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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.

  1. Great post, Steve. Sorry Jose and I had to miss the class this year. Today is Day 2, and I hope that Rusty does well with a second day. The information is invaluable for anyone wanting to learn how this all works.

  2. Enjoyed these perspectives Steve. Hey, your points draw a connection between older, traditional PR activity and social media. Is it possible to embrace the fact that some of the benefit of social media are the same earned media credits that were used to calculate ROI of PR investment?

  3. Adam, I don’t know how to answer that.

  4. Bob Henry says:


    On social media and ROI.

    ~~ Bob

    From MIT Sloan Review: “Can You Measure the ROI of Your Social Media Marketing?”


    Abstract of Harvard Business Review case study: “Increasing the ROI of Social Media Marketing”


    From Harvard Business Review: “Social Media — What Most Companies Don’t Know”


    Full version of Harvard Business Review social media study:


    An excerpt from a summary titled “Why Social Media ROI Can’t Be Measured” of an Atlantic article titled “Dark Social: We Have the Whole History of the Web Wrong”:

    “There are still things we know we don’t know, and things we don’t even know we’re missing in terms of social media measurement.

    “For proof, look no further than The Atlantic, which shook the social media realm recently with its expose of “dark social” – the idea that the channels we fret over measuring like Facebook and Twitter represent only a small fraction of the social activity that’s really going on.

    “The article shares evidence that reveals that the vast majority of sharing is still done through channels like email and IM that are nearly impossible to measure (and thus, dark).”


    Full version of The Atlantic article:


    The “take-away”: The majority of the interpersonal communication and “sharing” is via e-mail and Instant Messaging . . . outside of the sphere of influence of Facebook or MySpace or Twitter or LinkedIn.

    Excerpts from The Wall Street Journal “Marketplace” Section
    (January 31, 2013, Page B8):

    “Which Social Media Work?”


    By Emily Maltby and Shiva Ovide
    Staff Reporters

    Six out of 10 SMALL-BUSINESS OWNERS say they believe social-media tools are valuable to their company’s growth — but most AREN’T IMPRESSED BY TWITTER INC. [CAPITALIZATION added for emphasis. ~~ Bob]

    Just 3% of 835 business owners surveyed earlier this month by The Wall Street Journal and Vistage International said Twitter had the most potential to help their companies.

    Professional-networking service LinkedIn Corp. topped the survey, with 41% of respondents singling it out as potentially beneficial to their company. Sixteen percent picked YouTube, the video service owned by Google Inc., and 14% chose social network Facebook Inc.

    The findings illustrate the challenges facing Twitter in demonstrating to small-business owners the benefits of using the short-messaging service to reach customers. Twitter says it is just beginning to court small businesses, which make up the bulk of U.S. companies, and are an important revenue source for many tech giants, including Google.

    . . .

    . . . recent independent small-business surveys that show Facebook is the most often used and most effective social-media channel.

    OWNERS OF SMALL FIRMS GENERALLY HAVE LIMITED MONEY AND TIME TO FIGURE OUT THE MOST USEFUL WAYS TO TAP INTO SOCIAL MEDIA. [CAPITALIZATION added for emphasis. ~~ Bob] In the survey, just four in 10 business owners said they have employees dedicated to social-media campaigns. Nearly half of them spend between one and five hours weekly on social media, and one-third spend no time at all.

    Many owners … tend to think the “value” of social media comes primarily from measurable factors, such as pageviews, click-throughs or direct sales.

    . . .

    Richard Alfonsi, Twitter’s vice president of global online sales, says Twitter needs to do more to educate small businesses on the benefits of using its service to reach potential customers and on the most effective ways to use the service.

    “We’re just at the start of both of these efforts,” he says, adding that there are already about 4.5 million smaller businesses using Twitter, even without much small-business outreach by the company.

    Twitter said nearly a year ago that it would begin to let small businesses buy ads on the service, to circulate their Twitter messages more prominently or to targeted groups of Twitter users. Previously, Twitter allowed only larger companies to buy ads on the service. But it acknowledges that it has moved slowly with the small-business ad service to make sure it’s just right. The ad service remains in a test mode with a selected group of clients.

    . . .

    Twitter doesn’t disclose its financial results, but research firm eMarketer Inc. expects Twitter to generate about $545 million in ad revenue this year, up from $288 million last year.

    Facebook posted $4.28 billion in ad revenue for 2012. LinkedIn’s revenue for the first nine months of last year was $668.7 million, about a quarter from advertising, paid job postings and other marketing.

    None of the companies specify how much of their ad sales are to small businesses.

    . . .

    This month’s survey by the Journal and Vistage, a peer-advisory firm for CEOs and senior executives, was conducted online Jan. 14-23, among businesses in a range of industries with less than $20 million in annual revenue.

    Overall, about 14% of the business owners surveyed said they use Twitter. That’s in line with research released last year by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which found that about 15% of all online adults are Twitter users.

    . . .

    Write to Emily Maltby at and Shira Ovide at

    Accompanying exhibits:

    “Attracting Small Firms:
    Social-media companies have free and paid tools for small-businesses.
    Here’s a snapshot of what’s available.”

    TWITTER: For about the past year, Twitter has hand-picked thousands of smaller businesses to test paid Twitter messages. The advertisements charge businesses to circulate their tweets more prominently to Twitter users, or to recommend Twitter users with compatible interests follow the small business. Companies pay Twitter only when people click on an ad message. Costs vary, but may run a few dollars each time a business adds a new “follower” as a result of an ad.

    FACEBOOK: The social network said in December that it has more than 13 million small businesses logging into their firm’s Facebook page at least once a month. Facebook has a simplified online tool for small businesses to buy ads. On Wednesday, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said the number of local business pages that advertised on Facebook nearly doubled from the beginning of 2012.

    LINKEDIN: Since 2008, the professional network has let small-and-medium-sized businesses create free company pages. LinkedIn said about 2.6 million organizations have an active LinkedIn profile, though the company doesn’t disclose how many of these are large corporations or small businesses. LinkedIn also has a staffer working with an online group of small business owners who swap tips for using LinkedIn.

    Link to this interactive exhibit:

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