Marketing the misery

Who could have predicted the Napa Valley would be front page news at Halloween-time all around the world…for such a terrible reason?

So many angles of the fires caught the attention of so many media outlets. Human interest, tragedy, heroism, nature, business, animals, agriculture, smoke taint, toxic clean-up, science—how many more facets of a subject could there be?

As someone who lived through a ‘soft evac’ and now, experiencing the fragility of our community, I’ve felt like a shell-shocked bystander as the ‘marketing of the misery’ has begun.

The fires are out. Enormous numbers of people have been impacted. Vineyards and wineries are still assessing what it all means. Any business in the tourism sector is hurting. The media are still checking back…still showing dramatic and not-always-accurate images of the aftermath of the fires.

So now what? It’s inevitable that this enormous and life-changing—indeed, world-changing—event would now shape marketing and publicity in the wine business.


As a marketer, this may well be the toughest business climate you will ever face. Pretend everything’s back to normal? Try to educate your audience about smoke taint? Tout how uniquely philanthropic your winery is? It’s all very sticky and icky: please move very, very carefully.

Let’s keep in mind what we’re trying to do. It’s a balancing act: how do you communicate that the disaster was not as disastrous as portrayed? 99% of businesses are open and eager to welcome customers. How do you respect those who have lived this tragedy personally and professionally, who need assistance? How do you acknowledge the almost undescribable heroism and super-human expertise of firefighters and first responders? How do we do something to balance these needs, to get the word out and be comfortable with how we’re doing that?


“Crisis” public relations is a very, very specific discipline. What’s the best hash tag? #NapaValleySpirit or #NapaStrong? #SonomaPride, #SonomaStrong, #SonomaCounty, #FrontierCulture? Do you issue a press release detailing exactly how your winery has been impacted? Is there a banner on your website home page proclaiming that you’re open for business, come on by?

Of course wineries have reached out to their mailing lists to share their stories, reassure, encourage purchasing and often link to one of the many charities. Some wineries are also offering various percentages ‘off’ of purchasing, where those monies will go to the fire relief funds.

Makes you wince, right? is it 100%? Is it 10%? What’s too little or too much? What’s newsworthy? Some wineries are starting their own relief funds, not content to be part of the collective impulse for good.

What’s the most attention-getting donation a winery can make? One vintner got a few minutes of fame post-fire by announcing he’d match donations from a professional athlete. Where does the generosity of the philanthropy cross into the grey area of how are the funds distributed? Who is ‘more’ worthy to receive financial assistance? Who determines that? How can transparency be built in from the outset to insure that there are no ugly headlines a month or two down the road…? What about the danger of fund-raising being a spotlight for the fundraising entity vs. the recipients?


One winery ran ads in a local paper thanking firefighters and listed the towns from near and far who sent engines.

Events! Who better than the wine and tourism industries to organize lots of eat-and-drink fundraisers?

Breweries are doing fire-related labels for new beer blends; there was a raffle offering tickets to cut the line when a popular beer is released.

Videos! Lots of businesses, whether inns or wineries are telling their story with video. Regions are doing it; online retailers as well.

Sommeliers have banded together to put on fundraisers. Publicists have launched specific GoFundMe programs.

Bottom line, this tragic experience illustrates an axiom of the communications world: bad news is more newsworthy than good news. Lots of news outlets are maintaining lists of how to help but the road back to normalcy is unpredictable.

Of course there are marvelous exceptions to the click bait of the bad news drumroll, such as the heroism of Safari West’s owner, who saved all the animals but lost his house.

And thankfully there have been intrepid journalists doing their best to alert all of us to the latest developments—best exemplified by Sarah Stierch in Sonoma.

Anecdotally, tourist kiosks at SFO are steering people away from Napa, saying ‘it’s all burned up.’ Also anecdotally, tourism is unexpectedly up in areas in the Northwest, where the visitors are commenting that they’d intended to be traveling to northern California’s wine regions.


Lots of questions. Take time to find the answers which are the best fit for your situation. Make sure you’re finding the right tone, the right delivery vehicle, framing your communications with the utmost sensitivity.


Business to business PR counts too

Julie Ann enjoyed putting on a business-to-business publicist ‘hat,’ as a way of helping clients of Barrel Builders. Read on for why Little League enters in the equation…..

Image result for little league players image

You can find it here

or below:

Pithy points from a patient publicist

I’ve been “practicing” the art (or is it a science?) of publicity for 34 years, in New York and California, with jaunts overseas as well as domestic pavement pounding as part of that adventure.

I am honored that Barrel Builders asked me to share some tips for business to business PR which could benefit their customers. A gift from Barrel Builders to you!

In hopefully easy to digest bullet points, off we go!

Credibility: Who are you? When did you start your business? To answer those questions—and in fact, to anticipate them—look for a local newspaper or magazine who could write a profile of you and your business. In the Napa Valley, that would most likely be the Napa Valley Register’s 10 Questions column. Here’s an example:

Visibility: You must have an opinion or two, right? What’s an issue where your business intersects with something in the community? Put pen to paper: write an op-ed column and submit it. A variation on this theme, in the San Francisco Bay area, is to propose a piece to the KQED Perspectives series. Browse around here and you’ll get the idea:

Act like an expert: Look for panels and symposia which your industry conducts. Offer to be a panelist. You’ve probably already considered having a booth if it’s that type of program, but don’t forget the panels and speaking opportunities.

What do the people say? Hopefully you get some great mail once in a while, someone expressing their gratitude for the quality of your work, how you rescued them, what a creative and thorough pro you are? Put those up on your website (it’s nice to ask permission first or using a first name only works well too).

Play ball! Visualize your logo on the back of the high school baseball team’s shirts. Donate to your local schools’ sports teams or the community Little League or rec center basketball. Not only does that show your community spirit, it also of course is a not-so-subtle ad for your business.

Act like an expert #2: Your goal is to be an expert whom the media seek out. They want your opinion on something in your field. Be available. Return the call as promptly as you can. Stay professional and as concise as possible. I once knew a winery president who had a separate business card he gave out only to journalists, and that number rang at a phone on his desk which only he answered, so when it rang he knew it was a journalist.

Hear all about it! When you have news—a new product or service, for example—tell the world. Do you have a place on your website to share news? Do you have the ability to send eblasts to your customers (and prospective customers)? Do it!

Prowl the web: Do you know of online forums which specialize in discussing the nuances of your particular niche of business? Find them and become a commenter. The readers are pre-selected and ‘silo-ed’ to be interested in your field and your products or services.

Change up your delivery: Someone in your organization is good with a cell phone. Occasionally put video clips on your Facebook page or on your website: there’s nothing like a picture and there’s nothing like a moving picture.

As Eliza Doolittle sang, “Words, words, words!” Go for it!



Harvesting harvest

It’s that time of year. All along the highways and byways and cross roads grapes are ripening. Trucks are rumbling. Crews are assembling. Harvest is starting!

Hats off to the St. Helena Star for tracking the news week by week, appellation by appellation: here’s the first installment.

Image result for napa valley harvest image

We’ve shared some pointers about how to turn harvest into PR “gold” in the past, but here are a few quick reminders.

  • Images. Snapshots. Video glimpses. However you can capture this very exciting and very visual time of year, do so!
  • Tell the world. Everyone’s interested, whether your tasting room guests or club members or distributors in Dubuque or website readers or Facebook friends or Instagram pals.
  • What’s different? Yes, everyone is harvesting, so find out what’s unique about what you and your crew do. What time in the night are you harvesting? Traditional harvest meals or snacks? Sprinkling the first load of grapes with a sparkling wine? What happens to all that pomace?
  • Push away from your desk and spend some time following your winemaker or vineyard manager around. How do you cut off a cluster of grapes the best way? What happens to those berries as they travel to the crush pad? Get familiar with the Brix numbers. Whole berry fermentation? What kind of yeast and why? This is a chance to learn about the science of winemaking.
  • Mother nature. Here’s a chance to put some details around how green you are, how important the birds and the bees are to creating great wine. Maybe there’s a bear in the neighborhood? What kind of birds like your Merlot grapes?
  • People stories. Who’s picking? What are their stories of favorite years, things that have gone right or so wrong? Harvest is a momentous time where the team is working together for long hours. There have to be some Stories.
  • This is your moment to reach out to that writer you’ve been thinking about contacting. Assemble some stats and go for it. Even if the journalist doesn’t bite, he or she will be appreciative that you thought of her, so you’ve built a bit more of a relationship with that writer.

Harvest is probably the most newsworthy time of the year. Make the most of it!

Matthew McConaughey & Wild Turkey: which is the bigger ‘story?’

And today’s non-Presidential election news is….that Wild Turkey has a new Creative Director, Matthew McConaughey.

Image result for photo of matthew mcconaughey and wild turkey

Adweek and The New York Times have shared the news. Mr. McConaughey himself lays it out in a short video.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed his Lincoln commercials (here’s a collection of them). As I saw them unfold, it got me thinking. So self-conscious, so nakedly aspirational: “I’m better than you,” “what fun am I having” or “don’t you wish you were me?”

Wild Turkey has been talking to McConaughey for a while, it turns out, and he didn’t want to just be the pretty face. “The only thing our great story was missing was a great storyteller,” Wild Turkey says. McConaughey is quoted as saying “I want to have my hands in the clay of how we tell the story, and I want to be part of the whole story, not just a character in it.”

Here’s a product launching a lot of new marketing where the storyteller is as much the story as the product. Here he is in Kentucky, looking out over the river whose water is used. Here he is hearing the story of the three generations of the family who make Wild Turkey. He’s the journalist, he’s in front of the camera and in back of it. No frilly or pretentious language. The personality of Matthew McConaughey and Wild Turkey seem to be merging or converging, right? “If we’re for you, you’ll know,” he says towards the end of the video, his Southern come-hither gentility delivered so elegantly.

Wonder if this will lead to some parodies, along the lines of what Ellen DeGeneres and Saturday Night Live created after the Lincoln commercials?

I imagine that Wild Turkey will be cool with that.

Fun to think how this approach could work in the wine business….!


Resist the urge!


Three topics to discuss with you today, dear reader.

I. The correct use of language

II. The advantages of a winery having an outside publicist

III. How to react (or not) to social media.

Read on for the intersection of I, II and III.

I. Publicists pride themselves on their use of language. On spelling. On grammar. On precisely capturing a taste, a moment, a glimpse of landscape or of history, etc. And, in fact, publicists often are called on to proofread, line-edit and react to written material.

II. When a winery has an outside publicist, that publicist is a healthy filter or bridge between a journalist and the winery. What if the writer has inadvertently been insulted? What if a wine sample was flawed? Those are just a couple of examples of situations where the outside publicist can smooth the waters, repair the relationship, re-orient any mistakes.

III. Bingo! The publicist has successfully pitched the winery. The journalist has been, seen, tasted, talked to, been toured through the vineyard and winery. The journalist then shares the experience with an initial social media message.

Great! Slam-dunk! Good work all around! Right? In a recent situation I witnessed, no. What went wrong? The impulse to correct the writer’s use of language.

The writer wrote: Highly recommend a visit to X. Such a unique place, with wines that reflect it.

The winery saw the post and commented: Wines that reflect the beauty of their origins.

Why?! Why not just comment with a “thanks!”

Because of the writer-publicist relationship, the writer contacted the publicist to share his annoyance. It remains to be seen if the writer will devote one more drop of ink to this winery.

A simple 1 + 1 = 2 has turned into a more complicated equation. Can the publicist repair the problem? Not clear.

Here’s the lesson: RESIST THAT URGE!

As I mentioned at the start here, I’m constantly correcting and catching typos, misspellings and incorrect use of language. My family teases me on how often I find these types of mistakes in places where they shouldn’t be—public signage, movie credits and so on. One of the accomplishments of my life was going to Sacramento in the 8th grade to represent San Diego County in the spelling bee….I placed second in the state, goofing on the word ‘chauffeur.’ So you can tell, I live to find typos and correct them. Long live ‘tracking changes’ on Word. But. But.

If you’re a winery…and the journalist has had that very precious one-on-one visit with you, and you’re eagerly haunting the Internet for their coverage….it’s understandable that you’re very eager to read what might appear. But there is an enormous PR lesson here: resist the urge to comment. Think it through. A simple “thank you” is terrific and suffices. If possible, huddle with your publicist. Weigh the pros and cons. A grammatical goof is not worth endangering the winery-journalist relationship. A substantial factual error might be…but if so, then that’s a conversation to have in private, or on the phone, not in one of those oh-so visible social media public forums.