I think Chris Sawyer was perhaps my favorite speaker at the Unified Wine and Grape Symposium last month. According to Chris, “I do everything in the wine industry but make wine.” His Twitter profile description describes himself “As a sommelier, journalist, consultant, wine critic, public speaker & professional wine judge, I travel the world following trends in wine.” When we ran into each other later in the evening he said about his presentation that he just wanted to tell everyone how to have an authentic relationship with the wine journalists.
It helps coming straight from the horses mouth. I worked as a journalist in mainstream media and got to see all the sad and ill attempts at getting press coverage via press releases. It was like they just did’t know the basic foundation of communication of knowing your audience and asking yourself before you speak, “What is in it for them?” Meaning what is in it for the journalist to cover your story? Understand that journalists have “beats” even for niche topics as wine. “Beats” are the exact type of news the journalist covers. In newspaper, there is an “education,” “crime” and “health” beats. For wine journalists, think of it as what type of wine news they cover. Chris explained this in his presentation in terms of finding out what the journalist is interested in. Do they often write about PH, Pinot Noir, etc.? What is their obsession? Angle your pitch so it appeals to that particular journalist’s interests, explained Chris. This means following their blog and reading them regularly.
Show the journalists that you are as interested in their content as you are in your pitch. Comment on their online articles. Share their articles via Twitter and Tweet them directly to let them know you are a fan.
Chris had an interesting idea – if you are releasing a new rosé, make it a regional pitch and involve your winery neighbors in the press coverage. Remember make the pitch to journalists who care about your region or rosé.
Even though you hosted the journalist or sent wine, don’t abandon a journalist or media outlet just because you haven’t seen the media coverage yet. They might be backed up with other stories. Stay in touch and understand it is a long term relationship.
Chris said he hates last minute invites to events. It says “You were our second choice” and that you are merely filling someone else’s seat. It sends a negative message as opposed to a positive message.
The #1 pet peeve for Chris, a winery website that doesn’t include sufficient notes on each vintage. I see this over and over again myself with our winery website redesign services. If the sommelier or journalist needs to know the details of the vintage, they should be able to easily find them by going to the website and viewing the product pages or trade materials. Chris says the more pictures the better, remember they need them for their articles.
And for goodness sake, have the PR person from your winery identified on your website’s “contact us”page. Chris says he calls the main number sometimes when the media contact person isn’t listed, and even the people on the phone don’t know who handles media relations. This is all so important because writers are working on deadlines, the wineries that are most available and accommodating will likely get more press coverage because they are viewed as good sources for stories. That’s what is in it for the journalists: timeliness, relevant information and a damn good story if they can get some good quotes.
And if you get covered in the media, Chris says, thank them with a hand written note, don’t expect the journalist to see that you shared the article on your Facebook page. They have other things to do, remember? They are always on deadline.