By Alan Goldfarb
We in the wine public relations trade are witnessing the evolution of how we conduct our business. As liaisons between the wine industry and the nation’s media, many of us are realizing that we have to change the way we engage with writers and radio hosts; while identifying who those entities are. As the influence of the Wine Spectators and the Wine Advocates of the world begin to erode, it’ll take hard work to put eyeballs on your wine because wine writing and communication is entangled in an amorphous and ever-expanding sphere. Woe be it to those that don’t try to rein that world in and comprehend it. Otherwise, you’ll be left in the ashes as your brand tries to gain traction with the media, as concurrently wineries are running in place in the miasma of brand proliferation.
When my partner, Carl Giavanti and I began our media relations consultancy a few years ago, we boasted of a database (our strongest asset after our media relationships) comprised of about 800 media members – 75 percent of which were traditional print or broadcast radio people. Today, that list has grown to approximately 1,200 names – 65 percent we estimate, is made up of online writers , aka wine bloggers. What an unfolding development.
With that in mind; as well as intuitively understanding that online/blogging media members are rapidly and exponentially becoming our target audience, we set out in July for Buellton, north of Santa Barbara, for the Wine Bloggers Conference or as it’s known in the blogosphere, WBC.
That’s right, wine bloggers, for the last seven years, have been gathering in ever-increasing numbers in various wine regions for an annual confab where they meet and greet, listen to tales of how to conduct their craft (or hobby, as is often the case), and engage with each other in speed dating-like sessions in which tastings of wine – within about 15-second windows – are tweeted to anyone in the world who might be out there. The WBC, I suppose, enables wine bloggers to feel a part of something bigger than themselves, to revel in like-minded camaraderie, and to give a sort of legitimacy to their endeavors.
To those of us flack types; it was an arena in which 250 wine writers were gathered in the same place for three days with almost unfettered accessibility, to engage these new-world media members. The idea was to put a face in front of and to build relationships with those writers with the hopes that they’ll post something, sometime, about our clients.
Additionally, it was another opportunity for us – and the astute half-dozen or so other winery PR consultants who were also there working the room – to vett the writers in order to separate the more serious types from the hobbyists. The latter obviously have realized that writing a word here or there about wine, which is not larded with monetary rewards, does come with extraordinary perks. Or, as I witnessed at one seminar in which a professional blogger — who by a show of hands saw that no one(!) in the room was making a living writing about wine — suggested there were other ways to line one’s pockets. To which about half the participants, in unison and sotto voce giggled, “W-i-n-e”. Meaning: the opportunity to receive abundant free samples of wine. The requisite apparently, was to post a few words once in a while – sometimes superficially or lacking in original thought – in order to have samples delivered to one’s door.
That’s part of why it’s so difficult to know which writers will bring your winery the most rewards and why it’s imperative to try and grasp who is doing what on the vast Internet. Carl and I go through an arduous series of vetting protocols and hierarchies to understand with which writers we want to put our clients and their wines together.
It’s a Sisyphus’s task to collect any real data on how much traffic a writer’s blog or site attracts. Numbers from multiple sources vary wider than a pitcher’s curveball. But if one is paying attention and digs deep into where a blogger may have some penetration, a pattern emerges as to whose stories, reviews, and mentions have meaning.
How many people read Justgimmethewine.com? Does I’mawinebloggerandyou’renot.com have impact? Does IknowwhatI’mtalkinabout.com know what they’re talking about? They most decidedly don’t have the cachet and gravitas of Jim Laube or Robert Parker and while it would be folly to ignore those arbiters of wine, the websites and blogs of a rapidly growing and important new kind of media – collectively – are too many to dismiss. In fact, you now must embrace them, nurture them, and realize – this is the future and they’re fast becoming the present of what constitutes wine media in the nascent stages of the 21st century.
I saw one of these bloggers at WBC shopping for dresses and shoes online while three seasoned (read: traditional print writers) tried to impart their wisdom on the new media members in the room; while another leaned over to me to comment, “It’s time to move on” in an admonishment of traditional journalism. This is our new reality.
Amateur wine writers might be proliferating faster than krill, while bloggers who choose to dismiss journalistic wine history, are commonplace and often shallow, there is a small cadre of worthwhile bloggers who are emerging. You would be remiss to discount an opportunity to engage with them.
Get to know the new online wine media; and love them. You’ll sell more wine.
ALAN GOLDFARB has been on both sides of the media-relations aisle, first as a 25-year wine journalist, and now as a winery media relations consultant. His writing has appeared in Decanter, Wine Enthusiast, and he was the wine editor at the St. Helena Star in the Napa Valley where that assignment was not unlike covering Catholicism at the Vatican.
Alan is partnered with Carl Giavanti (www.CarlGiavantiConsulting.com/Media) in their winery media relations consultancy. Their clients are or have been in Napa Valley, the Carneros, Dry Creek Valley, Willamette Valley, and Columbia Valley.