The press can be really difficult at times -- intimidating, curse and even worse, silent, especially when you’re a novice at public relations. Ten years ago, my first phone call to a wine writer (let’s call him, “Rob”) went something like this:
Dixie: “Good morning, Rob. I’m calling from XYZ to tell you about our new wine...” (Interrupted mid-sentence.)
Rob: “Do I know you?!! Obviously not! If I did, you’d know not to call when I’m on deadline.” (Hangs up.)
As the new public relations associate for the company, I was shaken and frustrated. How was I going to generate press for my wine brand with writers hanging up on me and ignoring my emails? From a novice’s perspective, writer Rob was rude and I was just doing my job.
Now, as a seasoned PR pro who has since conducted hundreds of press meetings and exchanged thousands of phone calls and emails with journalists, I cringe when thinking of the two major public relations blunders I made within ten seconds during that call!
The good news is that communicating with the wine press, once you have command of the “do’s” and “don’ts”, is actually quite straight forward and even pleasurable, especially when your wine ends up in print! The key to doing so effectively, like in any relationship business, is to know your audience.
It takes years to build media relationships and get to the point where you’re fielding as many press calls as you’re making. In the meantime, avoiding the below mistakes will help you get started and save you time and money:
1. Calling at the wrong times or just because. In general, bad times include “writing days”, the day of or before a deadline, weekends, and late at night or early in the morning. The latter two are easier to avoid. Many writers are freelancers and your calls go to their home offices; hence the need to call during business hours. As for knowing deadline or writing days, without a personal relationship, this is more difficult, but at a minimum you can avoid calling the day before a newspaper columnist’s weekly article appears.
Having a reason for calling is as important as your timing. A good pitch has a strong angle. These are not good angles: 1) “Hi, I’m Mary and I’m passionate about Chardonnay!” Or, 2) “This is Mike ringing to tell you about our 2007 Merlot”. If you’re going to pick up the phone, you’d best be returning a phone call or at minimum have a pitch that might be of interest to the writer.
For example, you are from Pittsburgh and your wine just because available in Pennsylvania, so you reach out to Pittsburgh Tribune Review. Or, your wine proceeds benefit a special cause and you notice that Better Homes & Gardens prefers to recommend bottlings that support charitable organizations. These are just two examples, but they demonstrate that the caller has done her research and has a potential angle. Without the research and the angle, it’s best to send an email.
2. Calling to “follow up” on samples sent, or worse -- receipt of a press release. If you sent it and he hasn’t written about it, calling to follow up will almost certainly ensure that he won’t. Trust me, the writer will call you if interested -- it’s even truer with the press than with dating!
3. Addressing materials to “Dear Wine Writer”. If you don’t have a contact name, you can be sure that the publication’s receptionist will later be sharing your wine with her boyfriend. The general address on the label makes the intended recipient skeptical.
4. Including a tree’s worth of paper in a sample mailing, yet forgetting to clearly state the price. Wine writers do not have time to learn your winery’s entire history, your children and pets names, nor how you met your spouse, etc. They do want information on the price, the vineyard, the vintage, the (concise) differentiating angle or unique selling proposition that could be of interest to their readers.
5. Sending samples packed with Styrofoam. Don’t do it! Recyclables are much better for someone who receives thousands of bottles per year and likely has a separate room in the house or storage facility dedicated to receiving shipments. (Where would you store all of those Styrofoam pieces?) Furthermore, it’s seen as environmentally irresponsible.
6. Sending samples of wines that are sold out, unavailable in their market or on allocation only. There may be some wiggle room regarding allocated wines, but in general, if their readers can’t get it, they’re not going to write about it.
7. Superfluous, wordy press releases. A press release indicates that there is something new or compelling. It is concise, leads with the story angle and contains clearly stated contact information. Three pages detailing another vintage, a label tweak, or a new employee or website isn’t news.
8. Promoting your scores to the wine press. Emailing the San Francisco Chronicle to tell them that you received 93 points in the Wine Spectator doesn’t score you any points. Ditto telling the press how your wine tastes – the critique and description is the writer’s job.
9. Complaining to a writer or publication about a score with which you disagree. This is a very delicate subject; I’ve only done this for a client on two occasions and I assure you that my tone was deferential. It’s better to focus your energy on sending your wine to the appropriate writers and publications at the right time. Most publications have certain guidelines for submitting samples; some of these are on the CrushpadCommerce Wiki.
10. Letting an article on your wine brand go unnoticed. Thank you notes are a nearly extinct relationship building technique, which is precisely why you should jump at the opportunity to write one when you do get press! A simple, hand-written note is always appreciated. (Just don’t use it as an opportunity to pitch – a real thank you asks nothing of the recipient!)
Lastly, remember that most wine writers receive hundreds, if not thousands of samples per year and press releases and mailings too high to count. Even if your release or wine is a stellar work of art, the press cycle may be several months or more, especially if you’re dealing with a magazine.
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