This article originally appeared in the April 24, 2019 edition of the Central Pennsylvania Business Journal
By: Jason Scott
April 24, 2019 10:08 am
Sara Bozich doesn’t shy away from that beer girl image people may have of her.
She embraces it because, well, many of her clients are craft breweries — some even have the word shy in their name.
Bozich also is one of the founders of Harrisburg Beer Week, an annual event that kicks off Friday in the greater Harrisburg area, and she’s promoted the craft-beer scene as much as anyone for more than a decade.
“I like being known as somebody who knows about fine things to drink,” said Bozich, who runs an experiential marketing company that organizes events like pop-up happy hours, downtown block parties and festivals.
Bozich’s company, SaraBozich.com, also provides promotion and social media services for boutique retailers and restaurants, community events and, yes, craft breweries that the 40-year-old Lower Allen Township resident has met over the years.
That business, which caught on after she left the state House communications office in 2012, largely spawned from her experiences in her 20s and 30s as a travel blogger and longtime entertainment columnist at PennLive.
She said many people still see her as that columnist, where she wrote “Out with Sara” from 2003 to 2015.
The weekly column documented the evolving bar and restaurant scene in Harrisburg, which she was part of developing as a young marketing director for nightclub king Ron Kamionka.
Bozich also wrote about her craft-beer experiences and industry trends, which exposed her to many people and opened up marketing opportunities for her to build a small business.
“It’s almost like people were waiting for me to do it,” she said of the business named after her.
Her media column and personal blog following would help her become Harrisburg’s unofficial ambassador for things to do and a regional influencer before social media took off.
It’s a role she enjoys and is good at. She said she likes getting to know brewers and restaurant owners and telling their stories, or sharing her experience at a new establishment so potential customers understand what makes a place interesting.
She also has years of those experiences and connections that are helping her diversify into new areas, including event planning for non-traditional clients like law firms who want to showcase a new office space but also want to give their clients a cool experience. She is hoping to grow that part of her company.
“Being a resource to other people about alcohol is fine with me,” she said.
Brad Jones, president and CEO of Harristown Enterprises, has used her connections and expertise to liven up the downtown around Strawberry Square for the past few years.
“We want to do something to activate the space between 4 and 6 p.m. and bring more life in the square,” Jones said of pop-up events that bring local food and alcohol vendors together.
Harristown also partners with Bozich on a block party in SoMA, or the South of Market neighborhood on South Third Street. Jones also opened a pop-up tasting room there called sip@soma to showcase a rotating list of Pennsylvania breweries, wineries and distilleries booked by Bozich.
“She helps us leverage a much bigger audience,” Jones said. “She has a good knack for what will work on the event side.”
He believes those events not only bring more people downtown to Harrisburg, but they also expose the craft producers to the city. His long-term goal with events is to sign more leases and create more permanent homes for new restaurants, retailers and other businesses.
“It’s about keeping the buzz alive,” Jones said.
Dan LaBert, executive director of the Brewers of Pennsylvania, a trade group for the craft-beer producers, said he gives Bozich a lot of credit for helping to build the beer buzz in the Harrisburg area.
He said Harrisburg Beer Week, which is now in its fifth year, is one of the reasons the state brewer’s guild moved its annual Meeting of the Malts event to Hershey this year. That event, which attracts some of the biggest names in craft beer, will be held Thursday.
“For the Harrisburg region, she is a future forward thinker on how to continue to build that scene,” LaBert said, having gotten to know Bozich through a statewide craft-beer documentary she was part of making at Harrisburg-based GK Visual. “She was in front of the social scene way before Twitter and built her own following and her own brand. She built her brand for fun and it became a business.”
Bozich credits the film, “Poured in PA,” and the growth of beer week, which she organizes with a small group of friends, for exposing her to new business opportunities. Many of her small business relationships start as vendor partnerships at happy hour events and lead to ongoing promotion and social media services.
“Most social media work is best handled in-house, but some small businesses don’t have that expertise or desire to do it,” she said, adding that most also don’t have the budget to maintain it on their own.
Some of her newest clients like Shy Bear Brewing in Lewistown also are from outside the Harrisburg area, which helps extend her brand.
“I do think it’s going to grow and get bigger,” she said, hoping to add full-time employees as the business evolves.
She currently has just one contract employee and two event assistants to help run events that she produces. Beer week is a nonprofit volunteer event led by Bozich, Chelsie Markel, Colleen Nguyen, Tierney Pomone and Jimi Werner. The event serves as a fundraiser for the Harrisburg River Rescue & Emergency Services.
Bozich said she would like to do more full-service social media and email marketing. She also plans to add new events to her calendar, including a fall social event that is in the works with Harristown in Strawberry Square.
She said she wants to give people experiences and believes downtown Harrisburg needs to lead the way.