Six Important Seminars for the Wine Writers Symposium

winepenpaperiAs I write, the Wine Writers Symposium is underway in Napa Valley at Meadowood Resort. For the wine publicist, this gathering of well established wine writers, simply established wine writers and others who identify themselves as “wine writers” would be nirvana. Imagine, all these wine writers with digital ink to spare all gathered in one place just dying to hear about my clients.

However, I am not allowed within a mile of the place, even if I paid to go. This is true despite my more than a decade of blogging about the culture, business, marketing and politics of wine. I’m not allowed precisely because I’m also (and primarily) a wine publicist and the organizers of the Wine Writers Symposium properly prefer the event to be about the writers in attendance and writing…not about my clients.

All that said, working with many wine writers in my line of work, I do have some ideas about what kind of seminars I might deliver up if I were organizing the Wine Writers Symposium. Some would say this is a list of “My Problems With Wine Writers” but it’s not. Rather, it’s a list of “What It Takes to Be A Great Wine Writer.”

So, what would my seminar look like?

Seminar #1
How To Fact Check
Believe it or not it’s not unusual to see my clients placed in regions they’ve never been in and find their tasting rooms open hours after they close. We would assign Eric Asimov of The New York Times to administer this seminar.

Seminar #2
How to be a Wine Drinker’s Advocate
Despite the absurdly numerous and ancient anti-consumer laws on the books in nearly every state, you rarely see a writer address these laws by calling on consumers and lawmakers to change them. If this isn’t the job of the wine media, then I don’t know whose job it is. I would assign Jerry Mead the task of overseeing this seminar. Only a small hitch with that plan: Mr. Mead has left the building.

Seminar #3
How to Make Your Readers Laugh & Cringe—Simultaneously
Satire and straight talk and a little bit of wit is a rare commodity in the wine writer biz. But when it’s done well everyone comes out of it with more than they went into it with. This kind of writing keeps folks coming back for more. For this seminar, Chris Kassel would be tapped.

Seminar #4
How To Make Money Writing a Wine Blog
The elusive desire! The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And the question that countless would-be self-publishers have pondered for near a decade now. As yet, we have not determined who would moderate this seminar nor who the panelists would be.

Seminar #5
The Art of Tasting and Reviewing 200 Wines in a Day
If you are going to dispense information every wine lover wants, then you need to get to reviewing. But four of five wine reviews a week just won’t do the trick. That just the thirsty reader wanting more. Thousands of reviews. That what you need. And there is obviously a trick to getting that many wines reviewed for your readers. Whether it’s advice on how not to ruin your keyboard to how to undergo a palate replacement with minimal hassle. Of course, Robert Parker Jr. would chair this panel with Antonio Galloni as his second.

Seminar #6
How to Be Nice to a Wine Publicist
Hey, we just want the chance to pitch a story; maybe just get our client’s wine in front of you. There are a number of easy tips available that will show you how to be nice to the folks who just want to give you the best story idea of your life. Any young wine blogger seeking free wine samples could oversee this seminar.

Ready, set, New Year!

The New Year is now well and truly launched. No more introducing emails with ‘happy holidays’ or ‘happy 2015.’ Time to buckle down. Still restless?

This is a good time to take that energy you stored up over a few days off over the holiday and turn to looking at everything you do. Try to have fresh eyes.

GloZell Interview About Barack Obama and Michelle Obama

President Obama with the YouTube personalities who interviewed him after the State of the Union speech

To get you started:

Use those ‘new’ eyes and re-read all of your materials. Are they really as well-written as they could be? Are they intriguing? Are they insightful? Are they compelling? Maybe you should take another stab at them…or maybe enlist someone else to assist.

How about your graphics and photos? Maybe it’s time to commit to a new round of photography—whether of people or vineyards or winery. Fresh photos, new images, seasonally appropriate: there may be news lurking somewhere in there.

Do you have a list of media at hand whom you’re targeting this year? Do you have distinct differentiated pitches ready for each of them or were you going to use your ‘same-old’ approach? Are they the ‘usual suspects’ or are there some new names there?

Are you making time to read the many trend reports flooding our inboxes? What about the latest DTC report http://www.shipcompliant.com/resources/events ? Are you keeping a list of what your winery could be doing differently or is doing differently? Ideas to discuss with your management colleagues? Why aren’t we using concrete eggs, for example? Are we doing trials with any unusual varietals, and so on.

New voices, new channels: are you going to try to find a new voice or platform this year to reach out to? I was interested to see what three Youtube personalities the White House included in post-State of the Union discussions (hyper link to  http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/01/22/happening-today-youtube-creators-interview-president-obama-live-white-house). How or why did they choose Hank Green, Bethany Mota and GloZell Green? Who’s out there talking about wine whom you could approach?

Maybe it’s time to freshen up your winery’s elevator speech, that unique selling proposition boiled down to just a sentence or two.

Maybe the most important thing to try to think freshly about right now, at the beginning of a new year: what do you want to accomplish in the next twelve months? Is it getting media to take a fresh look at your winery? Is it getting key media to profile you, writers who’ve never talked about you before?

Here’s an insightful post by Seth Godin to spur this type of January contemplations: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2015/01/question-checklist-for-reviewing-your-new-marketing-materials.html

The 25 Stories Guaranteed to be Written by the Wine Media

newspaperAt Tim Atkins’ blog, Ron Washam (AKA Hosemaster of Wine) offered up a list of topics he’d like wine bloggers to ignore in 2015. It’s a pretty predictable list of topics that wine bloggers will cover at some point…if not annually. Inadvertently, Washam makes the point that some topics will always be covered by the wine media. In fact there is a list of topics that wineries can count on seeing covered year in and year out. For the winery seeking exposure through the media, knowing what these topics are and making sure the media associates their brand with these stories is a good way to generate the desired coverage.

What are those topics that you can count on being covered year in and year out by the media? Behold…

1. Young Winemakers (children of older winemakers) making an impact.

2. Global Warming and its impact on wine

3. The resurgence of (name that varietal).

4. The Three Tier System is archaic and hurting someone

5. The first grapes have been harvested this vintage

7. Its springtime and time for Rose.

8. How to pair wines with Thanksgiving Dishes

9. How to pair wines with Easter Dishes

10. The best places to stay and eat in (name the wine country)

11. Wine critics don’t know what they are talking about.

12. Sparkling wine is for more than just celebrations

13. New York (name another wine region outside of CA) wines are on the rise

14. The best gifts for wine lovers

15. It’s the “Vintage of the Century” (for Bordeaux wineries only).

16. “Natural Wine” is on the rise.

17. You don’t need to pay a lot to drink great wine

18. Will drinking wine make you fat?

19. The best restaurant wine lists in (pick a city)

20. Wine sales increase last year

21. Research shows drinking wine will (imorove) or (harm) your health.

22. Study shows wines are purchases based on the label (or price, or place on the shelf)

23. Will red (or white) blends finally find a place in wine lovers’ collection?

24. Direct wine shipping is coming to (name the state)

25. We mourn the passing of (name a great winemaker/winery owner)

Looking for exposure in the media? Anticipate which of these stories will be written by a particular media outlet or outlets, position yourself to be positively portrayed in one of them and get the word out to the media (Try not to be part of #25). It’s really as simple as that. Because you know these stories are going to be written.

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?