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Blogging makes things different, but not that different

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Bill Smart is the head PR guy at Dry Creek Vineyard, a talented communicator and a nice guy, to boot. He was at the Bloggers Conference back in June, and has now written a thoughtful piece about his impressions over at Palate Press.

I agree with lots that he wrote — but not all. So let me respectfully set out a few of my differences, while emphasizing that, overall, Bill’s article is an accurate representation of where winery P.R. stands in relation to social media.

Bill sets up something of a straw dog when he posits a fundamental difference between bloggers (the implication is that they’re younger, although there were plenty of older bloggers in Walla Walla) and “traditional media.” “For starters,” says Bill, “bloggers do not want to be talked ‘at.’ They want to have a conversation.”

Okay, deconstruction time! First of all, I’m going to start pulling out what few hairs I have left, next time I hear the dreaded “TM” phrase: “traditional media.” This has become a form of invective and an expletive that displays some kind of bias — whether along age or other grounds, I couldn’t say; but when it’s used in a pro-blogging article, it’s usually freighted with negative implications toward print journalists. Why?

Since when is it true that “traditional media” wants to be “talked ‘at’”? I don’t. Anybody who’s ever known me in this business knows that’s not true. You can’t talk ‘at’ me because if you try to, I’ll interrupt and engage you in a conversation — yes, the same type of conversation Bill Smart says bloggers want.

And I’m not the only “trad media” guy who doesn’t want to be “talked ‘at.’” I know a lot of Baby Boomer wine writers and none of them wants a lecture, diatribe or sound bite from anybody. So let’s dispense with this notion that bloggers are somehow fundamentally different in the form of human interaction they like. We’re all the same.

Bill also celebrates the speed with which communication between a P.R. guy like himself and a blogger occurs. “I can pitch a blogger a story or idea in the morning and before lunch that idea may have turned into a blog topic, posted and available for comment.” Yes, this is true. But it’s a double-edged sword, or maybe a triple-edged one. First, such immediate publication basically rules out any form of research or investigation by the blogger. Maybe that’s what P.R. people want: Just take what I say and throw it up there on the Internet, without bothering to find out if it’s true, or put it in context. That’s a huge problem with instant publication.

Then too, because of “the sheer volume of information that is published and made available for consumption” (Bill’s words), today’s blog post has a life span of 24 hours, at most. The next day, there’s another blog post, and yesterday’s content is as fresh as an expired carton of milk. So, yes, blogging can give a P.R. guy 15 minutes of fame. But with a thousand wine blogs out there, all competing for content, everybody else is going to get the same 15 minutes, sooner or later — and nobody is going to get repeated exposure (unless his name is Randall Grahm). That doesn’t give an individual winery an advantage. It just means everybody’s profile is raised a little higher.

Bill’s final point about the advantages of blogging is that “Wine blogs have allowed, for the first time, the consumer to enter into the dialogue about a particular wine topic. Traditionally, media never allowed their consumers to have a voice.” I would phrase this a little differently: “Wine blogs have expanded the opportunity for the consumer to enter into dialog with the wine press.” I mean, when he says traditional media “never allowed…consumers to have a voice,” Bill makes it sound like this was a deliberate, calculated elitist intolerance by “traditional media” to shut the public up. It’s like trad media were Marie Antoinette: “Let them eat cake.”

Traditional media never took that approach — at least, I didn’t. We made use of the technology as it became available. I’ve always had telephone calls from readers who demanded answers and explanations, which I was happy to give. When email became available, the number of people who talked — and complained — to me increased exponentially. Now we have blogs and other forms of social media that have pushed that envelope even further. I welcome that. So I don’t know if Bill meant to imply that we trad media people knowingly shut ourselves into ivory towers, pulled up the drawbridge and stocked the moat with piranhas. I hope not. I’ve always made myself accessible, and in all honesty, I don’t think that bloggers are any more personally accessible than I ever was. Someday, technology will bring us much further into hyper-interactivity and inter-connectedness than we are even today, but the fundamentals will still apply, especially in terms of P.R. A good pitch will still be a good pitch, and a lousy one won’t be made any better by being instantaneous.

I happily and heartily subscribe to Bill’s closing: “Ultimately, knowing your audience and creating lasting relationships built on trust and confidence will be the basis of success for any well integrated communications and marketing plan.” Amen, brother!

P.S. I told the Mondavi and Morton’s people I’d provide this link to the big event they’re planning for Oct. 7 to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Consider buying a ticket for a worthy cause.

  1. The Palate Press article and this article seem to equate wine blogging with wine writing.

    To me, a blog is the part of a website that is updated frequently. It can include video, audio, images, or text.

  2. Steve,
    Think you’re overreacting a bit to Bill’s comments.
    “Traditionally, media never allowed their consumers to have a voice. It was a one-sided conversation.”
    I really doubt that Bill actually believes that; that he ascribes an elitist view to the traditional media. Certainly it IS true for the newsletters like WA and such. You virtually never see anything in the way of feedback from the readership there in print. But in mags like WS/WE/etc, there’s always the Letters to the Editor section. Trouble is, because of the long time it takes for things to actually appear in print, this really isn’t a “conversation”. By the time the Letter appears in print, a month or two later, most readers will have forgotten what the reader feedback is talking about. In a traditional print medium, I think Bill is right and it’s not much of a 2-way conversation.
    Tom

  3. TomHill, that’s why I wrote that I would have phrased this a little differently than Bill did. Phrasing is everything — as a P.R. guy knows. There’s a big difference between “never allowed” and “expanded the opportunity.”

  4. My Dear Mr. Hill–

    You are of course correct that communication on blogs is public and more or less contemporaneous. I suppose, if one were to really want instant exchange of ideas, we would all be texting each other or twittering, but short of that, the comments sections on blogs do pass for a fast exchange.

    But, I somehow noticed that WA and Tanzer had pretty active comments sections on their own. They may not have been posting blog entries every day, but comments were never short on their sites.

    It is technology, not intent, that has changed the game, and the quality of blogs and the usefulness of blogs, in my mind, are not dependent just on instant feedback. The writing is first and foremost what makes blogs work. There is a reason why some blogs get more comments than others. And the most popular blogs are most often written not by newcomers (with all due respect to Alder, Joe, Jeff, Ken, Sam, Ron, WinePeeps, etc) but by seasoned pros like STEVE!, Eric, Tyler, etc.

    And I hope, Tom, that when the Connoisseurs’ Blog launches in a few weeks, folks like you will add it to the list of places to spend your spare time during the day. It is not that traditional media has shunned its readers. Rather, it is that technology has changed, and, rather than dying, the dinosaurs are morphing into butterflies (if you will pardon my mixed metaphor).

  5. Charlie, I’m looking forward to the launch of your blog! Please keep me posted.

  6. Bill Smart says:

    Steve – I’ll concede “never” is a word I need to remove from my vocabulary. It’s sort of like saying I’ll “never drive a mini-van” and whammo – we’ve got two kids and a MINI VAN. Thanks for pointing that out.

    As far as the notion that I look at traditoinal media as “elitist” or somehow sitting in an “ivory tower” – anyone that knows me knows that could not be further from the truth. Some of my best friends write for “tradtional” publications. They are some of the hard working people I know plus, they are super fun to be around. (Charlie, you’re included in the super fun to be around category!)

  7. “But, I somehow noticed that WA and Tanzer had pretty active comments sections on their own. They may not have been posting blog entries every day, but comments were never short on their sites.”

    Fair enough, Charlie. Agree w/ what you say. But a matter of terminology I don’t quite understand.

    I distinguish between traditional/print media and the various wine boards, like eBob. To me, traditional media are things that are printed on paper and show up in your mailbox and or appear as a newspaper in your driveway. That sort of media is not very conducive to 2-way conversation.
    The wine boards I peruse are not, in my mind, wine blogs. You seem to be including the wine boards as “traditional” media. I guess I wouldn’t include them as “traditional”, but I wouldn’t include them as blogs, either. Maybe “social media”??? I don’t know…not sure what “social media” actually includes.
    Am I missing something here??
    Tom

  8. Connoisseurs’ is launching a blog soon?

    Dad, I’m gonna lose my bet if you guys implement that before 2021!

    ;-)

  9. I like this. Bill and Hill responding to me. Are you guys the Clintons? :-}

    Bill, you have just learned the first truth about instant communication–you cannot get away with anything for more than about 60 seconds. Thanks for the “super fun” tag. I will add you to the list of folks who think that way. So far, it only includes my grandkids, but that is fine company indeed.

    Tom, I think the question that is confronting us is the use of the term “traditional media”. You cited WA above as an example of traditional media that does not entertain feedback. I see eBob as part of Parker, and now that it is available only to subscribers, it is doubly so.

    Traditional media; social media; Web 2.0. When you get right down to it, the basis is journalism, and not the medium. Contrary to Marshall McLuhan, the medium is not the message. The message is still the message.

    It does not matter what you call it, and just as print came in all kinds of forms and formats, so too does the Internet come that way. A blog ain’t nothin’ without the message as far as I am concerned–which, of course, may get me branded as a dinosaur even though I think I am morphing into a butterfly (no weight jokes, please).

  10. Joe, my journalistic son, that is a bet you are going to lose. I was going to call it WineDude’s Daddy, but thought better of it. Then I came up with Old Wine Dude, and I really like that one, but it was vetoed by my grandkids who are convinced that I will live forever–the little darlins.

    So, it will be The Connoisseurs’ Wine Blog and will not try to outdo STEVE! for commentary or The Hosemaster for wit or you for today’s relevance. It will be much more in the fashion of Connoisseurs’ Guide in that it will be content-driven, by which I mean articles as well as opinion as well as occasional flirtations with humor and irreverence. STEVE! truly extends his personal reach. The Connoisseurs’ Wine Blog will extend ours but in a different way that is more consistent with a magazine-based blog than a personal blog like yours or Steve’s. It may be boring or it may be informative. Maybe nobody but our own subscribers will come by even though it will be on the free section of our website.

    It debuts in a couple of weeks. As the late, great Jerry Mead so famously said—TO BE CONTINUED.

  11. Bill Smart says:

    Thanks Charlie. Really, I’m not trying to get away from anything. I thought Steve treated this piece with respectful disagreement. And he agreed with some of what I said. Frankly, I like having the healthy conversation.

  12. Nobody said a thing about Steve pulling out his hair. Ah, just kidding. Loved this dialog, you guys. Thanks.

  13. Marketing people. like the inimitable Bill Smart, and our friend Tom Wark, are always going to include any sort of media in their work. They’d use graffiti if they could get away with it. Their job is to get the winery’s name out there as often as possible, and when the medium is free, like Social Media, then, all the better! Obviously, they’d be crazy to criticize blogs and bloggers, and I know both Bill and Tom and neither of them is crazy. Perhaps they both deeply believe in the power of wine blogs. Somehow, I doubt it.

    An interesting corollary to the discussion is whether or not Social Media will have an effect on wine. Not the wine business, not the business of being a journalist, but on wine itself. Countless people blame Robert Parker for popular styles of wine today, and I have no trouble believing winemakers have intentionally made wines for his palate. With all the new “voices” (though about two bloggers have what I’d call a literary voice) in Bill’s discussion, will Dry Creek Vineyards try to please their palates? Or is it just about persuasion? Using wine bloggers to promote the brand. Engage them in conversation just to get your name out there. Praise them to use them, especially when WE or WS or RP give you a moderate score, to try and get a shelf talker you can live with. Bloggers practice few ethics and most have little wine tasting experience and knowledge (When I say “bloggers” I refer only to those who were not previously employed in the wine business, meaning those who constantly receive the majority of samples). Easy targets for savvy marketing types. Nothing wrong with that, but I think we can read Bill’s post in a disingenuous light.

    Charlie, my friend, I’m neither a wine writer or a wine journalist. I’m a Fool. I make no claims for my blog other than that I enjoy stirring the pot and telling my version of the truth. No one reads my blog for anything other than a cheap laugh and to see if I’ve made fun of them. I never belong in these discussions. However, I do have a lot of wine knowledge and experience which I completely ignore.

  14. Charlie, am I invited to view your blog if I promise not to make any comments???

    I’ll have my tongue removed.

    As for the topic at hand–once again, I must YAWN.

    If there is an “up there Deity” looking down on us, I am convinced it is eating popcorn and laughing aloud.

  15. Charlie, Jerry Mead was indeed the late great. Somebody should write about him.

  16. Dude, Charlie: Can we move away from the “Dad” “son” thing? Makes me feel weird.

  17. I agree with Steve when he talks about the use of “Traditional Media” as distinct from blogs. I wrote in a comment:

    Stop thinking in terms of “traditional media” vs. “blog,” and recognize that one is just a new piece of the other. Ultimately, wine websites will have their effect based upon the power of their writing and the credibility of their palates, a truth in all wine media since Pliny the Elder.

    The real difference between old media and new, between “Traditional Media” and “bloggers” is really just the mechanism of publication. Ultimately, they are both “media,” and each will succeed by providing quality information to information consumers.

  18. Dear Mr. Washam — the late, great George Carlin said it best — “Occupation: Foole.” In that spirit, you should carry on his great tradition on your blog and amend the spelling to reflect its great lineage. ;)

  19. Hey Daddy Olken – if your blog is 1/10th as informative, entertaining, and insightful as your comments, I’ll be a regular reader!

  20. Dear Sherman,

    I am in no way, shape or form in George Carlin’s league. I haven’t earned my “e.” And he basically said everything best.

    And I agree with Steve about the 1WineDoody–Puff Daddy relationship. Paternity tests are in order. End the creepiness.

  21. Sorry, Steve and Ron. You will just have to go without. Joe and I have an inside joke and are enjoying it. It is neither weird nor creepy. It is just a bit of fun. For all I know, one of us might have been the model for Larry Amnosia, the great detective in the M. S. Conspiracy. You don’t hear us complaining.

    And, Steve, I would adopt you, but I would have to give away your age to do it.

  22. That’s OK Charlie. I already had one dad. Don’t need another.

  23. David Honig hit it on the head!

  24. That’s Anosmia, Charlie, but perhaps you have a bit of Amnesia.

    You and the Dude carry on. I was just agreeing with STEVE! to throw everybody off.

  25. Rusty Eddy says:

    Did I miss something, or is Bill’s last point the most ironic: “Ultimately, knowing your audience and creating lasting relationships built on trust and confidence will be the basis of success for any well integrated communications and marketing plan.”

    I know I’ve been doing this too long, but that comment has been the basis of good PR, wine or otherwise, forever…I hope we can all agree on that.

  26. Rusty, I thought I had said that comment was right on, but if I didn’t: I totally agree. Knowledge (information plus intelligence) and relationships are the formula for success.

  27. Let’s not forget one key point – the medium *is* changing how we interact.

    If the comments section of a blog is vibrant, like it is here, then the discussion evolves. The writing / article / post is just the starting point.

    That’s much different and more powerful than print, where people can’t evolve the conversation as anywhere near as easily.

    Otherwise, I think the distinctions between old and new media are largely overblown. But let’s not forget how important that quick interaction can be – I HATE the term “game changer” but I really think it is one in this case.

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