This week's United's PR disaster was a lot of things, just not at all surprising. As a former San Francisco resident who flew the airline from its near monopoly at the SFO HUB frequently for many years, I have plenty of mostly negative stories. The disdainful attitude of the "team" is in complete contrast with the way Southwest Airlines values warmth. When I begrudgingly fly United, I expect to have a poor experience with flight attendants. If I have anything less than very positive staff interactions on Southwest, I'm shocked. How's that for a juxtaposition of a brand bars being set very low and high?
With the latest PR crisis involving the forcible removal of a bumped passenger, in addition to disdain, United demonstrates a severe lack of communications and overall leadership. The company's first response was a canned non-statement taking little responsibility and blaming the passenger. Then only after criticism (further fueled by their initial response) continued to mount, United issued an additional more apologetic statement finally taking responsibility. The damage continues with a social spiral downward and United's "fly the friendly skies" tagline becoming a late night television parody. One more story for the UntIed site which has been hosting company complaints for the since 2011.
Regardless of whether or not the passenger was difficult or belligerent (some have reported on his medical license loss and legal troubles), United could have handled this much more smoothly and avoided more costly brand image damage. More on that later...
Thankfully, PR crises are more rare in the wine industry. However, they do happen. There are a few best practices, and I recommend creating, documenting and sharing an internal protocol so that you are prepared if a problem occurs.
Step 1 – Deal with the situation immediately. Trying to "buy time" often backfires. Alert senior management who should stop all nonessential activity to strategize. Communicate about what happened, how you will address it and discuss how you will prevent it from happening again. Do this in person or via phone to ensure that tone, which is paramount, is correctly conveyed.
Step 2 – "Own" any mistakes. Do not make excuses. Seek to understand why the problem developed and what errors were made internally.
Step 3 – Create and edit a professional statement. Write up a synopsis that states the facts of what occurred, identifies and apologizes for any internal mistakes, provides evidence of actions taken to correct the problem, and clearly outlines lessons learned and preventative measures that will be put into place. Be sure this passes through a legal lens, but is not so scrubbed that it becomes a non-statement, which will come across as an attempt to hide, abdicate responsibility or worse.
Step 4 – Rehearse then share the statement. Practice does make perfect, and in this case the rehearsal is to avoid the common mistakes of excuse making and improper tone. In the wine industry, this is typically done via email and social media. In larger sectors, it is often a written piece and televised statement.
Step 5 – Implement. Do what you stated you were going to do. Follow up with all involved on the new preventative measures. Communicate progress with stakeholders after a little time has passed. Seek feedback from employees and customers.
You might just end with with a service recovery paradox if you handle a difficult situation truly well! This is when a dissatisfied customer turns into a fan because his expectations have been vastly exceeded. To accomplish that, all United needed to do was provide a compensation for bumping that would *excite* everyone on board and create a line of those looking to deplane.
How about two round-trip tickets to anywhere United flies? Give someone the trip of a lifetime in exchange for the inconvenience, and build a social media rainbow instead of a tornado. Sure, it might cost $10,000, but assuredly less than the boycotts, lawsuit and brand damage that is not yet complete.
Over the years, when I've ask prospective clients about their marketing plans, I often hear that they are "in my head" or "on the back of a napkin" (read: they don't exist). So, I laughed when I saw this napkin while at Portland Center Stage for Astoria (a tremendous production, by the way). It immediately grabbed me, and I paused to think about how it is so simply brilliant.
Umpqua Bank literally put their marketing on a napkin -- a smart move since it's given to every patron consuming a drink (love that you can take wine into the plays at PCS). The idea of a napkin is not brilliant in and of itself, but the message they served is: evoking the emotions their theater goer target audience is there to experience makes the marketing impossible to ignore. It's perfectly a propos because I receive it as I'm already in an excited and engaged state, and it makes me feel on a subconscious level that Umpqua gets it (and perhaps me).
When your winery is featured or included in an article by a journalist, it means you've beaten the odds: the media have far fewer writing opportunities than the number of pitches and samples they receive. When you receive press coverage, this presents you with two opportunities -- to share and promote it to increase awareness and magnetism of your winery, as well as strengthen your media relations program.
In just the last week, I've been grateful for four articles featuring our clients:
Kelly Mitchell of Huffington Post on "¡Salud! Celebrates 25 Years"
Tamara Belgard of Oregon Wine Press on ¡Salud's! "25th Fete"
Greig Santos-Buch of Winederlusting.com on "Essential Willamette Valley"
Stephanie Bynington of My Wine Tribe on giving the gift of ¡Salud! in "10 Best Wine Gifts"
Below is the process I use each time a journalist covers a client to ensure that I continue to build the relationships I've cultivated over 16 years in the industry:
1. Thoroughly read the article so that I'm able to speak to my favorite parts and graciously ask for a correction for any factual or spelling errors.
2. Send the article to my clients with an excerpt, noting highlights, wine(s) and photography.
3. Post the coverage on Facebook, tagging my client(s) and the journalist who covered them.
4. Record the coverage statistics in our press spreadsheet, noting the author, date, article link, specific wine(s), top comments, and metrics -- coverage value and circulation provided by my clipping agency. I also look to link the coverage to a pitch or sample so that we may measure our results.
5. Send a thank you note to the journalist who wrote the article, noting my favorite aspects and including personalized information such as well wishes to a spouse. This one is particularly important, not just because it's polite but because it's rare. In our 2015 national media relations study, we found that only 21% of journalists are regularly thanked by wineries; your thank you will stand out.
If you work with a PR firm, they should be running a similar process on your behalf. And if you are handling media relations internally, you can use these steps as noted, changing number two to be sending the coverage to your internal team.
Happy thanking and holidays!
A team from China bested 21 others in the recent world blind wine tasting championships organized by the French magazine, La Revue du Vin. Humbly, the Chinese team commented that their win was due to 50% knowledge and 50% luck. The Guardian's Daniel Glaser dove in a little deeper into this comment in his article this week, taking the opportunity to explain the primary factors that influence perception and taste. These factors apply to the average wine taster (not just the experts) and are useful to winery owners and operators looking to maximize their direct-to-consumer sales efforts.
In addition to influences such as smell, temperature, your mood and visual cues, our expectations play a substantial role in our perception of wine: "If you think a wine will be good or bad, or red or white, the brain primes itself to taste it in that way, regardless of what the tongue's sensors tell it."
As a winery owner or operator offering tasting and hospitality, you have significant influence over a lot of these factors. Here are some key questions to ask yourself and your team as you envision your winery's guest experience:
1. Is our space comfortable, inviting and warm?
2. Are customers greeted upon arrival in a similar fashion?
3. What is the "personality" of our tasting room -- is it pin-drop quiet and serious? Lively and festive? Somewhere in between? And how does this actual experience align with what we would like to offer?
4. How do external factors like music, art work, information displayed, etc. add to or distract from the experience?
5. What information and in what manner are we communicating with customers? Are we matching the information we share to the guest's desired experience? Are we even asking what type of experience the guest is looking to enjoy before diving into the tasting?
6. How are we sharing our story? Is it memorable and unique, or is it simply something that could be said at the winery next door?
7. Are we getting feedback from guests during the experience? For example, if the taster doesn't like whites, did we find this out and skip that portion of the tasting?
8. Are we using the information we gathered and the relationship we're building to ask for an appropriate sale or wine club join?
Some of my worst tasting experiences have happened when I'm greeted by someone who is clearly not interested in doing his job, or someone who wants to show me how much she knows about wine. To pick on the highest quality region in my Pacific Northwest "backyard" -- the AVA where I taste the most frequently -- I've lost count of the number of Willamette Valley wineries who allow (or worse yet, instruct) their staff to launch into diatribes about soil, floods, clones and other geeky subjects. The moment I hear about the Missoula floods, I start wanting to head for the higher hills because I know I'm in for another re-run of a movie I don't want to see. My mind wanders off the tasting course and into a betting game of whether clonal break-downs will dominate the "conversation." If my husband or non-industry friends are with me, particularly those who've tasted in other regions, I know I'm in for a post-tasting eye roll at best.
It's typical to be bombarded by this type of information without so much of a mention as to why the winery was founded or who makes the wine. I'm almost never asked what brought me to the winery, about my level of wine interest or if I've been to the property before. Nor am I asked about the styles of wine that interest me, such as a more acidic white or earthy red. This one size fits all (or none) approach misses a huge hospitality and sales opportunity.
A winery has an enormous potential to set the tone and expectations for the tasting by working through the eight questions I pose above, and creating a vision for hospitality and service. This influence over expectations can go a long way in creating enhanced experience, excitement for return visits, loyalty and increased revenue in the form of moving more boxes.
Last fall, we launched a national media study results report, and today I'd like to share our key takeaways for improving your winery's media relationships. This is of course not meant to be an exhaustive list -- it's a simple summary aimed at making measured improvements. For those who are looking to establish themselves as leaders, much more is required. However, these four tried and true methods apply to all.
1. Focus on building relationships with media on an individual basis. Learn their preferences, interests and policies. Connect personally and offer exclusives when possible. Read their work, share it and thank journalists when they cover you or your industry. You’re not in it for one vintage, and neither are they.
2. Recognize the value of sending samples. Samples are your most effective marketing tool. Put a sticker on the bottle back with price, case production and your trade webpage (you do have one, right? Fore more info see #4.). Avoid shipping in extreme weather and refer to #1 -- an individual journalist might want samples automatically upon release, per his set reviewing schedule or not at all; you have to know him to know his preferences.
3. Avoid the no-nos. Sending releases about gold medals. Following up to see if a press release was received. Blasting emails out to a group of media. Attaching preconditions to receiving samples or attending events. Repeated follow ups to see if an email was received.
4. Ensure you have the correct press materials. This is most notably a simple trade page on your website that houses your tech sheets and visual assets – logo, labels, bottle shots, property and people photography. A winery fact sheet addressing the 5 W's (who, what, when where and why) is always welcome. Be sure this fact sheet includes the full names of the owner(s) and winemaker, and that these spokespersons have up to date LinkedIn profiles, which journalists use for biographical information.
I was glad to see Merilee Anderson's Cooper Peak Logistics blog, 4 Tips for Sending Wine Media Samples, in yesterday's Wine Industry Insider newsletter. Anderson brings forward some important points about compliance and shipping logistics. Her third point, "Know their name and notification needs," highlights that wineries need to create a "rapport" with the reviewers they are seeking to influence.
In addition to finding out if the journalist accepts unsolicited samples and/ or wants ship notifications, we recommend asking about other ways to best serve each individual. Here's a quick list of other items you should know:
1. Almost everyone wants tech sheets (sans reviews from other outlets), and these need to include suggested retail price and a web link. Are there additional forms needed? And does he want them included in the shipment, emailed or in a few cases, uploaded to an FTP server with images?
2. Are there better days for her to receive wine? Preferred carriers?
3. Is one bottle sufficient or does he need multiple samples of each wine given his reviewing process?
4. Is there a preferred price point or range in which she is interested or bound by editors?
5. Is he working on a assigned story and therefore more interested in certain things such as specific varieties or wines from a specific region? Is there more information that would be helpful?
The main thing to keep in mind when working with the media is that those whose attention you most want are also usually bombarded by wine. Therefore, what you send should be both delicious and compelling.
Over the years, we've received many questions about how public relations and advertising differ. The difference between the two disciplines is not well understood within our industry, especially among wineries who have never before focused on PR.
Both PR and advertising work within media. And both can serve a winery in building its awareness to reach new audiences and increase clientele, which ultimately serves to grow the business. However, PR and advertising are very different in practice and purpose.
PR is a long-term relationship building discipline which uses storytelling (messaging development and pitching) to influence journalists to generate coverage for a winery. This coverage reflects a third party endorsement of a brand or business and can be more powerful since it was not pay-to-play in nature.
Advertising can be a long-term commitment or a short-term engagement. In either case, it's a discipline which involves supplying controlled messages which receive guaranteed placement in publications. Money changes hands in both: in PR, the relationship builder gets paid a retainer or hourly fee; and in advertising, the publication receives the media buy.
Our visual chart below provides a side-by-side comparison of the two disciplines.
Is your winery an elite status brand seated in the front of the cabin? Or in boarding group 5 headed all the way to the back for a crowded spot in the middle of row 42?
As someone who used to travel constantly for work promoting wines in markets all over the US and sometimes abroad, my seat assignment meant the difference between a productive or a cramped flight. I spent a lot of energy and time figuring out how to upgrade.
In wine public relations, your winery communication position is a lot like a seating assignment. It's a lot more comfortable in the front, and it usually takes hard work to get there.
When we are considering representing a new client, one of our first tasks is to assess where within the communications seating chart the winery is sitting. This "seat assignment" tells us where we are in the process and allows us to plan how we can most effectively create communications value for media, and ultimately, people buying wine.
Having a seat on the chart means you've already done some communications work. They key to creating communications value is of course to move to the right, gaining share of voice, press coverage and customer loyalty.
In some instances, a winery will upgrade its seat naturally over time; however, a strong public relations and communications plan can help you accelerate your movement (assuming you already have the necessary assets like excellent wine and a strong vision). They key to a quicker upgrade is ensuring that your communication encompasses the "Three C's" -- that it's compelling, consistent and constant.
We encourage you to take a few minutes to think about your position on this chart. Are you moving up? Stuck in the back in a middle row? Might the key to your upgrade hidden in one of those three C's?
In a 2015 Sonoma State University study, American Consumer Wine Preferences, authors Dr. Liz Thatch and Dr. Kathryn Chang found that price is the number one decision making factor when consumers purchase wine. No big surprise here, especially with the plethora of wines and deals available. Brand came in second at 67%. Again, not surprising since people want to trust what they buy in an ocean of choices.
What is particularly interesting to me is the big gap between price, brand and the next factors: variety and country, which came in at 36% and 35%, respectively. Appellation was a mere 20%. Brand trumps grape and place by two to three times.
The authors conclude with eight recommendations for marketers regarding selecting wine styles, focusing marketing messages on relaxation and social benefit, providing online information, achieving sales placements, promoting via regional organizations and facilitating online sales.
We agree with the recommendations and go one step further: following these steps doesn't do much good if few people have heard of your winery. In addition to marketing messages that highlight the joy of the experience, you want to share your story, both in written and visual form to entice and support the other aspects of the brand such as name and packaging. (It's quite possible that the study authors didn't include a story recommendation because it's such a basic aspect of wine marketing. Unfortunately, our experience shows that stories are often incomplete or missing entirely.)
Forming relationships with media is a terrific way to accomplish recognition for your winery and build your brand equity. In doing so, you harness the value of third party endorsement, which can be shared and turned into sales and marketing opportunity. We respectfully offer suggestion number nine.
In the wine industry, we wax on an on about vineyard spacing, clonal selection, and sustainable farming programs. Then obsess over sorting lines, punch downs, yeast selection, fermentors and barrel regimes. We are calculated, mindful, and even dogmatic when it comes to our vines and wines. But when the time comes to build a business model, particularly as it relates to the marketing and demand creation side of things, we have a very small or non-existent budget, little time and even less interest.
This is like spending two days preparing a fancy French meal with the finest fresh ingredients and serving it on paper plates with Coors Light. Or writing an impassioned love letter to the object of your affection and dropping it into a mailbox without a stamp. None of this makes sense given all of the time and financial investment required to prepare the meal, write the letter or get a wine into bottle.
A recent survey by Sonoma State University's wine business researchers found that the number one strategic challenge facing wine businesses is "managing and building customer relationships and brand awareness." And the top two skills needed to prosper in the wine industry are marketing and strategic planning. Yet there are a surprising number of wine businesses operating without that third leg of the stool, and many wondering why it's so difficult to compete.
This is a self-fulfilling prophecy I've heard hundreds of times: "we don't have a marketing budget..." This mindset is a choice, and a very telling one at that, especially given what isn't being said: "...because we don't value marketing." Until there is investment and time set aside to build that third leg, it's going to continue to be a really tough market.
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