Co-Authored by Carl Giavanti with Alan Goldfarb

This figurative memo to the Wine Media is from these winery publicists and does not represent the opinions of all publicists, but might resonate with a few. Let us start by saying that we love, respect and appreciate what you do; really… we mean it!

Is there room for improvement? You decide… here are 10 suggestions:

1. After you’ve engaged with our client, let us know if you decide NOT to write about your experiences – we’re grown-ups. All status updates are good; and this way, we won’t bother you with follow-ups seeking the status of your engagement.
2. Let us know if you DO decide to write — we’ll post the results on our clients’ various platforms and in turn, we’ll make you an even bigger star than you already are.
3. We’d love to have you visit our client. We’ll be happy to handle the logistics – it’s what we do — so that you can focus on the personalities and the wine. Tell us what you’d like to accomplish in order for you to get a good piece, and we’ll try to make it happen.
4. Communicate what changes you might need early and often during your trip – there may be lots of moving parts that we don’t wish to burden you with, and so that you’ll be free to concentrate on your story.
5. Why not look at ours, as a long-term relationship? In turn, we’ll stay in touch even when we don’t have a story to pitch.
6. We pledge to not waste your time by submitting wines or to pitch you on a story that might not fit your palate preferences or your journalistic agenda. Let us be a resource for you. We’ll strive to find educational topics and story ideas that may be of interest to your readers
7. Share your editorial calendars – let us know your editorial needs and we’ll sincerely try to provide content.
8. Tell us what you don’t want or expect from our clients. We don’t want to waste anyone’s time or energy.
9. We promise to keep our client on point but if it’s the idiosyncrasies that you’re after, we’ll “coach” our client to be who they truly are in front of you.
10. We’ll give you all the help you may need in terms of tech notes and media kits. And we promise never to furnish you with tasting notes or scores from your colleagues. We know you have your own interests and palates.

So, dear media friends, this is not meant to be a manifesto but a conversation about working together. We need each other and the wine industry need us, clearly not a zero sum game, but win-win-wine, right?

Vetting those Wine Bloggers is NOT like taking care of your dog or cat

Guest Article by Alan Goldfarb, wine journalist and media consultant

With apologies to Lettie Teague’s recent column of March 29, Wall Street Journal

I must be blogger No. 1451, according to Lettie Teague’s latest count of the number of wine bloggers out there. I attended the Wine Blogger’s Conference last year in Portland, Oregon. Given my media credentials, they put me all the way in the back of the conference hall which was inconvenient, but not as scary or difficult as it was getting to my hotel room in Gresham.

Anyway, I got there, I got to taste a lot of wine (some of which I stuffed into my computer bag), and got to meet a lot of you folks, the movers and shakers of the wine industry. I never had so much attention paid to me, at least not since December 2012, when I began writing my blog which I call “Freeloading in Wine Country”.

People. You’ve gotta pay more attention to vetting these bloggos; and by that I don’t mean making a special trip to your veterinarian. If you want to get your name out there in the blogosphere, you’ve got to quality online writers (just not me). To ignore them is to miss out – big time – to what’s happening out there, apropos the media. That’s not to say you should overlook the traditional guys (and you already know who they are. They’re the ones who make the big bucks whilst I struggle making about $15.75 a week writing Freeloading).

When you do vett us, look at the content of our writing. How often do we post? And most important, how many followers, hits, and readers we have. Me? I have two people who even bother to open their computers to look at site every so often – my mom and dad – and they have one machine between them, a Commodore Pet. But maybe since I’ve been to the Bloggers Conference, you’ll begin to read me now, too; and even send me samples. Thanks for the invite to the conference and all that free food and wine. Ergo, the name of my blog.

Wine Writers have needs too…

I attended Lettie Teague’s session at the Oregon Wine Symposium this past week. Lettie of course is the staff writer and columnist for the largest newspaper in the world, and her presence and interest in Oregon wines was significant. Rollin Stoles, long-time and former winemaker at Argyle Winery in Willamette Valley led the session. This was a particularly good pairing in my opinion. Rollin is funny, down to earth and a bit irreverent. Lettie was prepared for this and more than held her own. It made for a jocular, candid and insightful dialogue.

What was certainly on everyone’s mind (I hope) was how to get Lettie to publish something in her Wall Street Journal column. If it only was just as easy as attending a PR session. This is why public relations is an arcane and important art form, and why wineries of all sizes should seek assistance with media outreach.

Her advice seemed obvious to me, but obvious can be obscure if media relations is not your primary focus. Here are a few of her insights for starters:

  • “Read what I’ve written”
  • “Send me a note”
  • “Comment and share your opinion”.

If this is so obvious, then why doesn’t everyone seeking publicity do it? The reason is of course, it’s a lot of work. But folks, I’m here to tell you it has to be done.

Don’t submit wine to writers that they won’t like or can’t review. Do your homework. What are their palate preferences? What are their story interests? Who are their constituents and readers? Remember these writers need story ideas that are unique, educational and resonate with their audience, and these ideas need to be actionable and approved by their editors. They work as hard as anyone in the wine industry and there are precious few qualified wine writers still standing in print media (qualified applies to both online writers and bloggers).

After the Q & A discussion, I waited in line (it was worth it) and asked Lettie how she vetts all the solicitations she must receive. Surely, she must have an administrative staff, research analysts, tasting panels… what with all the resources of the WSJ at her disposal, correct? “No”, was her answer. “I do everything myself, including responding to all my own e-mails” (I tested this later and actually got a prompt response). This is one of the most powerful people in the wine industry, and not even an assistant? So know, if she doesn’t respond lickety-split to your inquiry, that that she’s probably got a lot on her plate and hopes you’ll understand.

And yes, please do your homework, learn the media engagement rules, treat journalists with kid gloves, and remember wine writers have needs too.

Part 2: Why Online Wine Writers Matter

Traditional wine writers and online wine bloggers marked the passage of time together at the 5th annual Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland. Like a multi-generational wedding event with families and friends on both sides of the aisle, these professionals shared their expertise and co-existed in respect. Too much? Well, that’s how it felt to me as a first time participant.

So I attended and survived #WBC12. This included attending all sessions, field trips, wine tastings and extracurricular after hours activities; and doing PR work and event organization for 3 clients, tweeting for one AVA, guiding 2 bus trips, promoting a winery association and myself. The ramp up to completing all of this was almost 2 intense months of 6-7 days per week. I came out of the conference with immense enthusiasm and respect for the writers I met. I developed some new friendships, and observed how ‘online’ can bring people together ‘offline’ or face to face (it often works the other way in wine marketing!).

I believe I also got some answers to questions I posed in Part 1 of this article, thanks to sessions led by Tom Wark, Joe Roberts, other industry services professionals, and keynotes by Randall Grahm and even Rex Pickett. Here are a few things I learned:

  • Why do Online wine writers matter? They matter because they exist, and many bloggers are great writers and create quality content. It’s as simple as that. Not to mention that small wineries need exposure wherever they can get it, and potentially have more access to online wine writers than traditional journalists.
  • What about their survivability? The transition to an online advertizing focus continues for businesses, and consumers are now more comfortable transacting online and willing to pay for quality content on the internet.
  • How will they monetize their writing? Joe Roberts (#1WineDude) held forth on the principle of not giving anything away. Monetization options include selling advertizing on blog sites, affiliate ads and links, publishing eBooks or hard copy publications (i.e. Rick Bakas), repurposing blog posts to paid publications, and consulting to support online writing and also as a lead in to other projects and positions.
  • Can they organize in an effective way? WBC12 was sold out for the 5th year in a row with a wait list of over 100 hopefuls. Conversations and commitments to attend WBC13 have already started. Discussions about promoting wine writing online and debates as to its viability are continuing. Social groups have been setup to continue the conversation.
  • What assures their continuation and relevance in the wine industry? The internet has democratized wine writing and many more writers now have a voice. Also, blogging is very cost effective. Tom Wark pointed out that the owner of the blog writes, edits, publishes, curates content, sells advertizing and promotes their own publication. I’m a sales and marketing guy, not a writer, and even I have a wine industry blog!
  • What are the pressing and ongoing issues facing bloggers? Monetization, need for integrity and editorial responsibility, establishing ethical and educational standards, providing ongoing training to improve wine knowledge, etc.

Online wine writers matter because writers are storytellers regardless of the medium they choose (offline or online). Selling your brand and telling your story is what wineries must do to compete in a vast sea of floating bottles.

Why Online Wine Writers Matter!

The message is the same, the medium has changed.

We’re slowly moving from print to digital media, and online writers aka ‘bloggers’ are driving this trend. My journalist and media consultant friend Alan Goldfarb (a modern-day McLuhan) advises that quality wine writing is what matters, whether online or traditional print media. Quality wine writers should be treated the same regardless of the medium. I measure this by evaluating their investigative and analytic skills, writing ability, and frequency of articles.

It is my belief that small production wineries should target wine bloggers to build mindshare, exposure to their brand stories, generate interest in sampling their wines. And do so in the hope of connecting with them and the potential for reviews, mentions, and feature articles. This is no different than wine industry PR/media relations strategies and applies equally to blogger relations. This seems practical as many smaller wineries don’t hire PR firms and must attempt to publicize their brands in a cost-effective way.

Although wine blog subscription bases are smaller (1,000-10,000+ readers) than their print publication competitors (whose magazines and newsletters are only distributed by hand to a few friends and acquaintances), blog posts are shared, tweeted and disseminated via the Internet bringing more potential reach, and therefore greater actual viewership than can be documented.

Wine Bloggers Conference 2012, otherwise known as WBC12 or #WBC12 in Twitter parlance, is coming soon to Portland, Oregon (otherwise known as #PDX). The big question for me is not whether quality wine writing and reviews will result. I am quite confident that they will, having followed the tweets and blog posts of the top 100 wine writers attending. My pressing issue is will the genre survive and continue to influence the wine industry? How will these talented writers monetize their craft? How will they coalesce and collaborate to become a meaningful collective? Which writers will still be plying their trade by next year’s conference in Canada, and with whom to follow and invest energy and mindshare?

And what does all this mean for wineries as they re-position themselves in this fast, ever-changing mediasphere?

Wine Bloggers Conference Opening Reception

I just found out that the Thursday reception sponsored by Oregon Wine Board is all but sold out for winery participants! This is a great opportunity to get early recognition for your brand and meet some of the folks driving the discussion about wine. The conference itself has been sold out for 2 weeks, with indications that most bloggers will be in town by Thursday 8/16 for the opening reception. You can follow the chatter on Twitter at #WBC12.

Marketing Wine to ‘The Media’

Tom Wark’s recent blog post weighs the differences between traditional and social media: Social vs Traditional Media in Wine Marketing It is an excellent summary of the importance of taking a balanced approach to telling your story and getting your brand’s message reviewed. The Press or traditional wine journalists may be diminishing in numbers but not importance. Online writers and bloggers are increasing in numbers and gaining mind-share.

So, what’s a small production winery to do? Yes… you’ve heard it here before “Do what you can and outsource the rest”. Not to seem too preachy here, but despite the cooperative nature of the wine industry we are all competing for media attention and ultimately to capture the interest and loyalty of consumers both locally and nationally.

Pitching your story likely falls into the realm of outsourcing to professionals that understand how to qualify a writers palate preferences and story interests, know how to pitch an article and already have both traditional and online journalist contacts and developed relationships.