Get to Know Your Wine Blogger: They’re the New Media

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.

Original, Critical-Thought Wine Writing – Why It Is Imperative to Your Brand

By Alan Goldfarb

“Originality is how we separate ourselves, including you, from the pack”. Who said that? I said that. I meant it as it pertains to the good folks that write about wine. But, of course, if you – Mr. & Ms. Winery Owner – are fortunate to have an original, unique story published about you, you’re almost guaranteed to separate yourself from the morass of wine brands that seem to pop up every day of the week. So, for our purposes here, let us concentrate on the (wine) media: those members of the so-called fourth-estate, be they traditional print writers (magazines and newspapers), new media involved with posting on the Internet, or members of the electronic media (radio & TV).

It is these folks with whom you must figure out how to engage, and who will disseminate your winery’s stories to the world – and mostly for free(!). We call this “earned” media, as opposed to “paid advertising” or “pay-for-play” and advertorial articles, which will cost you dearly. Third-party endorsement I’m sure you’ll agree, is the goal.

So, whom to engage and enlist in your public relations (we prefer the term media relations) campaign? Whom to target to get the most meaningful benefit from your efforts? Well, we all know – and much to the curdling of my printer’s ink-infused blood – traditional print media is shrinking faster than a guy in cold water. Newspaper and magazine wine writers are being excised as though they’re mold on cheese. Nonetheless, traditional media offers audience targeting and is measurable, and therefore is not to be dismissed.

Streaming wine radio or podcasts however, are proliferating at an unprecedented rate, as well as is wine coverage on the web that is spreading rapidly. But, a word of caution: While wine coverage is reaching critical mass, the vast majority of media still lurk out there without real journalistic or writerly experience; and for whom perks such as food and wine, and seeing their name in print, is the primary lure; and for which an original or creative thought was not part of their SATs.

So, my advice to you, is to go after those few members of the wine media who think for themselves, harbor authentically singular and distinctive thought; and oh, who know wine and what they’re talking and writing about. It is these individuals who are apart from the chaff; albeit far and few. The task is to identify those idiosyncratic members of the wine media.

As a wine journalist myself for the last quarter-century or so, I learned years ago that it was imperative to find my own voice as a writer. That construct is not meant as a platitude, but is offered to writers who I believe must find their own voice, identity, and style. It is what makes readers take notice. It’s amazing – and sometimes disheartening – to read a writer, whose work contains no critical thoughts, no original ideas, uses your website copy or is devoid of creativity.

It manifests now for me when I have my winery public relations hat on; when I read a review or story from a writer, who has posted or published an article about one our clients. Pieces are often predominated by words from our media kit that we furnish to writers in order for them to get a better understanding of our clients.

It’s flattering and rewarding, of course – especially for the winery – to see an article written about them. But to me as a media consultant, it’s disappointing when I read something that has been regurgitated almost verbatim from our press materials.

We are always truly grateful that the writer thought enough of our client, and by extension, enough of our press information, to warrant an article on the Internet or in a magazine or a newspaper. It means we’re doing our job.

But we’re only human and when I see a piece that’s chock full of original thought with compelling turns of a phrase, we’re automatically drawn to that journalist; and we will try to get placements again and again with that writer on their blog, or in their newspapers. Because it’s meaningful and valuable, no matter the readership of the writer.

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Elaine Chukan Brown

Some writers that stand out for us are Fredric Koeppel out of Memphis with his whimsically named Bigger Than Your Head ( http://biggerthanyourhead.net) blog, or Elaine Chukan Brown from California and her imaginative Lily-Elaine Hawk Wakawaka website (http://WakawakaWineReviews.com).

Also, check out Pennsylvania’s Joe Roberts on his 1WineDude (http://1WineDude.com) site or Jon Bonné writing in the San Francisco Chronicle (http://sfgate.com). How about Leslie Sbrocco with her restaurant-centric show, Check, Please! Bay Area (http://blogs.kqed.org/checkplease), on the PBS KQED-TV series that is shown in the San Francisco Bay Area. A wine writer first and foremost, Ms. Sbrocco always makes sure to devote a segment to talking about wine; a rare occurrence for a TV show or even a restaurant review to spend some time on wine.

So, the point here is: Just as the wineosphere becomes more cluttered everyday with a plethora of brands, so too is the Internet becoming overrun by mediocre wine writing. In the end, original, well-thought out writing will reap ever bigger rewards, for everyone.

In turn, it’ll be much more meaningful for you, your winery, and your brand. Hopefully, in time, it’ll add up to selling 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.
Now, Alan has 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.

WE LOVE THE MEDIA

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?

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?

2012 Wine Bloggers Conference – Winery Toolkit

Carl Giavanti Consulting and Tamara Belgard of Sip with Me! are offering consulting and support for winery participants of the 2012 Wine Bloggers Conference. The conference is scheduled for August 16-19 in Portland, Oregon. The toolkit consists of identifying and following appropriate bloggers and online writers pre-conference; connecting with them during and after the conference with the goal of obtaining reviews and feature articles to promote the winery brand. Request the WBC Toolkit Service Package for more information, details, contact information and pricing.