My Favorite Four-Letter Words: Free and Wine

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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.

Jeffrey Mayo called us back!

Jeffrey Mayo called us back!

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
aka WineWonkette

Coming Up Next…Should Bloggers Accept Free Stuff from the Wine Industry?

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  • http://www.truetthurst.com Jim Morris

    I appreciate your point of view and the very helpful tips you outline. As a very small winery just getting underway, I am in the position of trying to get the word of our winery out in many ways, new and traditional. The new media is a vast world that many in the wine industry dont understand and are unwilling to participate with. I am on the steep part of the learning curve and am trying to find out new ways to make things happen for us.

    We were part of the Dry Creek Valley winery contingent at the Wine Bloggers Conference (I do hope you enjoyed our Red Rooster Zinfandel with dinner) and I was impressed by the number of people that are influencing new wine buyers and people interested in new wines and stories.

    One of the problems with small wineries, especially new ones like us, is the lack of time I can spend on communicating personally with everyone I would like to communicate with. I met so many fascinating people at the conference and have yet to be able to finally reconnect with all of them that I promised I would. Crush, bottling, selling wine, running a winery are some of the many things that prevent me from communicating effectively or timely with this community.

    I have been blown away at the number of people that come to my Facebook Page and have friended me up and I have over 200 friends on Must Love Wine and Wine 2.0 and Vinoshipper.com and I just cant find the time to properly respond back. If you can find a way to make the days 48 hours long, maybe that will help.

    I do enjoy your point of view. Keep up the good work. Come see us some time when you are out in Dry Creek Valley. http://www.truetthurst.com.

    Regards,

    Jim Morris
    General Manager
    Truett Hurst Winery

    • Amy

      It is tough to be able to respond back as quickly as we would like. And I think it's tough to be able to do PR when you're also running the winery. It might work well to focus on one or two publications at a time to do an in depth piece on your winery. Or if you have a new release, then send out that announcement to everyone. Part of the problem if you're not in California, is access to the wines. We can”t pick up the boutique wines in our local wine shop. However, you might try to stop them to Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant or Oxbow Wine Merchant, http://www.fpwm.com/wine_club/index.html who send out boutique selections to their wine club members.

    • http://winecase.wordpress.com Remy

      Jim, I understand how you feel. Only in terms of blogging, I've felt overwhelmed by all the things I have to write about, following up on the Wine Bloggers Conference.

      But as a former colleague of mine used to joke: How do you eat an elephant? One ear at a time…

      Amy's advice is spot on, however – both in her blog post and in her reply to your comment. And she's right that you can start by establishing and focusing on a set of priorities.

      There are a number of things you can do that will keep you in contact with the people you met at WBC and elsewhere. For instance, just posting a short item on your Facebook profile telling people how great it was to meet so many people at the Flamingo, and how you hope to keep in touch will reach a lot of them. Sharing whatever's new at the winery through those social networks (just adding a link to the news on your website is good, for instance) will keep people interested.

      And if you're looking for people to write about you, prioritize in terms of the best contacts you've established, i.e., the people you feel most comfortable with, and who seemed to connect the most with what you're doing.

      I liked your Red Rooster zin, by the way, and mentioned it (ever so briefly) in a recent post derived from my WBC experience. Keep up the good work!

      Remy Charest

      • Amy

        Thanks Remy:
        And thanks for reading through my reply typos. It appears that enjoying wine with dinner sometimes shows up in my typing skills! ;) Amy

  • http://cavemanwines.com Michael Wangbickler

    Amy,

    This is a GREAT article. There is only one problem: you've given away all my secrets and I am now out of a job. But seriously, this is exactly what I tell my clients and it is what I endeavor to put into practice. Thank you immensely for so aptly capturing it here.

    Mike
    cavemanwines.com

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com Amy

      Thanks Mike:
      I WISH someone would have given me just 7 steps when I had started in PR. Most of what I learned early on was from my agency reps when I was “the client.” One never can be reminded too often of tricks to getting things “out there” to the people who need the information! ~Amy

  • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

    Thanks Mike:
    I WISH someone would have given me just 7 steps when I had started in PR. Most of what I learned early on was from my agency reps when I was “the client.” One never can be reminded too often of tricks to getting things “out there” to the people who need the information! ~Amy

  • http://cavemanwines.com Michael Wangbickler

    Amy,

    This is a GREAT article. There is only one problem: you've given away all my secrets and I am now out of a job. But seriously, this is exactly what I tell my clients and it is what I endeavor to put into practice. Thank you immensely for so aptly capturing it here.

    Mike
    cavemanwines.com

  • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

    Thanks Mike:
    I WISH someone would have given me just 7 steps when I had started in PR. Most of what I learned early on was from my agency reps when I was “the client.” One never can be reminded too often of tricks to getting things “out there” to the people who need the information! ~Amy

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