A Great PR Guy Is Gone — And Why It Matters

harveyImageHarvey Posert Jr. died on October 3 in St. Helena after a brief illness. At the age of 84, he’d lived many lifetimes, from a privileged childhood in Memphis to college at Yale to several years in military counter-intelligence in Europe. Then there were the phases of his career, from the copy desk at The Memphis Commercial Appeal to working for Dan Edelman in New York and San Francisco, before coming to wine country to represent Robert Mondavi and later Fred Franzia, as well as numerous others.

Harvey was a friend of mine for more than 25 years. I was both a professional colleague and a personal friend. By now you might have read articles about him which have appeared in The Wine Spectator, the Napa Valley Register, Napa Life and Wine Industry Insight. In the coming days there’ll be many more tributes, I’m sure.

Pardon the cliché: Harvey was the last of a breed, a giant among men—whether we’re talking about the wine industry or the world of wine PR. What does that mean? He was a thinker; he was also an enormously astute judge of character and personality; he was also someone who shaped our history as wine marketers. He literally created trends to shine a light on his clients.

You can read elsewhere about the specific programs he dreamt up and the numerous achievements of his career. Here are

10 Things I Learned From Harvey

1. Do The Work

Roll up your sleeves. Do the research. Write the materials. Be courteous to the client. Get the work out in a timely fashion.

2. Open Your Eyes

Read everything you can read. Talk to people. Be curious. It’s all ‘grist for the mill,’ the backbone of your creativity.

3. Every journalist matters

No one is too ‘little;’ if you identify yourself as a writer, you’re welcome in the tent.

4. Find the humor

Cultivate a big sense of humor. You can find it everywhere. It’s a leavening agent, a humanizing factor, a common denominator.

5. Standards

Be on time. Be courteous. Mind your manners. It matters.

6. Stay in touch

You never know when a writer will re-appear somewhere; never jettison a writer after having worked together, even if the outcome wasn’t what you wanted.

7. Be modest

PR people aren’t the story; the client is. Be present but don’t look for the limelight.

8. Don’t overestimate but don’t underestimate your audience.

A press release always has to include the obvious as well as the news.

9. Content IS “king”

Be known for your substance, for ideas and programs which have merit and meaning.

10. Niceness counts

Make sure you thank a writer once a story appears. Think of other gestures to express your appreciation. Be human.

How appropriate that Harvey suggested that donations to honor him go to The American Civil Liberties Union.

How To Turn Harvest Into PR “Gold”

Harvest. It may well be the biggest, sexiest and most emblematic time of the year for a winery. And that means enormous opportunities for smart PR programs.

Wineries are farmers, right? Your product has spent a year growing and maturing and now at its peak is being brought to the winery to be transformed. These are enticing thoughts. The magic of ripe grapes in all their different colors and shapes and smells. When were the grapes picked? At night? Into small lug bins or bigger gondolas? The appeal of funky old trucks or the gleam of new huge shiny trucks….

Harvesting Grapes

Then of course, there the many ways grapes are sorted and crushed—whether with state-of-the-art optical scanners or by hand, by people. There’s the smell of the must in the air; what happens to that must at your winery? Does it go back into the vineyard?  Is juice being separated by vineyard block? Yeast? Leaving juice on the skins? And so unfurl all of the nuances of winemaking!

Using the harvest season as content for PR is almost Rule #1 in our world. You need to figure out to take advantage of what you’re already doing in a way which will attract attention from new eyeballs and build on your relationships with media and customers who already know about you. Maybe you have new varietals you’re crushing this year? Maybe you have new equipment on the crushpad? Maybe you’re sticking with what you’ve done for 20 years—and you know why it works!

So what can you DO? Here are some ideas:

  • Bring fresh grapes into the tasting room for guests to try
  • Bring fresh juice into the tasting room
  • Have a grape stomping party or offer grape stomping as a part of the winery visit
  • Post lots of details and photos on your social media outlets
  • Use harvest as a theme for a sales eblast
  • Offer a morning of grape picking as a raffle prize for club members
  • Offer to include guests or customers in harvest crew lunches or dinners
  • Shine a light on any traditions at your winery—-maybe it’s what’s served at pre-harvest or post-harvest celebration dinner (in the Champagne region there’s a specific stew)
  • Does your winery make tshirts each year for the harvest crew?
  • In general, take lots of photos and video if you can; this will be great material to pull from throughout the year. Even better—put those photos into a weekly harvest album or journal which you can send to your mailing list customers and keep on your website
  • Also very important: keep very precise statistics so you are a credible source about this year’s harvest versus last
  • Most important of all: identify what is unique to your winery at harvest time and make sure to share that message in all of your materials and outreach.

Happy crush!
Image credit publicdomainpictures.net, Karen Arnold

How To Respond to Attacks And Criticism in the Wine Industry

responseOver the past 25 years of working in wine PR and media relations it has been extremely rare that I have had to advise a client, “don’t respond” or “craft a careful response” to an attack or criticism leveled at them. The fact is, the vast majority of folks working in and around he wine industry simply don’t come in for the kind of public criticisms or attacks that participants in other industries must suffer. And yet, in those few instances when I have had to advise a client whether (or how) to respond to a public attack on their work or integrity, it has always been a most difficult conversation.

What follows is a way of thinking about a response to criticism or attacks if you or your organization find yourself the object of either.

Public criticism or attacks on a person or organization can be either legitimate or illegitimate. They can be warranted or unwarranted. They can be meant in good faith or bad. The first thing you must do is determine under which of these headings the criticism/attack falls. This is very difficult to do because it requires you step back and evaluate yourself or your work. Oftentimes it’s best to lean on an adviser, consultant or friend to help work though this.

If you can determine that the criticism/attack is legitimate, warranted and offered in good faith, then it is probably a good idea to respond. Whether you respond in a public forum or privately is another question altogether. Additionally, you will want to evaluate the impact your public or private response will have on you and/or your business. Try to remember that legitimate criticisms leveled in good faith can be a gift, no matter how difficult reading  or hearing them may be.

If on the other hand it is clear that the attack is illegitimate and unwarranted, leveled without good faith, mean-spirited, perhaps the result of envy or jealousy, potentially libelous, personal or simply delivered without good faith, then it is almost always a good idea to move on, not respond and try to practice the art of empathy for those who are likely bedeviled by issues profoundly personal.

However, if a personal an illegitimate attack is leveled in a forum that will attract the attention of a large number of peers or a large audience, then you may find yourself in a position where a well-crafted response is a necessity if only because lack of a response might result in the initial insult damaging your reputation or because you want to dissuade other troubled people from embarking on the same kind of libel in the future.

This latter situation will rarely arise.

In the event that you need to publicly respond to a legitimate criticism, how that response is delivered becomes very important primarily because it will set the tone for continued engagement. You almost always want to prevent future public discussion of the issue.

• The “Thank You” Response
Remember a legitimate, warranted criticism of your work or actions is in fact a gift because it gives you a chance to be better at what you do. When you receive a gift, you should say thank you. This amounts to acknowledging the criticism, perhaps explaining how you have already been at work addressing the issue raised, commenting on how the issue became an issue in the first place, and probably noting how you will be responding in the future. And, thanking them for their considered thoughts.

• The “Correction” Response
Oftentimes a legitimate criticism stems from a misunderstanding of the facts. If a critic of your work or actions does not have their facts right, then it is best to simply correct them by pointing to the observable fact they got wrong, thanking them, again, for their thoughtfulness, then briefly responding to anything they got right. This should always been done in a civil tone.

• The “We All Have Our Opinions” Response
Because most well-meaning criticisms derive from one’s opinion, this is the most common response you will be giving. If there is in fact a legitimate difference of opinion on, say, the meaning of your work or actions, the importance of your work or actions or the philosophy that drives your work or actions, then it is important that your response first and foremost note that what separates you from your critic is a difference of opinion and that you beg to differ. At the same time, it’s important for your response to acknowledge the philosophical issue at the heart of your difference; that is, it’s important for your response to note the legitimacy of different opinions on this issue.

• The Response to Unwarranted Attacks
If you find yourself in a situation where, due to the size or importance of the audience reading an illegitimate and unwarranted attack on you or your work, you must respond, there are some important guidelines to keep in mind:

1. Don’t respond in the forum that gave voice to the unfaithful attackers.
You want to move any ensuing conversation to more agreeable and favorable grounds. For example, if your work is attacked or if libelous attacks are made on you personally in a blog or news medium, you will want to respond elsewhere, either on your own ground or on ground that is more favorable to you. There is no sense in giving the original attack reason to be seen by more people or to have your response altered.

2. Muster Your Forces
It’s always a good idea to enlist allies in this sort of response. It’s easy enough to ask friends and allies to respond in your stead in another forum or ask them to weigh in along with your own response. There is always more power in numbers

3. Don’t Wrestle With Bottom Feeders
If the attack on you is nasty, mean, and personal, it is never a good idea to respond in kind. When you wrestle with bottom feeders, their mud will get all over you. More importantly, this kind of attack will almost always be seen for what it is: dirty, stinking, mud. Rather, when you must respond to this type of attack, try to do so simply, quickly, briefly, and with a graceful volley across the net that strikes at the heart of the critic’s lack of integrity, then leave the court. For example “I found your recent personal attack on (me, my work, etc) unsettling for its complete lack of all integrity, its blatant lies and for its purposeful mean-spirited nature. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

It is never fun to have to respond to criticism, whether justified or not. But sometimes you must. Try always to do so with a level head and with purpose. If you approach the task in this manner, it is more than likely that you will be able to move on quickly and profitably.

Lighting the way…or are you visible?


Sometimes ‘public relations’ or publicity begins with so-called little things.

For example, driving through the Napa Valley at night, I’m always fascinated by how many wineries choose NOT to light their signs or their entrances. Seems so obvious, right? You’ve gone to some trouble to have a great sign or a meticulously designed entrance, framed by flowers or sculpture. But. Not. Why?

The world doesn’t close down at dark. People drive, people go out to eat dinner, people go to events, people look out the window, people chat, people literally grade your image as they speed by. That sign, that entrance—it’s a vignette, a snapshot of what lies across the parking lot.

At night, through the darkness, that winery entrance is a tiny stage set—your graphics gleaming, your name popping out of the blackness to make more of an impression than it may do during the bright sunlight of daytime. Shine a light on it! Make it glow and pop or just warmly and brightly communicate your personality. That means your well lit entrance or sign could be a memorable snapshot, planting a seed for people to plan to come back when you’re open for business.

Your winery might not be a Chateau in the Loire or the Chartres Cathedral staging son et lumiere spectacles


but see what you can do….!




A Guide to The Wine Media and the Zombie Apocalypse

zombies and wineAs one goes about attempting to gain recognition for their wine products or services via the media, it is pretty crucial to understand how different types of media are likely to cover the subject of wine. And there is a very big difference.

If, for example, you hope to draw attention to your wine based on coverage from the Dallas Morning News or Time Magazine, you might want to consider using your wine to create Molotov Cocktails in order to combat undead attackers during the Zombie Apocalypse. That’s the kind of story wide circulation, general news and entertainment media like to publish about wine…sensational stories.

On the other hand, if you think a feature in Wine & Spirits Magazine might help your brand, you might be better off pitching a story about how you’ve made a wine that appeals to the army of zombies coming our way since the “enthusiast” Wine Media is generally looking for stories that highlight unique producers.

What follows is a breakdown of how different elements of the media cover wine and can serve as a guide to which type of media outlet you approach in pitching the story of your wine product or service:

Whether from a business, viticultural, financial, winemaking or marketing angle, this is where you find the most geeky, detailed, jargon filled and least generally interesting coverage of wine. However, the wine business could not function well without this kind of coverage. It is through this type of media that the newest ideas are first reported upon, achievements of individual industry professionals are announced and the state of the industry is most closely dissected.

Example of Trade Media: Wine Business Monthly, Vineyard and Winery Management, Wines & Vines
Typical Stories:Large California Harvests Create Capacity Crush”, “Wineries May Lose Dispute Over Internet Domaine Names”
Likely Zombie-Related Story:”Zombies Wine Drinker Demographics”

Where the enthusiast wine drinkers go to read and learn. It’s in this category of wine media where reviews are published, profiles of wineries and wine people are printed, the wines of regions are profiled, wine travel options are considered and wine-centric restaurants are highlighted. This is the media for core wine buyers.

Examples of Enthusiast Wine Media: The Wine Spectator, Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine, World of Fine Wine, Wine & Spirits Magazine, The Wine Enthusiast and most wine blogs
Typical Stories:The Magical Perfume of Jerez”, “The Heights of Ribera del Duero”, “A Tale of Two Outstanding Viogniers”
Likely Zombie-Related Story: “Zombie Vintners in Alaska Experiment with Biodynamics”

In this category of wine media you find wine writing that reaches beyond the enthusiasts to a much larger and broader audience than the Enthusiast Wine Media. These are the wine articles that show up in daily newspapers and in food and lifestyle magazines and blogs. The content is often similar in nature to that of the Enthusiast Wine Media, but also often in a shorter format or more general in scope. It is through this category of media that the vast majority of people come in contact and consumes wine information.

Examples of Wide Audience Wine Media: Wine columns in Daily Newspapers, Food & Wine Magazine, Travel+Leisure Magazine, American Way Magazine
Typical Stories:Wine of the Week: A Rich Vibrant White You Can Enjoy with Steak”, “Provence: Its Transportive Rose Wine”, “Decanting French Wine”
Likely Zombie-Related Story: “How to articulate your love of wine through grunts”

When coverage of wine turns up in the General News and Entertainment Media, you can almost guarantee that it is salacious wine news, wine news connected to politics or in some way belittles wine enthusiasts. In other words, it’s not usually about wine. This is the case because in this category of media there exists little or no interest in wine among readers so when wine is covered at all it must appeal to other interests of the readership.

Examples of General News & Entertainment Media: Network News, Daily Newspaper New Sections, Time Magazine
Typical Stories:Counterfeit Fine Wine Dealer Sentenced to 10 years”, “Why Boomers Should Drink Like Millennials”, “A Hint of BS: Can it be that Wine Snobs are Worse than Art Snobs? Yes it Can.”
Likely Zombie-Related Story: “Zombie Health Benefits From Two Glasses of Wine Daily-Study Shows”