Creativity in Wine PR

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 07-17-2014

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Complexity New Zealand’s Grapes on a Train

Scrolling through the inbox of a wine writer would be an enlightening experience for most wine industry PR professionals. A quick perusal would reveal that the standard PR toolkit relies on the following common tactics:

- press releases (yawn)
- requests to send samples
- invitations to large, walk-around tastings
- invitations to seminars, often called “master classes”
- invitations to dinners or lunches, sometimes with winemakers
- invitations to press trips

It’s hard for a message to stand out when every producer or trade group wants their press release shared, their “master class” filled, or their wines reviewed. So, what can PR do to make their efforts more memorable and effective?

I can think of two recent programs that have been particularly creative.

The first one was crazy and random. However, I still find myself talking to other attendees about it. Complexity New Zealand organized an event called “Grapes on a Train,” where a group of press and trade attendees took a scenic, 10-hour train ride to Montreal via the historic Adirondack train from Penn Station. Six winemakers joined us from New Zealand – Matt Dicey of Mt Difficulty Wines, Brett Bermingham of Nautilus Estate, Ben Glover of Mud House Wines, Nick Picone of Villa Maria, Tim Health of Cloudy Bay, and Rudi Bauer of Quartz Reef.

On board, we were handed wooden trays with stemless glasses (new ones for each seminar – I can’t imagine the logistics that went into organizing this event on a moving train). Attendees were then ushered through four seminars, which highlighted the variety and quality of New Zealand wines.

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The event was brilliant in that it held a group of busy, easily-distracted writers and somms captive for the entire day. And it got all of us talking. Why had we all agreed to do this? Why were a bunch of New Zealand winemakers going to French Canadian Montreal? How did they get the budget to pull this off, including accommodations for the night in Montreal and flights back to New York in the morning?

It didn’t make sense. But somehow, it worked. The execution was flawless.

The second PR event that stands out was the Rhône Poetry Slam, hosted by Rhône Valley Wines. While I’ve seen wine paired with music and art, I had never experienced wine paired with poetry.

RhonePoetryAt the dinner, held at The Library at The Public Theater in New York, two poets created and recited pieces inspired by the Rhône Valley. Walking into the event, I was beyond skeptical, thinking it was going to be some sort of awkward, forced, and cheesy performance. But it worked. The poets crafted thoughtful poems, laced with beautiful language and analogy, and delivered them with a certain sensuality and emotional pull that went far beyond tasting notes or seminar lectures. It was fun. It was memorable. It reminded me why I love wine. And the selections highlighted the versatile range of the Rhône.

So, my challenge for PR folks (myself included — in addition to writing for Terroirist, I work as a communications manager at Banfi Wines) is to continue to think creatively, not just for the sake of creativity, but in a way that aligns to your products, unique priorities, and audience.

To leave you with some inspiration, I asked Madeline Puckette of Wine Folly and Terroirist’s David White for a few of their favorite, creative PR programs. See below for more examples:

“I love the Best Case Scenario project from Watershed Communications. About a year ago, I received an email saying, ‘Hey, everyone knows about Oregon Pinot, but no one knows about Oregon Riesling. Want a mixed case of the best stuff?’ It was eye-opening. They just did the same thing with Oregon chardonnay, and I’m pumped to try the wines.” – David W.

“Article marketing, such as this cool set of comics published on BuzzFeed.” (with images by Wine Folly!) – Madeline P.

With small wineries, I’m always impressed when they closely follow brand mentions across social media — Twitter and Facebook, of course, but also CellarTracker and WineBerserkers. I’ve noticed several wineries (e.g., Peay, Rivers-Marie, others) jump in and offer to replace flawed bottles. The goes a long way in client relationships.” – David W.

“The wine business partnering with the start-up scene seems really clever. An example is 33 entrepreneurs.” – Madeline P.

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