The Evolution of Wine Public Relations and Social Media

This past June, I had the good fortune of attending the Wine Bloggers’ Conference in Walla Walla, WA. Now in its third year, this conference brings together the best and brightest from the wine blogosphere as well as many industry representatives and other gatekeeper type personalities. As a wine publicist, it was an incredible opportunity to rub elbows with my fellow colleagues, share best practices, and get to know this relatively “new” group of up and coming wine writers.  Over the course of three days, many of my long held beliefs about wine PR were turned upside down, as well as most of my public relations plan (both short and long-term) for Dry Creek Vineyard. Let me explain.

My career, thus far, in wine PR has been relatively short. Many of my experiences have been trial by fire and on the job training, which have ultimately served me well.  I can think on my feet and react quickly to challenging PR issues. However, much of what I have learned in PR could be deemed as “classic” public relations strategies. That is to say, my PR tactics have been an “if you build it, they will come” strategy.  It goes something like this: put together a solid communications plan, indentify key talking points, position spokespeople and prepare them for success, and then work the classic PR channels. When I say classic channels, I mean traditional media—primarily print along with key sommeliers and wine educators. For the most part, this has been a winning strategy. The press enjoy meeting and dining with winery owners, the story of our brand is good and most importantly, the wine is the star of the show. Wine blogging and social media have really turned this traditional approach on its head.

For starters, bloggers do not want to be talked “at.” They want to have a conversation.  In fact, they demand the conversation. That conversation trickles down not only through their blog but also to Facebook and Twitter. This is point number one of how things have changed: the conversation with a wine blogger is ongoing, while one with traditional print is usually a short-lived exchange. Don’t get me wrong, there are still relationships to develop with both the traditional media and bloggers; however, the relationships tend to be vastly different. The blogger is in constant communication whereas traditional media may only reach out when a question needs to be answered.

Secondly, the sheer volume of information that is published and made available for consumption is more vast and substantial then ever before. I can pitch a blogger a story or idea in the morning and before lunch that idea may have turned into a blog topic, posted and available for comment. This is point number two of how things have changed: the internet and blogs have created a never-ending news cycle environment in which most information is immediately posted. The days of “breaking news” and press releases have literally come to an end.

Finally, the conversation has extended to the consumer level. Wine blogs have allowed, for the first time, the consumer to enter into the dialogue about a particular wine topic. Traditionally, media never allowed their consumers to have a voice. It was a one-sided conversation. Now, through the comments section of a wine blog, consumers can learn, read, and be a part of topics that interest them. Perhaps most importantly, they can share their own opinions and experiences. This has created a two-way conversation, forever changing how information is shared and exchanged.

In summary, wine blogs have changed the landscape of how and where wine information is distributed. This has caused a rather large ripple effect in how we take our messages to market. We rarely issue a traditional press release. Rather, we take our messaging directly to the source, reaching out for individual bloggers to engage them in a conversation. We also consume vastly more information than we did previously. What I mean is, we spend a lot of time reading and commenting on other blogs. We want to know what people are writing and saying on their blog so that when it comes time to communicate, we know that the blogger’s point of view. Finally, we are much more agile and flexible with our plan. Before, we might have found ourselves stuck in the mud on messaging strategy, media training, or talking points. Now our communications are much more streamlined and refined. Our goal is to have the information and be ready to communicate at a moment’s notice. Essentially, bloggers are always plugged in and so are we.

Wine blogging and social media are here to stay. Adopting a solid plan to work with this exciting new media is both beneficial and mandatory in today’s wine PR world. Traditional media is not “dead” as has been so widely reported. Traditional media has simply morphed to meet the changing demands of the marketplace. Ultimately, knowing your audience and creating lasting relationships built on trust and confidence will be the basis of success for any well integrated communications and marketing plan.

In January 2005, Bill Smart joined Dry Creek Vineyard as Director of Communications. The combination of his enthusiasm for the wine business and solid background in public relations and marketing make Bill one of the most sought after representatives of this Sonoma County winery. When he’s not working for Dry Creek Vineyard, Bill can be found on the golf course in the summer or on the ski slopes during the winter. Along with his wife, Danielle, he enjoys cooking meals and watching movies. A resident of Healdsburg, CA, Bill is right at home in the wine country and enjoys all aspects of his life.

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