I've been thinking a lot lately about the length of a PR pitch. Some happen pretty quickly -- for example, Harvey Steiman posted to his blog on WineSpectator.com about Tony Rynders' involvement with Swiftwater Cellars within a week of my first call to him. In most cases, however, it takes a lot more time. The NJ Monthly story on Think Tank Wine Company ran this week seven months after the initial pitch, and this is more the norm. (I've had them take over a year!) Of course, the two situations and pitches were very different -- first featured a very known winemaker and a winery groundbreaking; the second a new micro boutique winery.
What is similar about the two results above is that they both started with a strategic focus including research, a plan and communication tactics. When wine industry owners and operators consider public relations, they most often think about the brands that have generated the most media "buzz". I frequently receive inquiries from my wine marketing students and potential clients asking me how they can best go about generating buzz. Some postulate that it's only possible if you "pay the big ad bucks" or have "Parkerized wines". Others liken it to some sort of magic that a brand either does or doesn't possess or avoid it all together thinking it's just too overwhelming or happens by chance.
The truth is that great PR is none of the above. It can't be boiled down to one action and it certainly doesn't work if you don't have the most important ingredient: wines (or any other product for that matter) that over deliver on the PPQ. Sure, sometimes a winery gets noticed or gets lucky, but more often those which excel in PR over time have a strategy.
Let's consider a standard definition of public relations: “The practice of managing the flow of information between an organization and its key publics.” This definition is much broader than buzz, which is essentially talk or an amount of communication surrounding a brand. (It's worth noting that media relations is a sub-set of PR.)
PR is about telling a consistent and compelling story and long-term relationship building. It is an ongoing management function involving research, planning, communication and evaluation. PR necessitates communication with all key winery stakeholders -- employees, consumers (and potential consumers), trade customers, media, shareholders and owners.
The research phase involves gaining a sense of winery perception by interviewing and surveying the aforementioned key stakeholders. This is also a good time to gain an understanding of the winery's competitive set and conduct a SWOT analysis to identify internal strengths and weaknesses and external industry and marketplace opportunities and threats. Is the brand valued? If so, for what? How high is awareness? What is the overall winery image? Is the story compelling and consistent? If there are problems is it due to lack of awareness? True issues? Poorly handled mistakes? Are they problems in communication, pricing/promotional strategy or in winemaking?
The planning phase is about bringing the winery's compelling story to the publics. In addition to the media, there are other ways to do so via advertising, events, hospitality, social media, e-newsletters, market visits, etc. A proper plan starts with the goals and then identifies specific tactics (and persons responsible for implementing them) for achieving those goals. It also provides for success metrics which will be discussed later in the post.
The third phase, communication and implementation, is providing talking points and messaging for all who are involved in telling the winery's story. Wineries with distribution need to remember that distributor sales reps are also story tellers. Those with tasting rooms must not forget that those behind the bar are critical communicators at the consumer level. (I was just two weekends ago at a winery where the two tasting room employees spent most of their time chatting with friends and regulars at the other end of the bar and ignoring my husband and me. The lack of hospitality irked me so much that I had my students discuss tasting room experiences and do's and don'ts. Next post in hospitality!)
This is also where the relationship building process enters the program. Thinking about conversations with media and other stakeholders as steps to a longer-term relationship that will deliver value over time is recommended.
The final phase, the one most wineries are "too busy" to complete, is evaluation. Without an understanding of what components of the plan provided the most return on investment, a winery is not operating efficiently as it will not know the difference between successful and less worthy tactics and costs associated. Implementing kaizen -- a management technique focusing on continuous conscious improvement which stems from Japanese philosophy, is a best practice for PR and general business operations.
Only with a strategic and long-term relationship building focus can a winery truly excel at PR and generating that magical "buzz".