From that Winery P.R. Class at U.C. Davis: a few of my remarks
Yesterday’s Winery P.R. class, led by Rusty Eddy at the University of California, Davis, was a great success. I’ve been a speaker there for many years, and always enjoy interacting with the students, who for the most part are aspiring or actual winery public relations agents, or winery owners, or even social media consultants.
This year Rusty asked me to address some questions. Here are five, with my summarized answers:
How important to you is a good/unique winery story?
The conventional PR wisdom is that the winery needs to tell a “good story” or a “unique story” in order to capture media attention. That’s partly true, but I’m here to tell you why there’s less to this than meets the eye. I get pitched all the time about “stories” and to tell you the truth, they all start to sound alike. “Bill was a great success in [fill in the blank: investment banking, high tech, selling widgets] but one day, he and his wife, Sally, were visiting [fill in the blank, Napa Valley, the Russian River Valley, Santa Barbara] when they came across a [fill in the blank, lovely piece of land, gorgeous house, vineyard]. They decided to radically change their life, and…”. Etc. etc. So for me, personally, a “good story” isn’t terribly important. There’s something else, too: I’m a writer. My task when interviewing someone is to look for the most interesting aspects of their life, and then explore them. It doesn’t matter what official “story” the P.R. advisor has devised in advance: the story will become what I find in my autopsy of the subject’s life, achievements and character.
How important to you is a good/socially adept winery spokesperson?
I’d rather deal with a socially adept spokesperson than an incompetent one! The truth is, the vast majority of winery spokespersons are cordial and smart. I don’t really want a winery spokesperson to do anything for me, except assist with my needs [getting info, samples, arranging a visit]. I don’t particularly like it when a PR person sits in on an interview or tasting with me and the winemaker. The winemaker isn’t comfortable being scrutinized, and may be so guarded in his remarks that it effectively kills the chance for a good interview.
How has winery public relations changed in practice over the last ten years
I don’t think winery PR has changed much. Obviously the tools are different [social media] and this necessitates different skills. But the actual practice remains the same. Get your clients out in front of the media. Get good coverage, if you can. Be active, not passive.
How have wine media people/writers/news outlets changed over the last ten years?
The biggest change, again, is obvious: there’s a new generation of Millennials in the wine critic/writing business. This shouldn’t come as a shock! Every 15 or 20 years, it happens, and it’s happening again. As for new news outlets, obviously the existence of a thousand wine blogs means that wineries have vastly more opportunities for publicity. On the other hand, most of these blogs have little influence with the buying public. So if you’re in charge of that sort of thing at a winery, you have to do your homework and know which blogs are the real thing, and which ones aren’t.
What is the one most critical part of a successful small winery PR effort, assuming excellent wine quality to begin with?
When I look back over recent years, the most successful winery PR efforts have been those that involved social media, and then went viral, like Murphy-Goode’s “A Really Goode Job” contest. Another effort that comes to mind is Lisa Mattson’s work with Jordan Winery and their YouTubes, which have given the winery widespread visibility. The challenge with these efforts, especially single-episode ones like A Really Goode Job, is to maintain the momentum as time passes. That can be very hard. It’s not easy coming up with brilliant social media ideas.