Is PR Giving You a Bad Name?

They say there is no such thing as bad publicity. The thought is that even bad press is better than no press at all. Perhaps. But what happens when marketing and PR gets between you and the press?

Sometimes the best stories are never told. Why? Because somewhere along the line the guy or gal you hired to do your marketing decides he or she should control who tells your story — not you. That’s right. You might just be paying someone to keep your name out of the press without even knowing it.

Promoting a New Event

Is Your Information Getting Out to the Media?

About a year ago, I sat down with a winery owner to learn about his latest releases. During the conversation he mentioned an association of small producers he was putting together to help promote his local AVA (growing and producing area, for you non-geeks) Since we especially love small producers, and getting their names out to our readers, we were excited to learn about the project. The winery owner shared with us an event the group was planning to promote the wines and wineries in the area. What I really liked was his sense of community. It wasn’t just about him and his particular winery — but the area, whose story just wasn’t being told. “we want to get you guys out there,” he said, “to meet some of the other producers and growers.” And we were looking forward to it.

Some months passed, and we didn’t hear anything about the event.  We talked with some other wine writers whom we knew would be interested in covering the event, but they had not heard anything either.

Then a few months ago we got a general press release about the event. We wrote back, expressing interest in attending. I was especially interested in the seminars — not so much for the wine, but to learn more about the history of the area, and the individual producers. Because tasting wine is great and all — but there are only so many ways to describe Syrah and Pinot Noir. It is telling the stories that get readers interested in tasting — because they feel a connection to the wine before it ever crosses their lips.

I mentioned the names of two winery owners who had talked to us about plans for the event. The PR person wrote back to say that because the event was “trying to break even” and “the rooms rented for the event were small” they were not inviting any media to attend anything but the Grand Tasting.

Having spent my pre-law career in marketing and PR, I found that a bit odd and misguided. Really? You don’t want media to be able to tell your clients’ stories? Or you haven’t convinced the clients about the value of getting press into an event on the ground floor to talk it about early? I especially found this strange given the conversations I had with not one, but two winery owners telling me they had wanted us, especially, to attend the event.

We don’t know who made the decision to limit media to simply tasting wine at one event, but he or she missed the boat. We have 275,000 unique visitors to our site in 175 countries wanting to learn more about wine. We also operate out of one of the few major U.S. cities that still has a strong economy, and people actually buying — and not just the under $20 a bottle stuff with pictures of animals on the labels. Our readers include those with plenty of cash to spare, as well as retailers, distributors and restaurants. What better way to get your name out than to get our undivided attention for an entire weekend of events!?! Without even having to pay our way to be there!

When Media Has Questions

Is your PR or marketing person getting the media the information needed to write the story?

A month or so passed, and we had not heard back from the event contact person. We had already booked our flights and made hotel reservations, and I wanted to find out when and where we needed to be for the event. Sometimes it’s just faster to Ask Mr. Google, than wait for a PR representative to get back with us–especially in the evening and on weekends when we tend to do most of our writing.

That’s another thing we learned in my previous career. Build a relationship with the media — and make sure you are available. That was tougher back before the days of cells phones and 24-7 connectivity to your email. I actually had to wear a pager — so if a reporter or writer had a question and I wasn’t in my office – he could reach me. That’s how you become the go-to source for stories. I could get full-page PR stories in one of the biggest newspapers in the country — because when the reporter called, I got back with the information — or a source for the quotes. Imagine an entire story sprinkled with quotes from your winery — because your PR person is always available.

Some of the Best

There a few really stand-out professionals representing wineries. Constance Chamberlain of Brand Action Team is one. She goes the extra mile – and always gets back with the information when we are looking for a source, information or a quote (that’s Constance in the background). Her boss Steve Raye is another. If we need facts or figures, or just need something explained in a little more depth — Steve is THE MAN — and he will get on the phone with us to give us all we need and more.

Cailyn McCauley of Creative Furnace (and TasteLive!) is another. She is tethered to her technology. Not only does she do an incredible job of generating excitement about the events she creates for her clients — I know she is just a text, e-mail or call away, when I need additional information. And like Constance and Steve, Cailyn is genuinely friendly, and seems eager to make sure we have what we need to help write story — whether it’s background, pictures, samples or access to events.

Sam Folsom and Lisa Klinck-Shea of Folsom + Associates also go the extra mile for their clients. Sam contacted me after reading a review about one of his client’s wineries, and asked if we’d like to receive samples from some of the others. It wasn’t just a standard form letter. He was friendly and complimentary — it made me want to learn more about his other clients’ offerings. I was working on follow-up to a story about Plavac and Zinfandel. Someone posted a comment that I knew was wrong — but I wanted some muscle to back up my response. Lisa hooked me up with Joel Peterson, Ravenswood founder and the Godfather of Zin, who gave me just what I needed.

Susan-Anne Cosgrove
from Pasternak Wine Imports. Susan-Anne first wrote to us in 2009 to see if we would like to receive samples from some of her International clients. She always responds back quickly to our questions, and sets up some one-on-one lunches and dinners so that we can meet the winemakers when they come through our area. We enjoyed meeting her on one of the few cold days in Houston, when she came to town with Chateau Le Nerthe – a fabulous producer of Châteauneuf-du-Pape that we first tasted on our trip to Montpellier, France last winter for Millésime Bio.

Mia Malm, of Malm Communications, LLC is another. When we received an over shipment from a winery, we contacted Mia to find out what we should do, because we learned she was doing the winery’s PR. This wasn’t a samples issue — but an actual purchase. Because it was through a 3rd party site, we didn’t have any connections with the winery at the time. Mia not only helped us resolve that issue — but hooked me up with sales and marketing to get some information for another story I was working on for Palate Press. Then she arranged for a great interview with the owner and winemaker! It’s going the extra mile that really helps get the clients name out there.

Michael Wangbickler and Catherine Seda of Balzac Communications and Marketing. We first met Mike at the First Annual Wine Bloggers Conference, and he invited us to attend the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux Vintage 2006 Tasting in Dallas. Establishing early relationships with up-and-coming writers is always a plus, and Balzac is another agency who had the good sense to get in on the ground floor of the blogger explosion. We met Catherine face to face at this year’s conference where she was helping to promote Wines of Navarra — but that wasn’t our first connection. She was very helping in getting information to us about Navarra wines, so we could help share the information with wine lovers and restaurants in Houston.

Jessica Mason at Dancie Perugini Ware Public Relations. Sometimes the best laid plans go awry. There is some sort of miscommunication between corporate and local. Media is invited to cover an event but the name gets left off the list. Some PR people stop answering emails after 5:00 p.m. but Jessica makes sure she’s on call and solves problems quickly!

These are not the only folks out there working hard for their clients — but some of the best of the best. There are other agencies who do a good job getting us the information or access we need, but these are the folks we think are giving their clients “more bang for their buck” by really cultivating relationships!

Some of the Obstacles to Good PR

Then there are the other guys. We aren’t going to name, names here — but some of the PR agents just do not seem to have their clients interests in mind as much as they do their clients’ fees in their pockets.

Is your PR Person Tied to an Old Model?

The world of wine writing is changing. While formerly print was king, and you had to buy full-page ads just to get a short article in a major publication, print is going the way of the dinosaur. Just like they disconnected their land-lines for cell phones, many wine drinkers are no longer relying on big glossy monthly print publications for their only source of wine and spirits information. This is especially true of millennials who have lots of disposable income, and relish little time to sitting around, reading hard copy magazines or newspapers who don’t seem to be targeting them in meaningful, intelligent ways.

While print may still appear be king with the old folks and those whose states still don’t allow consumers to buy from anywhere but the local wine shop – hordes of folks are now turning to their Blackberry, Android and iPhone for suggestions on which wines to try. They’re not simply looking for grades, scores, ratings and “quaffability” indicators. They want entertainment, pictures, graphics and humor. They want new content, new ideas and forward-thinking articles. And some just want to know — what would this guy who isn’t paid to write about wine like to drink?

There are some PR folks who haven’t quite grasped this model, or are still hanging on for dear life to the past. Why? Because it’s easy. It makes them the most money and requires the least amount of work. Or they may appear to be “jumping on trends” that are on the downward slope.

Is Your PR Agent Still Pushing Facebook as a “New Idea”?

There is one PR guy who just started telling folks last year that they should “get a Facebook page.” So rather than building relationships with new writers, he is having them bombard people with “status updates.”

Facebook is fast-becoming the Junk Mail of the Internet and you’re being told it’s the only way to go. Sure, it’s easy for someone to post a few updates a day, and post a few pictures and links. But that doesn’t build relationships – and quite often it’s simply annoying. Why, then, is something on a downward trend being promoted as the next best thing? Because it’s easy, it’s cheap, and requires little interaction with those who influence wine drinkers.

Would you put your handcrafted wines on a flyer in mass-mailed blue envelope? Because in some ways, that’s all you’re doing with Facebook. We’re not saying you should delete your existing Facebook page. But it is no longer the cutting edge medium to jump on. In fact, it is past its prime. Use it as a tool to develop relationships, not as the mouthpiece for your brand.

The Old Boys Club

Is your PR agency parsing out invites to only a ‘select’ few?

Some PR folks are still playing Kingmaker – they pass out samples and invitations to events to a select few, or label “influential” only the media who kiss their asses and curry their favors. This incestuous relationship does nothing to promote the winery’s interest, but is more about making sure the Gatekeeper doesn’t lose his influence with the industry.

Back to the new regional event… Having asked Mr. Google, I was delighted when his results led me to a fellow blogger who was giving away a weekend pass to the event. We would have loved to offer that to our readers, but at $375 a ticket, that’s a little pricey for a give-away, especially when we were spending roughly $2,500 of our hard-earned cash on flights, car and lodging, just to attend.

I wrote back to the PR rep to confirm our attendance at the Grand Tasting, mentioning how exciting it was to see the weekend-pass giveaway on our blogger buddy’s site. “Oh, are you still coming?” the PR rep replied. Which, as you can imagine, gave me a bit of a “pause” having parted with so much cash. I wrote back to say we could visit some other wineries who had invited us to stop by while in the area, if media like ours had been un-invited to the Grand Tasting. But we were assured we could attend at least that part of the event.

We did a little pre-event story, as well as some tweets and posts that we were bound for California to attend. Other influential writers contacted us. “Did you buy tickets?” they asked. Because, they, too were told media wasn’t invited.

Fast forward, and we arrive at the Grand Tasting, excited to find our aforementioned blogger buddy there as well. He asked if we had attended any of the seminars. “It seemed all the winemakers were talking to each other,” he said. It would have been great to see more media at those he had attended, he said. He told us about another PR guy also at the seminar. Our buddy said the winemakers had asked what other writers he would have invited to attend. “I put your name on the list,” he said. Weird. I thought — because the PR folks had told us the organizers did not have space for media except for the Grand Tasting.

Imagine our surprise to learn our buddy not only had all-weekend access (in addition to the $375-giveaway), but the PR rep had picked up all his expenses. Now we understand that some writers are perceived to be more accessible than others — and more apt to cover the event. But there is a cardinal rule I learned in my PR career — never lie to the media. You aren’t doing yourself or your clients any favors if you do — and it just may come back to bite you in the ass. Because just like PR reps have a little club — the media has a club as well. We talk to each other. And if you piss off the media – you might as well kiss any press coverage good-bye. Which really is not fair to your clients. And might end up costing you an account, if you haven’t provided results — or worse — you caused your client’s name to be ignored through your own misguided gate-keeping and desire for exclusivity.

When Media Talks Directly to Your Clients

During the Grand Tasting, we stopped by one our favorite Pinot Noir producers who looked truly surprised to see us. “Wow, I had no idea you were coming!” he said. He invited us to stop by the winery the following day for Open House — where we could have more time to talk.

He asked who we sat with at “the Dinner,” an event after the Grand Tasting which sat guests with a couple representatives from each of the wineries to learn more about their wines. We told him we dined at another restaurant in the area, instead. What about the seminars, he asked, did we enjoy those? Finally, I just had to tell him. We wanted to cover the entire weekend, since he had told us about it. But were told space for media was limited. “I wondered why there wasn’t a lot of media in attendance,” he said, “but didn’t you get the e-mail inviting you to the seminars?” I told him we had not. And that there were at least 20 other wine bloggers who would have been glad to attend, but were told that there was no room for them at the event.

Wow. He said. It seems like PR just didn’t get the message out. He said he wished we had contacted him directly — he would have made sure we had access to the entire event.

You Could Have Been a Contender

Suppose there were influential wine writers and bloggers ready and willing to write about your winery and your little-known area’s incredible wines? And you could connect with them all at just one event. An event you had invested time and money in promoting. Suppose you could have 25 different media outlets writing about your event, your wines, and your story for very little cost. Media willing to pay for their own lodging and travel to get there. Writers from San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, Napa, Sonoma, Dallas and Houston — places where people are eager to learn about and buy wine.

For the cost of flying one or two guys across the country and putting them up in a fancy hotel in the hopes of some publicity, you could have had 25 different writers, with tens of thousands of readers talking about your event and your wines. But instead, someone convinced you to put all of your money on one or two media outlets — or worse, simply made the decision for you, at your own expense.

You might think that guy or gal had some sort of vested interest in limiting exposure.

If so, maybe it is time to look at some new PR.


The WineWonkette

Posted in Best of AWB, Education, Featured, Posts, Rant

Amy Corron Power View posts by Amy Corron Power

A licensed attorney, Amy is a wine-lover, foodie, photographer, political junkie and award-winning author who writes about Wine, Food, Beer & Spirits. As Managing Editor & Tasting Director for Another Wine Blog, she travels all over the world's wine regions to share her experiences with her readers and legions of twitter, Instagram and Facebook friends and fans. Amy holds certifications through the International Sommelier Guild, and is also certified, with honors, as a California Wine Appellation Specialist (CWAS). She is a member of the Guild of Sommeliers, The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas and regularly attends Houston Sommelier Association events. Amy is also a contributor to the Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books, and was most recently published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Gratitude.
  • Jumpintheboat

    Great article. Very informative and plan to put into use many of your ideas. 

  • Sam Folsom

    You covered a lot of ground here, Amy!  There are some great observations that should be required reading for PR newbies and grizzled vets alike.  Thanks for devoting some much time and good thinking to the topic of public relations and how PR people can work more effectively with the media (and thanks for the plug!).

    • Thanks Sam. Sometimes it’s a doubled-edged sword to have a background in PR — I’ll cut a break to the e-mailers who address me as “Dear Steve” but not so much those who are harming their clients in order to protect their own turf. Lucky for your clients, you are one of the pros! :)

  • Awesome as always, Amy.
    You got your point across without snark (and without providing an inch of coverage for the PR firm/event. [shaking fist in the air] That’ll show ’em!)We can’t always be The Pretty Princess at the Prom, but making anybody feel like a free-loader is just bad business.Agree with your PR All-Stars picks. Kudos to them all.Best Wishes,Nannette Eaton

    • Actually I didn’t want the piece to damage the event — but be more about PR. Although I must admit when I first drafted it, it wasn’t nearly as comprehensive, and did have quite a bit of snark ;)

  • Bonnie Lewis

    This is excellent! I have had winemakers or restauranteurs who will tell me about an upcoming event, but I never get any official notice. When I follow up for details once it’s ‘announced’ on facebook, they tell me ‘all the info is on the event page.’ Do they want promoted? Do they want me to attend? It’s so often difficult to tell.

    • Thanks Bonnie. I think a lot of times, the winemakers and restauranteurs just assume their PR people know everyone they want invited, and trust them to do so. The PR people are working off lists of people they know they want to cover the event, and sometimes names get left off. What really is confusing is when big events (with big price tags) are promoted through a press release, and then media are asked to buy tickets. I usually follow up and ask “are you inviting me as media or just as a wine lover?”  But the “it’s on Facebook” thing is annoying. And lazy. I think so many clients as well as PR don’t understand that no matter what “tool” you use, Facebook, twitter, press releases or invites, it’s the relationship building that gets you the press coverage and exposure — the tools just help you get someone’s attention. Cheers!

  • 1WineDude

    Hi – generally in agreement that most PR folks are NOT doing things the best way (and you rightly highlight some GREAT PR peeps who *are* doing things very, very well).  But since I’m the fellow blogger mentioned in the “Old Boys Club” section, I think eventually people are going to put 2 & 2 together and so I need to make a preemptive response here.

    The PR thing where the guy asked me about influential bloggers and I put your names on the list: that was disconnected totally from the event you reference in the above post, but that’s not clear from what you wrote so I wanted to point it out.  It had to do with which wine blogs actually have enough of an audience to warrant sending samples and even invites to in the first place, and I know that you guys should be on any such list.  But it was not in any way connected to the event, apart from the guy asking me during one of the dinners the evening before the grans tasting.

    Regarding the event itself, I am pretty sure my attendance had nothing to do with ass-kissing or aptness for a story to be published afterward, and had a lot more to do with me being contacted early and responding early that I could attend, and then the budget for media attendees being shrunken fairly considerably very soon after that. I’m not saying that you are implying that’s why I got to attend, but my fear is that readers might interpret it that way and I want to set the record straight.  The bottom line is that the vintners in that region gave very little to the kitty, as it was explained to me, for media – which as we discussed at the event I thought was counter-productive because the region has some great wines and great stories to be told and so there’s a huge missed opportunity there (as you described very well in your post).

    I actually get surprised that I get offered junkets to events in that region of the word, because I’m kind of known in the industry now as someone who might *not* cover the event and/or some of the  producers, and when I do it’s often with an angle that balances positives and negatives which they tend not to like so much sometimes :).  And I’ve had near-shouting-matches with the not-so-awesome PR folks who have been upset or gotten flak from their clients about it. :)   Again, not saying that you are making an accusation of the opposite, just want to add details in case someone does draw that kind of conclusion from the post.

    Otherwise – I hope this post is a wake-up call not only to the coordinators of the event itself, but generally to PR in the wine biz to be as open as possible and not hide details from the media about who is / isn’t invited to events, etc.  Saying “look, we don’t have enough money & the all the event slots got taken up already” is a lot better for real relationship-building than lying or keeping facts from the media, especially a site with creds and readership and value like yours.


    • Thanks for reading and providing some thoughtful context. It wasn’t clear from our discussion the input you gave about influence was general in nature, especially when the winery owner later said “I wondered why there were no media at the seminars.”

      I agree with you that late responders shouldn’t complain when media slots have already been filled. While it may be true for some other folks who asked to attend, ours wasn’t a late RSVP unless all the invites were extended BEFORE the press release went out. I responded almost immediately after getting the press release, because I had been on the ground floor of the event before the media person was even involved.

      Now here is where I felt a dilemma: If I had by-passed PR completely I could have gotten full comps for the event. In fact, that would have probably delayed this post from appearing (or
      it would have had a different set of examples.) But since I spent so many years in PR, I really hate that crap and was giving the PR person the benefit of the doubt, and was cool with limited access per the reasons given. When we saw you there, and got the details of how you got there it made the whole budget/space story seem suspect.

      When the winery owner kept asking why we weren’t at this and that, it looked like we thought the entire event wasn’t important enough to attend and WE had decided only to cover the “drinking” event. That just reinforces the idea that bloggers’ main concern is “getting free wine” — a meme that is often repeated by print media, and those who preach
      that only print media is legitimate. We both know that, for the most part, is bullshit.

      We never expected “a full ride” to that particular regional event because as much as we would like it to be, this isn’t our full-time gig. We understand that it is yours, and know that if not for PR covering most expenses, writers whose livelihood depends on writing can’t be expected to continue to do so if they have to fly themselves all over the country to cover events.

      I have never seen anything brown on your nose, and didn’t mean to suggest your participation was due to anything but the AWESOMENESS of your writing and blog. I have very little time to read other blogs, but yours is one I regularly do, because it IS good! 

      My issues were these: I pointedly asked to cover the entire event, and was told there were budget and space issues UP FRONT. The winery owner who discussed it with me months prior was given the impression we were NOT coming. We didn’t get the email inviting us to the seminars, that the winery owner said was supposed to go out. After a lengthy email
      exchange about the event with PR, PR forgot that we planned to attend. And something I didn’t even cover in the post but was the last straw — our names were misspelled on our media tags.

      And a number of blogging media who would have been happy simply to cover the Grand Tasting, were told that only 3 press passes were available and they were already gone. Yet, I saw numerous folks with “media” on their name tags under the big white tent tasting wine.

      It colossal PR F-up that shouldn’t be repeated — thus the post :)

      • 1WineDude

        Thanks, Amy – totally agree with you that it’s crap if a PR person forgets that you’re attending.  NO excuse for that (aside from someone not doing their job well that day, I mean! :).  Cheers!

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