Another Wine Writer Symposium….

Here’s a stormy weather welcome to the attendees and speakers of the 12th Annual Symposium For Professional Wine Writers taking place this week!

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A busy several days of tastings, seminars and networking await the 30 writers and the prestigious presenters, who hail from all points of the compass–Canada, England, Asia, Bordeaux, New Zealand, Florida, Nevada, Texas, New York, Washington D.C., Colorado, Chicago, San Francisco, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Sonoma and Alameda.

Then, of course, the Symposium dovetails into Premiere Napa Valley, on Saturday, which is generating its own momentum with events taking place all over the Valley this week.

Hats off to the diverse number of topics being discussed, wines being tasted, wineries being profiled, vineyards being tromped through and vintners being interviewed. Wouldn’t it benefit all of us who are marketers in the wine business to understand how to improve our communication skills, learn how to ask the most perceptive questions, ferret out the hottest trends, as this lucky group is able to do this week? What a terrific opportunity for this group of attendees this year.

However, it is unfortunate that the Symposium attendees won’t be learning about the most important issue in Napa Valley today: that would be the cloud of anti-winery sentiment hanging over the Valley these days.

Try to go get a new winery permit today in Napa County: it can take years.

Try to plan an expansion or a re-model: it could take years. Want to revisit how many visitors your winery can receive? Good luck: your neighbors are watching…and counting…and will show up at your hearing to protest.

You could even say there’s a de facto moratorium on all winery development right now.

A small group of noisy activists are trying to go viral with their list of complaints about life in the Napa Valley. What’s a winery to do? If an entrepreneur comes here with the hope of starting a winery, that heretofore-successful skill set won’t apply.

What is APAC, a writer from New Zealand might ask?

Here in the heart of prestigious wine country, local officials have wondered about “how much marketing is too much marketing?” And a new term is being used to stir up anti-winery feeling: “binge tourism.” That’s used to denigrate a winery including hospitality events as part of its marketing and sales.

Here’s another new term being used derogatively: “event centers.” Anti-winery folk are trying to persuade the public that wineries aren’t really wineries, but “event centers masquerading as wineries.”

Then there are the articulate long-time vintners who are trying to remind everyone that Napa must compete on a world stage in a hideously competitive marketplace. Here’s just a glimpse of the issues at stake:
“Long-term agricultural sustainability is not possible without economic viability. ….Napa’s agricultural future comes down to only two options. First, to keep Napa Valley in agriculture we must all realize and embrace the fact that our wine industry must be dynamic, innovative and vibrant — it needs to be able to change with the times or it will die. The wine industry of today is not the wine industry of yesterday, nor will it be the wine industry of tomorrow. The second option is to give in to all the naysayers and their continuing fight for a Napa Valley of the past.”

What an enormously complex topic the Napa Valley wine industry is….here’s hoping we may have intrigued a writer or two to look beyond the Symposium schedule. Might be worth mentioning that these issues are starting to appear in other wine regions as well…..

Opining on obituaries

I was one of more than a hundred people who attended the memorial for Jay Corley recently. The family organized a letter-perfect event. Perhaps it’s helpful, here at SWIG, to step back and recognize how important every ‘little’ detail is in something like this.

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Where’s the PR here? In honoring someone’s life, you’re telling and re-telling their story. You’re defining their image, how you want them to be remembered, making sure the listeners know of the person’s achievements, accomplishments and above all, get a sense of his or her personality and uniqueness.

The obituary appeared in the local papers, with details of the memorial.

The winery’s website shared the sad news with an elegant photo with a biographical caption.

Speakers were chosen and asked to address different time periods of Jay’s life as well as his wide-ranging interests. Some chose to speak from notes; others not; everything flowed without any missteps.

It made me reflect on my experience some years ago assisting in writing the eulogy for a wine industry figure whose service took place at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. The Governor delivered the eulogy, and it required more than the average number of re-writes: I learned a lot about how a eulogy is an extremely unusual speech, needing to be descriptive and personal, yet not showy in terms of language or style.

Back to Jay Corley’s memorial: There was a touch of the spiritual. There were baskets of tissues and understated white flowers wherever you turned. The program, in color, included numerous illustrations and photos, of Jay, of his favorite expressions as displayed on his desk and more. There was a room devoted to photos and favorite memorabilia, with a book to sign. There was food and of course, abundant wine, as well as touches such as a popcorn machine and an ice cream ‘stand.’ The family played it safe with a tent, putting it up the day before in the rain, only to have the day of the memorial be clear and even a touch sunny.

One of the toughest things a publicist can do is to guide a family or a business through a memorial or a funeral. What can you do to get ready or be prepared? The basics of the event are easy: it’s the nuances of what the person was like which are key. That means….pay attention to those around you; soak up their stories and the texture of their lives…in case you need to re-create that life and paint a picture one day in a eulogy or an obituary.

From Wine Communicator to Wine GM

Opus OneBack in the day it was titled “Public Relations.” Then, somewhere along the line, folks started to call the position “Marketing Communications.” Today, it merely boils down to communicating and the iconic Napa Valley winery Opus One has termed the position, simply, “Communications Manager.”

Opus One is looking to file the position of “Communications Manager” and by the look of the job description it’s a position that, if filled correctly, then executed upon with gusto and commitment, could easily produce a person who might readily be on the GM track.

Consider the responsibilities built into this position:

• In collaboration with the Vice President of Communications, develop and execute a global Social Media Communications plan.
• Generate and manage all content (images, video, music and written copy). Working with designers, marketing and sales, external influencers and industry experts, produce relevant content that is consistent with the Opus One story and vision, and reflects our core values in social media spaces.
• Collaborate with sales and marketing to ensure consistency of message, and visual harmony across all social media.
• Monitor, listen and respond to users on all social platforms with passion, enthusiasm and decorum.
• Establish effective benchmarks (best practices) for measuring the impact of our social media strategy. Report monthly on effectiveness of campaigns and provide insights for refinement.
• Monitor and stay abreast of trends in global Social Media platforms, SEO, tools, applications, channels, design and strategy.
• Serve as a digital educator and champion for the social community.
• Understand complex CRM systems/data and effectively translate this knowledge into solutions that automate processes and increase our ability to dynamically personalize customer communications and on-site reception.
• Champion the expanded use of CRM. Continually build and maintain the relationship with all partners and stakeholders in the CRM functional area to ensure CRM is at the forefront of everyone’s agenda and solidly defined/interwoven into their planning and daily work routines.
• Identify opportunities and build relationships with prominent influencers and thought leaders in the luxury wine space (trade, distributors and collectors) and with other luxury product producers.
• Work with guest relations and direct marketing to maintain a customer-focused attitude with a focus on activities that create lifetime customers.
• Actively monitor daily newsfeeds for critical trends or breaking news regarding the wine industry or Opus One. Share, comment, or reply as appropriate either directly or through social media channels as appropriate.
• Working with the Vice President of Communications, draft and release press announcements.
• Effectively manage charitable donation requests based on established goals and criteria.
• Develop, coordinate and execute major auction donations as needed.
• Maintain, update, and expand knowledge of viticulture, enology and the Winery by participating in educational trainings offered by Opus One and outside sources.
• Speak knowledgeably about Opus One vintages, representatives, distributors, and retailers to better assist customers in the social community.
• Conduct tours of the winery as necessary and appropriate.

The things that are really missing from this position that a future GM would need to master is finance and personnel management. You also might want someone versed in industry compliance and legal matters, but, frankly, that’s easy enough to learn.

Finally, take note of the fact that this “communications” position does not include media outreach in its description. No doubt Opus One does in fact engage in serious media communications, perhaps even outsourcing it. However, it’s ironic that today, “communications” does not explicitly include media relations. Does this mean that social media outreach and media outreach are two entirely different things. You bet it does. The latter scares most people, while the former is often seen as an entirely different skill.

The beauty of this type of “communications” position is that it puts you in touch with and forces collaboration with members of an organization’s team located in all departments. The reason for this is that industry and consumer expectations are such that each level of a company must in some way be accessible. Additionally, the expertise lodged within each department of a company like Opus One has to be understood and viewed as a public asset; as a potential and likely spokesperson that can help the company communicate with and reach out to various sectors of the industry and public.

The Opus One Communications Manager job is an absolutely plum position for anyone thinking they want a long-term career in the wine industry. And the reach of Opus One into the three-tier channel, the DTC channel and into the web of the Napa Valley wine industry community gives the successful candidate remarkable exposures throughout the industry.

If I were 5-10 years into a career in marketing in the industry and wanted more of the same, I’d throw everything I had at obtaining this position.

Ten 2016 Trends the Wine World Needs to Watch

It’s traditional to look back at the end of the year and assess what’s been. However, it’s much more fun, and profitable, to take what you’ve seen and look forward with an attempt to anticipate what’s to come and what trends will emerge. Since we are all about fun and profit, we choose the latter.

Below is a list of the trends we believe deserve watching. Some listed below we see as being solidified in the coming year. Others we think might emerge as important trends that wine marketers and publicists will benefit from keeping a very close eye on. They are listed in no particular order

1. “Natural Wine” Is Solidified As A Bonafide “Category” in the Wine World
Despite our skepticism that “natural wine” has any meaning whatsoever, we have seen this moniker applied to wines by very reputable publications and many wine professionals. It has been embraced enough that it will be solidified as a category to be watched. However, that also means that the term “natural wine” will be used by marketers who will take advantage of the fact that the term means nothing. Think “Reserve.”

2. Continuing Backlash Against the Wine Industry in Well Developed Wine Regions
Napa and Sonoma in particular will continue to see very vocal minorities demanding that the wine industry be penalized or burdened with new regulations in order to address problems this minority believes is caused by the wine industry. Traffic problems, new wine developments where vineyards have previously not been tended and winery-based marketing events will all continue to be assailed by the vocal minority. That said, there is every reason to believe the industry and the majority in these regions who support it will push back against calls to punish and curtail wine production and marketing.

3. Distributor Consolidation
Consolidation almost always breeds additional consolidation as those not involved in the consolidation seek to keep pace. In 2014 we saw huge, multi-state distributors become even bigger via consolidation. There remain a few large distributors that are ripe for the picking and in need of merging to keep up with the behemoths. We expect more consolidation in the wholesale tier in the coming year.

4. The Emergence of Younger Wine Writers
We believe 2016 will be an important year in the emergence of a new, younger crop of wine writers. As the older, experienced crew begins to think about retirement, the new crew will be selected from successful bloggers and young writers who have been toiling at second tier wine publications and websites. In other words, we expect to see promotions to the big leagues of younger wine writers.

5. Increase in Use of Media (not Social) Relations in the Wine Industry
We have seen a distinct increase in wineries and wine companies inquiring about help reaching the media with their brand message. This increase in interest in traditional media relations might be due to numerous developments. We see it as a response to the continued increase in brand choices and a need to sing louder and more clearly among a growing chorus of voices seeking an audience.

6. Opportunity in Diversity
Americans are more promiscuous in their drinking, whether migrating to different types of wines from the traditional varietals or migrating across categories to try new beers, ciders and spirits instead of sticking with their tried and true wines. Expect to see more wineries experimenting in different categories whether it’s distilling or cider-making or more.

7. More Groups and More Categories To Choose From
You’ve got varietal groups (ZAP), style groups (IPOB), regional groupings from new AVAs to their promoters. Expect even more groups to emerge in all these categories primarily as means for collective marketing efforts. It’s getting tougher and tougher out there to get share of mind and group marketing is an effective and affordable way to spread the word.

8. More Virtual Wineries as Cost of Entry Continues to Increase
You can expect to see more “virtual wineries” (no winery, no vineyards, no ‘bricks and mortar’ tasting rooms) emerge as the cost of entry into the California and Oregon and Washington wine industries continue to increase in cost and regulatory hurdles. Born only as brands, these “virtual wineries” will be run by (or should be run) by good marketers since, well, that’s primarily what their business is all about. Additionally, such brands can be created to appeal directly to specific groups, demographics and cohorts since there is no obligation to spend much of any time speaking about place and heritage.

9.  The Call For Expertise
The bubble in which wine consumers, trade, and media shout their thoughts is getting more crowded and louder and that cacophonous buzz is becoming deafening. We expect many consumers to more actively seek out vetted expertise in their pursuit of wine advice, recommendations and education. This is in contrast to the rise of the Everyman Wine Critic and the Crowd as the source of knowledge in our digital world. And CellarTracker and Delectable aren’t going anywhere. We realize this. But we see something else also. The continued success of Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Wine Advocate, World of Fine Wine and other sources of vetted wine information along with the rise of the Somm and repeated calls to “find a local wine shop” is evidence that consumers are looking for real expertise to help guide them.

10. Purposeful Authenticity Will Be More Important Than Ever
Next year is a presidential election year and this means that despair and cynicism will reach its four-year high. The constant barrage of “talking points,” scandals, meanness and more will have people looking for content with real purpose and true authenticity as those they are willing to give time to. Those wine companies that can provide their community or constituents with real, heart to heart, meaningful, authentic content will capture hearts, minds and possibly wallets.

Have you spotted any trends the wine industry needs to be aware of going into 2016? Please leave them in the comments section of this post below. We want to hear what you see.

Make Merry!

Is your winery’s entrance decorated with a holiday theme yet?

Maybe you don’t have an allée of tall sycamores whose trunks you could outline in red lights….maybe you don’t have a 30’ tall stainless steel creature jumping out of the vineyards (who might wear a Santa hat)….

But your winery probably has a gate or a fence. Or some type of trees or landscaping. Or a sign, however big or small. We’d suggest you get in the spirit, especially in these tough times. Decorate! Doesn’t have to be red and green. You could stay with all white lights, or an ecumenical approach with a rainbow of colors. What about a Burma-shave type progressive story told along the fence?

Maybe you could arrange for a herd of artificial reindeer who raise and lower their heads, all the while blinking merrily away?  The Phoenix Zoo is famous for its holiday light program, where visitors stroll through the zoo in the dark enjoying another dimension of storytelling.

In these tough times, even a whimsical approach to holiday décor will endear you to customers, passers-by and your own winery family of employees.

Picture of photograph of animal being projected upon the facade of St. Peters Basilica

Just as I’m writing this I came across an amazing son et lumiere ‘show’ the Vatican launched this week as a statement about climate change and endangered species. You can read about it and enjoy a video here, and see photos here, here and here. What a great and savvy combination of message and magic!

And what the Vatican has done is a reminder that there’s another approach: use your building façade as a canvas. If you live in the Napa Valley, you’ve seen how the city of St. Helena projects snowflakes on buildings along Main Street.

Share what you come up with — post a photo of what you do here at SWIG!

Merry and happy to all!