the Century Council.

There were two other things that were pointed out by the Wirthlin survey that were useful for developing our strategic imperative. That drunk driving and that underage drinking problems are the two greatest areas of concern to the public, and to policy and decision makers. That's what the Wirthlin survey brought out.

MBA: Is the industry sticking its heads in the sand if it ignores the public perceptions that the Wirthlin study brought out?

JG: It seems to me, again with all respect, yes. I liken this situation to a doctor coming up to your or me, and examining us, and saying, |you've got cancer,' and you or I responding, |How dare you say a thing like that.' Rather than saying, |I do well how can we fix it?'

MBA: Turning to the council's recent activities, you have reported that the |Front Lines' campaign has shipped material to 170,000 retailers and wholesalers.

JG: Yes. We've shipped nearly one million items to over 150,000 outlets. Probably more at this point, because these are stats from a couple of weeks ago. That's three times our projections. We're having a great deal of positive receptivity. As you know, we provide order forms, and when people order these, we'll provide all these materials free of charge. We would like to continue to do that, because the retailers have indicated that they are very effective.

MBA: Have you seen any instances of the major brewers discouraging their wholesalers from participating in the program?

JG: You're asking me a question like a prosecutor. You know the answer. Of course we have, and I lament that. It strikes me that some people believe we are superfluous, that we are unneeded. To use the cancer analogy again, that is like saying that if one medical center is doing research on cancer then no others are needed.

MBA: In your view, what makes a unified program more effective than individual efforts?

JG: Well, I think that in order for the licensed beverage industry to respond to accusations by anti-alcohol groups, it is necessary for brewers, distillers and vintners to demonstrate that they care about the abuse and misuse of their products and they are opposed to such misuse and abuse.

To get that message across, they need credibility. In order to achieve credibility, you not only have to do good works, but as much as possible, you have to be united.

That's an opinion. Certainly the Century Council is moving along in its attempts to combat abuse and misuse of licensed beverages, specifically combating drunken driving and sales to minors.

I'm persuaded, from my conversations with decision-makers and policy makers - governors, senators and congressmen - that we are developing credibility. I hope so, because we're certainly honest in our attempts to try to do some good work.

MBA: You seem to have many small wineries among your subscribers. Have you made any serious attempt to recruit any of the 250 microbreweries around the country?

JG: We're doing that now. As we speak, we're starting to do that. You know, we only announced this organization last May. We've already set up, not just the Front Lines campaign, but the cities programs, the community programs. We have a program with the national league of cities as well, which I'm sure you're informed about, with the U.S. conference of mayors. We are working for administrative license revocation laws in the 21 states that don't have them. Parenthetically, there have been some accusations, I understand, that administrative license revocation laws, reduce sales of beverage alcohol. We don't believe that's the case. And, the important thing, is to reduce alcohol-related casualties on the highway.

But anyway, administrative license revocation has not impacted negatively on sales, according to the statistics we have received. I think that's important to understand, because we're working for those laws to be passed in states that don't have them.

We have picked up in California, a program that was formerly funded by the California Office of Traffic Safety, called "If you drink don't drive." It's aimed at Hispanics in the state, and we hope to expand it to other states with large Hispanic populations. Last year, there were 366,000 drunk driving arrests in California. Thirty-eight percent were Hispanic. The Hispanic population in California is half that, somewhere between 15 and 20 percent. So you can see there is a very strong need for that program.

We also picked up the U.S. Conference of Mayors program, which the NHTSA had been funding, until their funds ran out. We're very pleased with that.

We're working with other organizations in trying to pursue our programs. So far, I think we're being remarkably successful, considering that we're brand new.

And I should add, allegations to the contrary, we do not represent the entire licensed beverage industry in our list of subscribers. And we have never claimed to speak for the licensed beverage industry, or any one segment of that industry, because we're not a trade association. Let me point out, we don't think that we're better than the trade associations, but we're just different. We try to make that point constantly, in our literature, and in our talks with government officials.

We are saying to people that we only speak for the Century Council, as an independent organization, funded and subscribed to, by certain concerned members of the licensed beverage industry. This goes back to what I said earlier. We specifically stressed that we don't represent, lamentably, certain major players in that industry.

MBA: According to your literature, each segment of the alcohol beverage industry is represented on your executive committee.

JG: Yes. On our executive committee, we have one member from distilled spirits, one member from wine, and one from beer. And myself. That group governs the organization.

We also have an outside independent advisory board. The people on that list are truly independent, and truly care about these issues. We have a former secretary of labor, a former secretary of transportation, a former state governor, a president of a university, a former director of the DEA, It's a representative group of strongly independent people, which is the kind of people we should have.

MBA: What tack will you take to win over the skeptics in the brewing industry?

JG: We will focus on our strategic imperatives. We will help everywhere we can, within our abilities, to combat drunken driving, and illegal sales to minors. And we will, by doing these things, I hope, convince the people as a whole, together with policy and decision makers, that the Century Council is an organization that is honestly dedicated to do what it says it's going to do and nothing more and nothing less.

If we've done that, and I don't think that will be a rapid process, then I think, over a period of time, even the severest critics, and the people who have whatever reasons to compete against us, will see that they can look at us as an honest broker, and perhaps we can deal with each other in a context of mutual respect. Whether they would join us then or not, I don't know, but if we're doing good work, does it matter?

In the area of trying to achieve good work, the more the merrier.

MBA: Can the Century Council survive as it stands, if the large brewers decide not to come aboard?

JG: Well, we certainly would come their participation, not only because it would indicate unity, and thus help them as well as us in my opinion, with the policy makers and the public as a whole. But it would increase obviously the contributions to our operating budget. But, we have been assured by those people who have become subscriber, that they recognize that in order to make any impact on the issues, that their commitment will have to be a long-term one.

MBA: Are you heartened by your progress thus far?

JG: Yes, remarkably so. We're farther along than we dreamed we'd be at this time.

MBA: Will the group expand its target cities exponentially as more people join up?

JG: Well, exponentially would mean that we have the budget to do it. But, indeed we will. As you know, our Century Cities programs are designed individually for each community we go into. Not designed by us so much, but buy the people in the community. We bring together all the elements possible. The majors the councilpersons, teachers, and, if they will participate, people involved in programs that have already had success, whether it be MADD, SADD or designated driver programs, and of course, wholesalers and retailers if they will participate. Then, they design the program, and we fund it. We fund an office, and appoint a coordinator, but it becomes their program. And that's the way we believe it should be done. And we've already had some marvelous success.

I invite you to talk to Mayor Morgan, in Omaha. Or the mayor of Champagne and Urbana, or the mayors Eugene and Springfield in Oregon.

The important thing is that Century Council does not advertise any of its subscribers labels. And our subscribers are not allowed to use the Century Council in their advertising. You might respond, |Well, what good is it then?'

I would say that according to what we're hearing from people on the Hill in Washington, and in state capitals, it's indicating to people that concerned elements in the licensed beverage industry, really care about, and are opposed to, the abuse of their products. It shows them that we want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, the way we've been perceived for so long. That's certainly a benefit.

And, what they have said to us, I'm talking about policy and decision-makers, a great many people, including the strongest critics, complain that some moderation messages are just marketing messages that have been wrapped or disguised in moderation messages. That's not my comment. I'm reporting it, and I think you've undoubtedly heard it. And I think that's something that has to be taken into consideration. People are skeptical about the attempts to remedy these problems on the part of producers and others in the licensed beverage industry.

MBA: So you would say that the Century Council's messages can be more effective, because they are distanced from individual companies?

JG: That's what we believe will work, and that's what we are told is better. It's not my opinion, it's the opinions of others, and these are calls by experts.

Let me tell you one other thing. A colleague of yours in journalism recently called me, and said, |We understand that certain companies are at war with the Century Council.' My response was this, |we're not at war with anybody or anything, except drunken driving and illegal sales to minors of alcohol beverages. That's it.'
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Title Annotation:1991 Statistical Study: Issues & Trends; interview with John Gavin, president of the Century Council
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Article Type:Interview
Date:Mar 16, 1992
Previous Article:Survival of the fittest.
Next Article:Forever Yuengling.

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