Top 5 Wine PR Trends and Ideas Worth Watching in 2015

trend2015Good publicists and media relations specialists make a point following and identifying the trends that will inform and impact their industry and their work. They spend time making note of topics likely to impact how they do their work. It generally means thinking in broad, global ways.

Below are the five trends and topics I will keep foremost in my mind as a result of what I wanted transpire and develop in the wine industry in 2014. It’s a diverse list. But each topic and trend listed below will be very closely watched and carefully taken to heart as I serve clients in 2015:

1. The Expansion of the Wine Interwebs
In 2014 ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) announced it would approve and release for use the “.Wine” and “.Vin” top-level domain names. In other words, coming down the pike soon will be the likes of winery.wine, chateau.vin, Robertmondavi.wine and millions of other new web addresses related to wine and the wine industry that today are primarily housed under .com, .org and other familiar top-level domains. Publicists and marketers ought to be aware of all the implications.

In the first place, publicists and marketers will need to be prepared to protect their trademarks from others who attempt to register them. On the other hand, you might want to consider the possibility of registering that website with a .wine suffix that you’ve always wanted but couldn’t get via the .com suffix. At the very least, it will be fascinating to observe how all this new digital real estate impacts how you promote products.

2. From Media Type to Marketer
Media relations specialists have always had a keen interest in watching how top media outlets organize their talent and how that talent responds to other possibilities. Take Steve Heimoff, for example. Steve in 2014 jumped from key wine media personality to key wine marketer when he took a communications/education position at KJ. I would be very surprised if others now considered top wine media talent did not do the same thing in 2015. Of course this kind of development isn’t novel. The revolving door between media and PR has always been well oiled. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see who jumps next.

3. Disaster Survival
When the Napa earthquake hit in August there was a definite possibility that potential visitors…the lifeblood of this Valley’s economy…would choose to stay home out of either fear or the belief that the Valley was in shambles. There was a lesson ln the way the wine industry and its tourism promotional arms stepped up and told the world that Napa Valley was open for business…despite all the news vans shuffling for space around one semi collapsed building. The point here is that every wine region, every wine industry and every wine-related company needs to be prepared to communicate, and to communicate well, in the event of a disaster.

4. The Diversity Issue and Wine Writing
There was a fascinating discussion that took place around the question of “old school vs new school” media as well as around gender following the Wine Bloggers Conference that I don’t believe is played out. At the 2014 conference of panel of three “older” media gentlemen were put on a panel to talk to wine bloggers about how to write well and how to be good reporters. A number of attendees took offense. Some suggested these dinosaurs couldn’t tell bloggers anything. Others noted that it was hard to believe that there was no room for a woman on the panel. The questions of generational differences and gender equality eventually gain the attention of every industry. It should be no surprise that these issues took hold of the wine media for a moment. While a variety of cogent arguments concerning these issue were made by people who encircled the issue from various perspectives, I don’t believe the conversation is played out. Marketers and publicists would do quite well to be aware of these issues, these conversations and any changes that they may push.

5. Whether to Ignore Millennials
Silicon Valley Bank’s recent 2014 Wine Conditions Survey of vintners pointed out that Millennials represent a very small part of most wineries’ customers. Further, it showed that the higher the average price of wine at a winery, the less likely a millennial was their customer. Further to this point, at the 2014 ShipCompliant DIRECT Conference, a marketing panel demonstrated that while Millennials make up 23% of the U.S. drinking population, they only buy 5.5% of the direct shipped wine. It begs the question, to what extent should wineries be giving any thought to attracting younger imbibers. This is an important question for winery marketing departments and for publicists, who in everything they do cater their communications to specific audiences. Just as important, marketers and publicists need to come to grips with the question of whether Millennials understand and buy wine differently than boomers not because they are simply younger and don’t have the disposable income to buy like boomers or because they are fundamentally different kinds of consumers than the boomers.

Essential and urgent year-end to dos for wine PR folk

The countdown to the holidays is on! In between the parties, there’s time to end the year on a meaningful note.

As a wine PR person, what’s on your checklist?

  • Sending a holiday card to writers (please add a handwritten touch or don’t bother)
  • Having a big holiday open house? Is there room to invite writers? Think about it!
  • A year-end note of thanks to writers who’ve done stories on your winery?
  • Doing some careful brainstorming about any trends or new or different things you’ve seen either in your winery tasting room or in your sales efforts OR in your vineyard: note these somewhere so you’re prepared if a writer gets in touch who’s doing a year-end trend story
  • Checking your website: is there a holiday message of some type?
  • Double check the tasting room & the winery entrance: how are those decorations? A little shabby from last year? Tasteful? Eco-friendly? True to your positioning?
  • Do you have room in your budget to send any small gifts to writers? Don’t just send something commercial or mass-market….what about a food product? Something artisanal and unusual?
  • Time on your hands? What about calling up a writer or two and going to lunch?
  • Get ready for the boss asking you for “the best reviews we’ve gotten this year!” Do you have compilations by specific wine? By publication?

Is Wine PR Nothing More Than Bribes?

Bribe copyIt is one of the most interesting questions that has ever so naturally formulated itself in front of my eyes: AT WHAT LEVEL OF COURTSHIP SHOULD THE COURTIER TAKE OFFENSE THAT THE OBJECT OF THEIR DESIRE HAS NOT RESPONDED THEY WAY THEY HOPE?

Put another way, how much does a wine producer have to spend on courting a wine writing before they may legitimately be offended that writer has not written about them?

This is the fascinating question implied by this comment by Damien Wilson of the Burgundy School of wine published in Harper’s:

What surprises wine producers is that bloggers could think it is appropriate that producers accept their freedom to write anything after having traveled and been accommodated at the producers expense. Remember, that a producers does not have to agree with a blogger’s perspective. But to not write anything after receiving value in wine, time, restauration and accommodation is simply a one-way transaction. In other descriptions of commerce, one way transfer of value could also be called “theft”.

Clearly Mr. Wilson believes that a certain amount of wine drinking, feeding, housing and travel that leads to no writing by the writer receiving these things is grounds for taking offense. But what if the writer traveled on their own dime to a winery, took a tour, sampled wine from the barrel, and snacked on cheese and charcuterie, then wrote nothing? Would that be grounds for offense—or, as Mr. Wilson implies, a form of “theft”? What if the writer’s travel by train is paid for, but the writer pays for their own accommodations, yet drinks the producers wine and eats their food and never writes anything? Can offense be legitimately taken? What if the writer is doing a piece on a producer’s home region, asks for a sample bottle of wine, receives it but then never writes about the producers? My the producer legitimately take offense?

Here is what I think any producer, marketer, publicist or administrator at a business school ought to understand intuitively: when any amount of funds are expended to introduce a wine product to a writer in the hopes they will cover it, there should be absolutely no moral, ethical or commercial expectation that the expenses ought to result in coverage; and certainly should not immediately result in coverage.

To believe otherwise is a foul misunderstanding of the nature of journalism as well as public relations. In fact, the proper way to understand the expense of courting the press is to see it as providing an education of the writer about a brand or product. One certainly goes about using marketing and media relations with the hopes that the producer’s story will be told as a result. But believing you have paid for results and ought by moral right to receive them will only result in disappointment and a poor relationship with the media.

Here’s the caveat. No writer should ever accept something of value from someone willing to offer it if they know they have no intention of ever writing about the produces or the subject matter they represent.

Mr. Wilson’s mistake is believing (and advising) that Media Relations is akin to a transaction. It’s not a transaction. It is an investment. Paying for a wine writer to travel to and stay at and estate and then feeding them is, in the business world, actually akin to placing an ad in a magazine or on an Internet site. Simply because one paid for the ad one cannot have an expectation that it will result in a specific number of sales. That’s crazy talk. They can hope it will. They can look at past experience with advertising, seeing what worked and what did not, and be confident that some sales will result. They can surely expect that the ad will reach a certain number of people. But to believe by right they ought to receive X number of orders as a result of the ad defies and understanding of marketing.

What’s 100 points between friends?

Let’s give you a situation. How would you handle it?

The winery owner/winemaker/marketing/sales director bursts into your office, waving the latest issue of The Wine Advocate.

He or she is practically dancing: “Look! We got “96-100” points! Fabulous! Get it out there! Tell everyone! GO!”

First step: you do the due diligence. You carefully read through all 1,536 reviews. You see that 10 wineries did receive “pure” 100 point ratings. Your winery’s wine, at “96-100,” is one of many.

Now what?

How DO you broadcast this? Did your wine receive 100 points? A bit sticky….or not….?

An interesting exercise in ethics, perhaps?

We offer this case study because we see it play out occasionally, that “96-100” turning into “100.”

Is that a win?

Not really: here’s why. It’s entirely possible that the writer who runs that item will somehow find out what the score really was. Or other readers or an editor will find out and the writer will have some consequences—accordingly, you’ve burned a bridge and damaged your reputation with that writer. You’ll have to rebuild the trust; it will take time. There’s another angle, too: savvy readers who know will now have a lesser opinion not only of your winery but of this writer. Collateral damage—but every relationship matters. The effort to repair this trust takes time away from everything else on your plate.

Sometimes, good or bad, the world is black and white.

Be yourself — bon voyage, Tom Magliozzi!

On a daily basis I see how important it is for a winery to distinguish itself. How are you different? What’s your personality? How do you express it? A few days ago I was honored to be in a brainstorming session with an excellent marketer about how to create memorable and unusual video tasting notes for his winery. This winery is ‘secure in its skin’ and knows that creativity—and attractive content—are so very important.

Here’s how this concept plays out. It’s not in a wine context; that might make it easier to see in action….

If you’re a fan of Click & Clack, you may already know. Tom (and Ray) Magliozzi were always themselves, even if it meant walking a line where they might alienate listeners. For them it was finding humor and then laughing raucously. Please take a sec to read Bob Collins’ tribute to Tom.

Tom Magliozzi's laugh boomed in NPR listeners' ears every week as he and his brother, Ray, bantered on Car Talk.

And then listen to the on-air wake for Tom.

Cin cin!