When winery P.R. people get it wrong
I seldom name names on this blog; my readers know that. There’s very little point in antagonizing people who already have their knickers in a twist. So I won’t identify the name of the winery whose P.R. people complained about something I wrote that they claimed was incorrect. Fact is, I was right, they were wrong, end of story.
The particular issue was concerning what were the winery’s first releases, when they opened many decades ago. I had said one thing, basing my information on extensive published reporting as well as content on the winery’s own website. The P.R. people made a counter claim. Now, in the long scheme of things, it’s not the most vital thing in the world, but the P.R. people were pretty upset. They complained to my editor, who forwarded me their email for reply. So I hit the books, did my research and proved conclusively that what I had initially written was correct.
It’s not that I don’t get things wrong. Every reporter does. That’s why they invented the “corrections” section of major magazines and newspapers. There’s usually no shame in getting something wrong, although there obviously is a spectrum of mistakes. Misspelling somebody’s name is very minor. Getting somebody’s birth date wrong is minor. Misstating the name of a company that purchased the winery is a fairly major boo-boo [that’s not what I did, I’m just using it as an example]. Still, no reporter likes to get anything wrong, no matter how minor, which is why we research our facts until we’re pretty darned sure we’ve got them right. Then, and only then, do we hit the “send” button.
But the question in this case is, how could the P.R. people not have gotten it right? After all, they work at the winery. They should know what the facts are. Here’s my theory–and this most recent instance isn’t the only time this has happened. It is not infrequent.
It usually starts with a major figure in the winery [owner, GM, head of communications] who reads something he or she doesn’t like. That person then instructs the P.R. person to complain. The P.R. person, who more likely than not is young and inexperienced, dashes off a “correction” to the writer or the writer’s editor. The P.R. person doesn’t research the issue herself, or ask the owner if he or she is absolutely, positively true that the offending statement is untrue. Instead, the P.R. person does what most people do who want to protect their job and CYA: they complain to the writer or editor.
I once had a P.R. person complain to my editor that, in describing the wines of a particular region as “relatively expensive,” I had done that region a disservice–had, in fact, distorted the truth and insulted it. The letter was very angry. My editor demanded a reply. It took me hours of researching my database to determine that, on average, the region in question was expensive, just as I’d thought–not as dear as Napa Valley, but more on average than any other region in California. (The quality of the wines on average was also better.) So a whole lot of angst was raised, and time wasted, over something that never should have been an issue in the first place. (By the way, when that P.R. person eventually left his/her job, he/she confessed to me how guilty they felt [I know “they” is wrong in this case, but I’m getting tired of the “he/she” thing].)
The point is that sometimes P.R. people write and say dumb things. If it’s because they don’t know any better, then they’re in over their heads. If they do know better, but are afraid to stand up to their boss, then they’re bad hires. Part of P.R. is to speak truth to power, even when that power signs your paycheck.
Wineries, your P.R. people are your public face. It’s vital that you give them independence of thought and action. Your veracity is only as good as their public statements. And in this day and age, veracity–transparency–believability–call it what you will–counts more than ever.