Jul 122014
 

As a wine publicist, in addition to a wine blogger, I probably look at wine events in a slightly different way than most other attendees. I can’t help it. I’m always looking at how things are organized and what I believe is their effectiveness. One of my biggest criticisms of wineries in general, and especially of European producers, is their tendency to over-complicate their marketing programs. These companies miss the point that they have ONE shot at making an impression. Yet, many of them consistently try to stuff ten pounds of crap into a five pound bag. By doing so, they dilute their main message and confuse their audience. When dealing with the average consumer, this can cost you the sale of a bottle or two of wine. When dealing with influencers like wine media or trade, it can cost you more than that.

Wines of Portugal Brunch

Here’s an example… At this week’s Wine Bloggers Conference (#wbc14) the Wines of Portugal hosted a brunch for all the attendees. What a great idea! Yet, in many ways, I feel they missed the mark. Take a look at the menu above. Notice anything? They served cuisine from four different regions, each paired with three different wines. The cuisines chosen were from Portugal (obviously) and three former areas where the Portuguese had colonies/influence. What was the message here? That Portugal was once a great empire and a shadow of it’s former glory? Probably not what they were going for.

Okay, looking past that, I get that they were trying to show that Portuguese wines can pair with different types of cuisine. But, the dishes were served out of hotel trays, not plated. Okay, this may be a preference thing, but food from hotel trays rarely show well. It’s too reminiscent of the school cafeteria. Again, not the image they were probably looking for.  They could have easily communicated this more effectively with ONE dish from each of these areas, plated and served. Why three?

In addition, there was very little information provided about the wines themselves. What were the varieties used? What were the regions, and what made them unique? Why is Portuguese wine relevant? How is the health of the category overall? These are key pieces of information that they failed to communicate.

Lines at Brunch

Oddly, for 300 people, they only had four pouring stations with each of the three wines, which led to long lines of thirsty bloggers waiting for their turn. They also had to juggle their small plates of food, while attempting to taste the wine. I couldn’t really figure out how the wines were segmented, or what the message was.

Okay, so what was the overall goal here? Having worked with European clients extensively over the past ten years, I can read between the lines. The Wines of Portugal wanted to show off that they are sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and food friendly. Okay, they may have achieved that. Was it a benefit to the individual producers? Doubtful. I’d wager that very few of the bloggers in the room will remember or care what each of the wines were. They were too busy having “fun” with the food and beverage. If I was one of these wineries, I’d want to see some blog posts or social media activity specifically about my wine, not just general comments about the brunch.

So, how would I have done it differently? First, I would have reduced the number of dishes served and really focus on the best-of-the-best dishes from each region. Make the focus less on the food, and more on the wine. Second, I’d ditch the pairing idea. Few consumers care about wine and food pairing, and that is generally who reads these blogs. Third, I’d increase the number of tables for wine pouring and segment the wines by DO. This would give each of the wine regions and the individual producers a chance to shine and position them in a way that differentiates them from the other areas. Finally, I would have more information about the wines available for the attendees. Whether it be signage, handouts, maps, etc. There should be something.

So, what are the key points you want your audience to walk away with? You’ll have no more than three pieces of information you can convey, and often only ONE. What should it be? Every winery or wine region should think about that before embarking on any marketing program.

In the end, I’m sure that the Wines or Portugal will consider this event a success, but I can’t help but feel that the impression they conveyed to the group was confused and ineffective.

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.

Jun 122013
 
Wine Bloggers Conference reception at See Ya Later Ranch

Wine Bloggers enjoying the opening reception at See Ya Later Ranch during #wbc13.

Today, an earlier article I wrote prior to the Wine Bloggers Conference in Penticton last week was quoted in an article by Steve Woods, Business Editor at Technorati. Wood’s article is about how the field of wine blogging has matured and grown in significance.

“Wine bloggers are far more than individuals who toss one back then bandy about terms like “oaky” or “buttery”, “grassy” or “mellow” for the rest of us to decipher. They truly want to broaden the wine-tasting experiences of their readers, trying out perhaps lesser-known wines from around the globe, in search of unique flavors that vintners have brought forth through a variety of secretive techniques,” writes Woods.

From my personal experience, I couldn’t agree more. There is a true passion among most wine bloggers that is infectious.

My own little piece of the article includes the following from Woods: “Those that share their love of wine through the written word are also asking the same question as others who have labored for years online: Are blogs dead? Wine blogger Michael Wangbickler, who shares secrets and insights about the wine industry as a whole, writes in his blog Through The Bunghole,” writes Woods.

“…from Wangbickler’s thoughtful commentary, many wine bloggers are insightfully aware of far more than just what’s in the glass in front of them. Wine bloggers, like successful bloggers in any area of endeavor, are taking advantage of social’s tools to take the conversations directly to their audience in a far more responsive manner,” concludes woods.

I’m flattered that Mr. Woods found my comments worthy of sharing and look forward to reading everyone else’s articles about the Wine Bloggers Conference and wine blogging over the next several weeks.

Mar 142013
 
DLW Conference

Photo Credit: Christian Schiller

The morning program is set for the fifth annual conference in Baltimore, Maryland on April 13, 2013.

The conference will open for registration at 8:00 am with light refreshments and a continental breakfast. The following sessions will begin at 9:00 am.

Session 1

9:00 am – 9:45 am

Creating Maryland’s Wine Identity

The history of Maryland wine from the 1940s to the present, which grapes grow well here and where, and what styles of wine are prospering.

Moderator: Richard Leahy, author, Beyond Jefferson’s Vines.

Panelists: Marguerite Thomas, author, Touring East Coast Wine Country; Robert Deford, owner, Boordy Vineyards; Dr. Joe Fiola, Cooperative Extension, College of Agriculture & Natural Resources, University of Maryland.

 

Session 2

10:00 am – 10:45 am

Drinking Local

Does locavore mean locapour? Do Marylanders appreciate their home-grown wine, and if not, how to get the message out.

Moderator: Dave McIntyre, Washington Post wine columnist, Drink Local Wine co-founder.

Panelists: Jerry Pellegrino, chef, Waterfront Kitchen; Jade Ostner, Director of Events, Maryland Wineries Association; Al Spoler, co-host, Cellar Notes/Radio Kitchen, WYPR Radio.

 

Session 3

11:00 – 11:45 am

Maryland’s New Guard

Who is setting the quality standard for Maryland wine today? What new grapes, trends or wine regions will we be following in the years to come?

Moderator: Kevin Atticks, executive director, Maryland Wineries Association.

Panelists: Ed Boyce, founder, Black Ankle Vineyards; Tom Shelton, owner and winemaker, Bordeleau Vineyards & Winery; Dave Collins, co-owner, Big Cork Vineyards.

An elegant lunch using fresh, local Maryland ingredients paired with select Maryland wines will follow the morning sessions.

Registration for the full conference is $125 and includes a continental breakfast; entry to all sessions; lunch with paired tasting of Maryland wine; and the Grand Tasting of Maryland Wines and Twitter Taste-off. Tickets are also available for the Grand Tasting only for $40.

To attend the conference, you may visit http://www.marylandwine.org/dlwc13 to register and find out more information.

May 252012
 

At last month’s Drink Local Wine Conference in Denver, a debate arose about whether being ‘local’ is enough merit for consumers to drink regional wines. After all, some among us go out of our way to buy local produce and meats from farmers’ markets and fruits stands. So, why not purchase local wines as well?

Now, just so we are on the same page, local wine is, as the Washington Post’s Dave McIntyre says, “wine from around here, wherever ‘here’ is.” For example, if you live in Michigan, wines from the state of Michigan would be local to you.

So, what was the crux of the argument? Some claimed that being local should be enough for consumers to purchase and support regional wines. Others argued that local wines should be held to the same standard as wines from more established areas such as California or France, and if they weren’t, that they were inherently inferior. I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Based on my experience with local wines over the past several years, there are great wines being made all over the United States. But, there is also a fair amount of bad wine as well. Should people drink crappy wine, just because it is local? No. Nor should they expect a Cabernet Sauvignon from Virginia to taste like one from Napa Valley. The growing conditions and winemaking preferences are too different for that to make sense.

So, to regional winemakers I say, “get out and taste wines that aren’t yours or your immediate neighbors’.” How do you know that your wines are commercially viable/competitive if you don’t know what others are doing? To consumers I say, “get out and try something new.” Buy a wine from your area. If it’s poor quality, oh well, you are richer for the experience. Even better, let the producer know. If it’s good, however, you’ve just discovered a gem that few of us in the rest of the country have access to. Isn’t that worth something?