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Winery P.R. tools embrace much more than social media

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I’m unable to participate in Rusty Eddy’s class on Winery P.R. at U.C. Davis this year, because I have to be–no, make that want to be in Santa Barbara on Dec. 2, but I promised Rusty I’d give the class some promo, so here it is: It’s this Friday, from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. You can sign up online here, for a cost of $190. Worth it!

Participants in the class, at which I’ve guest lectured for years, are winery P.R. people, or those who want to be. They’re looking, I suppose, for any additional insight in how to be better at their jobs. Four or five years ago, there was barely a mention of social media in the class. Instead, attendees wanted to know about stuff like how to prepare a press kit, write a press release, and how to pitch an article to a wine writer. They also wanted to know about the 100 point system and the more arcane aspects of wine criticism.

All of a sudden, around 2008, it began to shift. Suddenly, blogs, Twitter and Facebook were all the rage. It was as profound a paradigm shift as you could ask for.

I wonder what the students will want to know about this year. My own feeling–and that’s all it is, a feeling, because I have no empirical evidence to support it–is that the social media thing may have peaked when it comes to winery P.R. I just don’t sense the excitement, the breakthrough gee-whiz breathlessness that accompanied social media 2008-2010. In that little window of time, social media seemed to be the be-all and end-all of winery P.R. and marketing, the magic bullet that would overturn traditional forms of publicity and replace it with an online revolution in which anyone could participate, more or less for free. Heady stuff, for a winery on a budget.

Looking back now, during this winter of economic and social discontent, it’s hard to believe how naive everyone was. Did people really believe that social media could sell out a warehouse of SKUs, with a single keystroke? They did. But that’s what happens when you have stardust in your eyes: you don’t see things clearly.

Yes, there always were voices of reason arguing that social media was but a single arrow in the quiver, and possibly not even the one that went the furthest or sank the deepest. But those voices were all but drowned out by competing views that social media had changed everything, was destroying traditional P.R., and would reward those who hopped on its bandwagon while punishing everyone who stayed off.

Be honest now. Does anyone still make that claim?

I think a couple things combined to make social media less of a star than it purported to be. One was inherent in the concept itself: social media is merely a way for people to mass-communicate. That’s good, but what does it have to do with selling wine? Not much. People said social media would replace other sorts of sales techniques with peer-to-peer recommendations. Actually, that happened all too well. The peer-to-peer space is shared by an expanding universe of sources. A million peer-to-peer networks result in a million different wines being recommended, each for about 15 nanoseconds of fame.

Another reason the social media revolution failed was because of the Recession. Funny how an event that seemed historic at the time can be vaporized by another event that has truly Historic with-a-capital-H ramifications: namely, the collapse of the global economy. Maybe, just maybe social media could have been more helpful for wineries, if there hadn’t been a meltdown and people actually had the disposable income to buy wine. But that’s a hypothetical situation we can dispense with.

Everything feels like it’s in stasis these days. Black Friday and Cyber Monday aside, nobody’s buying, nobody’s spending, nobody’s hiring, nobody’s lending. If I were a young grad student wanting to move into winery P.R. and attending Rusty’s class, I think my first question to his guests (Sara Schneider from Sunset and Paul Mabray from VinTank) would be: Now that we’ve seen the limitations of social media for winery P.R., what traditional approaches do you believe will work? If I had to answer that question, I’d say that in addition to (not in place of) social media, a winery should have someone representing it who is ultra-skilled at captivating the media. That person might come from internal P.R. or external P.R., or it might be someone like Robert Mondavi, Gary Pisoni or Jayson Woodbridge, none of whom needed P.R. agents at all because they were such dynamic geniuses on their own. Of course, not everyone has that level of flash, which is why God invented public relations. As to the exact form of P.R. that works, impossible to say. It depends on the winery situation. If there were a formula, everyone would know it by now. Obviously, there isn’t.

Anyhow, like I wrote, I’ll be in beautiful Santa Barbara this week, reporting for Wine Enthusiast, doing a big blind tasting of local wines and, hopefully, coming up with interesting posts for my blog!

  1. Rusty Eddy says:

    Steve:

    Thanks for the class promo. You make very valid points about social media and PR. Social media is a great tool, but not a silver bullet. There’s still plenty of room for writing a decent paragraph and putting an exciting pitch together, in fact, I feel like those building blocks of PR are almost more important now than ever. A well-written letter or email, sent to the right person in the right format, will cut through the clutter every time.

    Rusty

  2. Have fun in SB. Always some of my favorite posts when you write about the area, one of America’s underappreciated zones.

  3. Steve,
    Sad to see you won’t be participating. I was hoping to illuminate you about the power and reality of Social Media. Instead your post has given me good fodder for our blog. Looking forward to responding.
    P

    PS – I always do find it amusing how you argue against social media using social media (a blog).

  4. Your point is well made… SM (inbound versus outbound marketing)needs to be part of the marketing armory, but certainly not the whole arsonal. It is interesting that in a recent Grapes & Grain Research Report when asked “How much do you agree or disagree with the following wine statement – Online social networks influence what wines I buy”, 54% Completely disagreed, 20% somewhat disagreed, and another 15% neither agreed nor disagreed. So although social media influence in general is huge, it is still not a major factor when influencing actual wine sales. With that said, I do see the merit in and a continuing shift towards inbound marketing. However, for many small wineries (and I just visited several small production wineries in Paso Robles), the main sales driver remains the tasting room and the wine club.

  5. I just have to point out that Bob had a pr team, including Regina Lutz who did a fabulous job for the Mondavi family and winery for forever.

  6. great article – a welcome perspective. Social media won’t save the world, but it’s just one of a set of communication tools – a useful, even vital one, but just one.

  7. Lori, yes, Robert Mondavi did have a fabulous PR team, and I worked with them. But he didn’t really need one! He was his own best representation.

  8. Paul, wish I could be there. There’s a misconception that I “argue against social media.” It’s not all black and white. I’ve just said that SM is nowhere near as powerful for selling wine as some people have claimed. I’ve been entirely consistent in that for years. I don’t understand how people take that, and then distort it into “Steve is against social media.” Obviously I am immersed in the social media world (via this blog and Facebook. I don’t tweet much anymore) and I love SM and respect its power to enable everyone to communicate. But it’s not doing a very good job selling wine!

  9. “it’s not doing a very good job selling wine” – and there it stands on pretty much the same footing as every PR tool, none of which are being effectively used to sell wine except by a handful of people.

    It’s not the medium, Steve – it’s the fact that people don’t know how to use it. Those that do know how to use do, in fact, sell wine – there are some producers who *only* use social media to sell wine (because they’re small enough that one channel, used effectively, can sell almost all of what they need to sell).

    At some point in the past, I’m sure billboard ads and print ads had their die-hard fans prognosticating the holiness of those sales channels, too – we’re just far enough removed from that time that we don’t talk about those folks any more. :)

  10. I second your blog, Steve, because Jose and I also can’t make it this year. “It’s worth every penny put into it, for anyone attending,” said she after a two year run with this class. What Rusty brings to it, plus his line up of wine professionals is a great education for anyone attending.

  11. Steve – you gave me a lot of fodder for our blog post today – http://www.vintank.com/2011/11/steve-heimoff-jumps-the-social-media-shark-again/. Thank you and truly sorry not to see you on Friday. I think we could learn a lot from each other in that forum.

    Best,
    P

  12. While I understand the importance not to lose site of traditional PR channels, I think it is naive ( or silly ) to herald the ‘failure’ of the social media revolution, at this early stage of the game. Social Media is still nascent, and is more about a way of interacting, than the technology itself. It took a few years before folks figured out how to sell, and others started buying things on the internet…look where we are today.
    Certainly, don’t give up on other channels in favor of SM, but beware to those who would eschew activity in the medium. You could also choose never speak to any of your customers in person either.

  13. ….”That’s good, but what does it have to do with selling wine? Not much.”

    Neither does PR or branding either, and thats what Social Media is, another tool kit in the quiver of marketing in public relations.
    Its not THE strategy, its PART of an overall integrated strategy.

    I love when a naysayer stands up in a conference or one of my seminars and says HOW DOES THIS MOVE CASES. Its especially great when I know they spend 100k on a Wine Spectator ad, and ask – what was your ROI on that? No answer, there isn’t one…its an inherent part of branding.

    BUT you can actually, if you have a clue what you are doing, perform SOME measure of success with tools like Google Analytics campaigns and more…there is no fool proof impression to transaction tool, but certainly far more than flipping through magazine pages.

    I think there maybe spots in my upcoming SSU seminar on integrating Social Media intro Traditional. Both are needed, neither are dead. Run from anyone who claims either.

  14. Your opinion about Social Media surprises me… I think the beauty of sites like Facebook, where consumers seeking you out to “Like” and connect is an amazing tool. It provides retailers with an extremely rich target of interested consumers. In an industry like wine, where every grocery store has isles and isles of options from all over the world, having a more personal connection is a great thing. I recently started working for a startup called http://www.Justuno.com. We allow retailers to leverage their promotions in exchange for Facebook “Likes”, Twitter “Followers” or email addresses. Its a great tool and we’re JUST launching. I’m partially from Healdsburg, so I picked the wine industry as our first adopters. If anyone is interested in increasing their social media presence, or has any feedback about our product vs. what your needs are, please drop me an email. We’re flexible and would love to perfect a product that helps online retailers connect with their consumers. Thanks so much, ~Becky becky@justuno.com

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