Apr 242014
 

Media RelationshipsIn my day job as a wine publicist, I’ve had innumerable conversations with clients and media contacts regarding how best to work with each other. Thankfully, I’ve been in a position to share some of my experience with those hat need it. Along those lines, the following is a talk I gave at the License to Steal Conference in Ohio a few weeks ago. I presented this in conjunction with Mark Fisher from the Dayton Daily News, who offered the perspective of a journalist, while I offered mine as a publicist. It was awkward at times, as any of these relationships are, but we ended up with a nice talk on media relationships in a new era.

The business of news publishing has changed dramatically over the past several years. The arrival of the Internet revolutionized the way that people interact with news outlets, corporations, and with each other. “News” is no longer controlled by a handful of major newspapers and magazines, but by those who were once their readers. More and more consumers are getting their news and information from sources such as blogs and social networks. As a result, advertising dollars are down, publishing companies have had to consolidate and restructure, leaving a smaller pool to play in. Essentially, media outlets have had to evolve to compete. They’ve moved much of their content online, rather than just providing it in print, started blogs, and launched new media outlets. Rather than a negative, it now provides many more opportunities for wineries to promote their wines to key influencers.

Best Practices

Like the news outlets they court, truly successful wineries also have to adapt to this changing world and work within the new system. The following is a TOP 10 list of best practices we suggest when working with media in the modern era. Some of these ideas are not new, but may require new approaches. Some are unique to the new environment of media relations. In every case, the very best wineries or agencies will use these techniques to further their brand recognition and reputation.

  1. Tell the story – Media is always looking for an angle to a story. They are looking for something unique that they haven’t written about before (and hopefully no one else has either). Do you want to be taken seriously? Do you want to garner more coverage than basic reviews of your wines? Tell YOUR story! What makes you special? The GOOD writers and reporters usually wants personalities, not statistics. Give them what they want! But, keep it brief. You only get one shot at this. If people scan it and it’s a waste of their time, they won’t bother to do it again. Ensure that every interaction is valuable and rewarding for the writer.
  2. Is it really news? – The press/news release is the lazy PR professional’s way of delivering information about a winery or wine. Releases are often not appropriate for the occasion, and often abused as a delivery mechanism. They should be reserved for real news. A new vintage release, a top score or medal, or party announcements are NOT news and are not, therefore, release-worthy material. Save your releases for real, hard news such as the acquisition of a vineyard or a change of leadership at the winery. For the rest, it is more effective to craft a tailored update or pitch for your important media contacts.
  3. It’s about relationships – It’s the title of the seminar after all. This holds true, regardless of who you are talking to. We all like to make that personal connection. It’s human nature. The more you get to know the right media contacts, the easier it is to call on them when you need them. It’s easy to do, really. Make an effort to meet them at conferences, reach out to them when you’re in market, invite them out to the winery, read and comment on their pieces etc.
  4. Know preferences and beat – Like everyone, writers have certain ways they like doing business. This is part of building that coveted relationship. Make an effort to find out when the writer is on deadline each day/week/month. Find out how they like to be contacted. Even more than that, do your research to figure out WHAT they write about. If the writer only covers the wines of New York State, don’t bother contacting them about a wine from Oregon. It makes you look foolish and wastes your media contact’s time. Don’t know how? Well, first read what they write. This also affords opportunities for you to figure out what wine styles they like and don’t like. When all else fails, ask them! They won’t bite… usually.
  5. Find out what THEY need – Before you call on a media contact for something you need (an article, etc.), find out what their needs are. First, this shows that you actually care about what they write about. Second, it offers you a way to play the hero with giving them something they are looking for. Third, it again helps you build that ongoing relationship. Finally, it opens new possibilities for you to pitch something in the future. Act as a resource for them, and they’ll come back to you when they need more.
  6. Consider regional/generational differences – In many ways, the world has shrunk because of new media, but cultural attitudes still remain. When talking to or meeting media in markets other than your own, keep in mind regional cultural differences. East Coasters have different attitudes regarding time, etiquette, and style than those in the mid-west, south, or west. In addition, there are generational differences along the same lines. Millennials look at the world with a different eye than Boomers. Be open to the difference, and try not to be offended. It’s quite possible that they don’t realize that showing up for a meeting 15 or 30 minutes late is considered rude by you. Or that, by showing up in jeans and a t-shirt, you believe that they are offering you disrespect. This may not be the case, so roll with it.
  7. Editors are overworked (or non-existent) – Once upon a time, the very thought of encountering a typo in the New York Times or Wall Street Journal was beyond comprehension. Alas, those days are long gone. Today, every newspaper and magazine is working with much less staff than they once did, due to the reality of shrinking advertising revenues. So, as a result, copy editors are overworked to the point that they must cut corners to make their deadlines. In addition, online outlets and blogs rarely even have copy editors. This means that fact checking is also rare, and that errors are more the norm than the opposite today. In order to minimize the damage, it is best to give writers everything they need UP FRONT, so they don’t have to ask for it later. This includes bottles images, family photos, technical sheets, brand overviews, etc. This also means that you should keep your website current, since many writers/editors will use it as a quick reference for any additional facts. Nevertheless, it’s inevitable that errors will occur and facts will be wrong. Thankfully, most everything is published online now, and changing it is relatively simple. Besides, most readers will remember the overall message of the article, and not the minutia. Let the writer know about the error and ask for a change if possible. If not, don’t sweat it and move on.
  8. Use every tool you have – Most media prefer to be contacted by email these days. It’s less intrusive than a phone call, and the writer can respond to you at their leisure. Don’t be afraid, however, to pick up the phone. Just keep in mind that their time is valuable and keep it brief. But, in addition to the email and phone (fax is all but dead), there are any number of other avenues to contact important writers. This is especially true with the new generation of media. Linkedin, Twitter, and Facebook are all ways to reach media. So, seek them out and follow them on Twitter and send contact/friend requests on Linkedin and Twitter. It’s best to do this well ahead of a time when you might need to contact them. If you can’t reach them by email, this may be a viable option.
  9. Be prepared and follow through – Thomas Edison is famous for saying that “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration” – meaning that you are 99% of the way there if you do your homework and are prepared. Sending a pitch about a new wine? Do you have all the supporting materials written? Do you have a spokesperson? Are they prepared to talk about the news, and are they available to do so? Do you have samples ready and packed to ship? What are the compliance laws of the state in which your media contact resides? Prepare for whatever eventuality you can conceive (and ask others, because they’ll be able to conceive of more). Most importantly, follow through on ANY promises or commitments you make in a timely fashion. Otherwise, you risk losing the opportunity.
  10. Say Thanks – It can’t be said enough. Sending a quick note by email (or even better, handwritten) to a writer after they’ve penned an article about you or your wine to say ‘thanks’ is good policy. Everybody likes to be recognized. By letting a writer know that you’ve read and appreciate their work, you are sending the message that they can feel comfortable calling on you in the future. Besides, it’s just good manners and you’ll make your mother proud.

The Next Step

Now that you’ve got the article or review written, now what? Unfortunately, this is where many wineries fall down. They figure that once the article appears in print (or online) their job is done, and they can move on to the next project. Wrong. You can’t assume that the RIGHT people are actually going to read the article. It is, therefore, the job of the winery to leverage the article by distributing it to their sales force, posting it on their website, sending it to their consumer list, and printing copies for the tasting room. This is essentially a free endorsement of your product. Why not take advantage of it?

In the end, media relations today isn’t much different than in the past. Many of the same rules hold true, but the delivery mechanisms and demographics have changed. Those wineries that are media savvy, and able to adapt to the new environment, will thrive.