My Favorite Four-Letter Words: Free and Wine
Free you ask? Yes free, or for a very small cost. By using the proper marketing and public relations techniques, you can get what amounts to thousands of dollars of print space for a fraction of the cost of advertising.
At the recent North American Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Rosa, California, one of the breakout sessions focused on “Wine Industry and Blogger Interaction.” Two questions garnering the most discussion were, (1) “I sent out a hundred press releases, why didn’t anyone write about my wine,” and (2) “Is it ethical for a bloggers to accept free stuff (wine, gifts, tours) from the wine industry.”
I’m a lawyer, a blogger, a wine consultant, a photographer. Prior to becoming an attorney, I spent over 15 years in marketing, advertising and public relations. Having worked on both sides of the aisle, so to speak, both as a journalist and a “product pusher” I feel qualified to address both of these issues.
Let’s first deal with the press release question in Part 1, and then tackle the ethical concerns in Part 2.
Part I: Marketing Your Wines for Free
Some of you may be lucky enough to have a blogger write about your wine or winery on his own. Great! But you should still read this article, because there are tips to get that writer to blog about you again.
If the writer notifies you about the post, it’s a good idea to respond promptly with a thank you, if the post is positive. If the post is negative, ask the writer if you can provide more information for a future story. It’s possible that you can turn a challenge into an opportunity.
Why is this Important?
Here at www.anotherwineblog.com, we almost always send a link to the winery after we write about them, just to let them know the article is “out there.” For the most part we’ve gotten great response. Two owners personally e-mailed us back inviting us to contact them the next time we were in the area for a personal tour of the vineyard. A couple others had their marketing people contact us. One ignored us entirely. One promised to bring us a bottle for review at the Wine Bloggers Conference, even asking for our cell numbers. We never got that phone call. Guess which wines we’re more likely to review again?
If you offer to send the writer something, make sure you do it. You’re not doing us a favor by responding, you’re preserving a potential relationship that can only benefit your company. If you invite the writer to email you and give them your business card, make sure you respond to their e-mails. This is common courtesy, but you’d be amazed how many people need to be reminded that it’s also good for business.
Part 1: Seven Steps to Successful Publicity
“I send out hundreds of press releases and e-mails, why won’t anyone write about my wine.”
Blanket press releases are like invitations, they should only be used for events. Why should a wine blogger write a story about your wine, when she thinks you’ve asked every other wine blogger to do so as well?
In order to generate interest for your product or winery, you need to do more than just send out 100 invitations. You’re not selling a commodity, so why try to market as if you were? Unless you’re holding a release party or a press conference, don’t send out blanket press releases.
“I have this really great media kit, with tasting notes, pictures, and the history of our winery. Can I just send out a bunch of those?”
A successful publication doesn’t have time to read through a press kit either. And you’re wasting trees as well as money if you simply mail out a bunch of packets and hope someone will call you back. Save a tree, and your marketing budget. Press kits are great, but they should be sent out selectively, to those who ask for them.
Okay, you’re thinking; “You’ve told me what not to do, but what’s the alternative?”
Successful marketing is all about building relationships, with customers and well as the press. If you want someone to write about your product, you’ve got to sell the writer. You have to answer the writer’s question, “How will this help my readers?”
Step One. Research. Research. Research. You wouldn’t buy chardonnay grapes if all you made was Cabernet Sauvignon would you? So first, read the publication or the blog. Not just the latest post. Read the articles to look for the writer’s interest, his focus, her writing style, and the personality of the blog. Tailor your “pitch” to fit the publication. Let the writer know you’ve done your research, by mentioning something you found interesting within the blog.
Step Two. Send a short e-mail to make your pitch. Send a link to your website, and provide him with a phone number to call you. Make sure you mention something about her blog. Maybe you notice she has covered Alexander Valley wines, but hasn’t yet featured Dry Creek Valley. Tell him how his blog can benefit from your story. Tell him you’re going to follow up with an e-mail (or phone call if there is a number available) in a week to discuss the idea. Then do it. Follow through is a key to good PR.
Step Three. Follow up. Remind the writer of your pitch. Ask if you can send some materials. With blogs, the writers don’t really want to sit around waiting on the mail. But go ahead and ask if she’d like to get a media kit. Offer to send some press materials including digital photos. If she says yes, make sure you send the files promptly. If you’re asking the writer to review your latest release, ask her if she’d like for you to send a bottle. (Before you do this make sure you can ship to her area, or her area carries your wines.) And follow up to make sure they were received. Some writers have policies on not taking anything free (more on this later). Honor this policy, and tell the writer where he can purchase a bottle, if he should rather do that.
Step Four. Be available. Remember, the writer is doing YOU a favor by advertising your product for free. Don’t act as if you’re doing the writer a favor by providing information. If the writer e-mails you, reply quickly even if it’s just a short e-mail to provide a better time when you can address his questions. Remember you’re building a relationship. If the writer indicates she’s covering your product, ask when the article will be posted, and ask for an e-mail with a link.
Step Five. Look for the story on your own. Read the blog or publication. This will help you track the blog’s effectiveness. Watch for spikes in web hits. The writer may not send you a notice as soon as the article is posted, and you want to be able to determine results (an justify your job to your employer if you don’t own the winery!)
Step Six. Thank the blogger for the story. If you have had spikes in web hits or sales following the article, give this information to the blogger. We want to know when we’re read and if readers have acted on our suggestions.
Step Seven. Keep in touch. Build the relationship. Keep reading the blog so you can pitch new stories. If you have a new release or another unique story to tell contact the blogger again. It’s possible the writer will contact you to provide quotes for another post, so be available and make sure you answer every e-mail promptly.
This sounds like a lot of work, but it isn’t really. You can set up a system and build relationships with bloggers just as you would your customers. When I was in PR, after establishing a rapport with the writer of a major publication I not only was able to have her cover our events, but got full page stories in her publication. In another instance, I provided a number of contacts who could provide expertise in a number of topics. Guess who the writer called when she had a question on that topic. And guess whose organization got free mentions, quotes, and was set up as an expert in the field; because she returned phone calls to a writer on a tight deadline.
It’s not rocket science, but it does take perseverance. Try it. And let me know how it works for you!
~Amy Corron Power