In Defense of the Wine Press Release

Pr1 If there are universal truths that pertain to most people's view of wine (or most other industries') marketing tools, the following comment likely sums up one of them:

"I personally do not like reading a rewritten press release just as much
as I dislike reading them as is."

The disdain most people express for the press release is only slightly less than the expression of disdain many people offer for the "PR Flack" or "hired gun" or, as I like to call them, "Communication Professionals".

Believe it or not, the wine industry does not rely on nearly as many PR Flacks as other industries do. The entertainment, high tech, fashion and political industries rely on them in far greater number. But the fact remains that the "Press Release" continues as a standard tool in any wine marketers tool box.

I'm here to suggest that wine communications, be it journalism, criticism, blogging or publishing, would be thrown back on its heels and practically dismantled were the press release to go away.

First, a defense of the press release as a vital business and community service tool.

As a tool for wine businesses, the press release remains vital for communicating the happenings at a company. Sure, there is Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIN as tools for communicating. But who is to say that these communities include the people that a wine company wants to communicate with. A press release tends usually to be targeted to journalists, writers and news sources that have a readership that is MOST LIKELY to want or need the kind of news in a press release. Until someone can show me a more effective tool for getting a piece of information out to these folks, I'm sticking with the traditional press release.

Second, though folks may not like reading press releases, it is a fact that vital information these discriminating readers need would likely never get to them were there no press releases. Though some journalists and writers and bloggers training an eye on wine might regularly dig for information by making calls and inquiries, these folks are few and far between. And do you know why? Because it's hard God damned work to be constantly ferreting out information on what companies are doing what, who is hiring who, who has implemented new green technologies, who has revamped their product line, who has gotten involved in supporting which industries, who has adopted which form of competing new technologies, who has bought which other company, who has finished a study on consumer habits.

The press release doesn't supplant the work of digging, but rather they act as road signs for writers, helping them determine which path to take as they seek to inform their readers of what's happening in a particular field or industry.

Now, I'll grant that the press release tends to be somewhat dry in its content. But isn't that what is wanted. I approach every press release I write as a news story, using the inverted pyramid style as my model. Everything I want my readers to see is in the lead. Everything after that is explanatory. I try not to dress it up with flowery or superfluous language, yet I also know that this is a business/promotional communication that sheds the best light on the client and their business. And most PR Flacks I know do the same thing. So, if folks don't like to read press releases, I have to assume they don't because they tend to be somewhat bland, straightforward and event dry. And for the most part, this is how they should be.

The fact of the matter is that consumers of wine information, wine writers, wine journalists, critics of wine and wine bloggers ought to get down on their knees and thank Bacchus for the continued existence of press releases sent out by PR Flacks like me as Marketing Directors at wine companies. Without them it would be extraordinarily difficult to educate themselves on the regular churnings, changes and evolutions inside the wine industry.

Finally, I'm not going to suggest that the press release and its distribution is always carried out with care and perfectly executed. And the fact that they are not is entirely the fault of those who issue press releases. And I could spend another 10 paragraphs outlining the various ways by which the press release is misused, abused, poorly distributed, poorly written and generally a mockery of good business practices.

But I'm not going to because this is a defense of the press release, not an indictment.

One more thing. Gary V., God Love him and his, is wrong.

13 Responses

  1. Lewis Perdue - July 31, 2009

    The well-written press release should be indistinguishable from a well-written news story.
    The fact that this is not always the case is 99% due to clueless clients who feel that packing twelve gallons of marketing crap into a one-quart news story is good practice.
    Yes, news releases are invaluable, but those filled with self-congratulatory marketing BS and meaningless superlatives are the major source of nausea and the reason that these are an ineffective waste of the client’s money … yeah, they pay the piper anmd call the tune … and all too often shoot themselves in both feet with a .12 gauge.

  2. Tish - July 31, 2009

    You’re basically right, Tom. At least from my standpoint as one who used to get press releases by snail mail and sort them by topic (making them pretty easy to toss later).
    The real trick is the quality of the information, which had better be presented immediately in the headline and first graph.
    I watched Gary’s video, and think he does viewers a dissservice by not even expalining the purpose of press releases. It’s really no more or less than a way of saying “This is something we are doing that may be important to you and your readers.” Whether he wants to call that notion “a story” is fine, and there is no reason why a “press release” can’t have the clout/cachet of Gary’s proverbial big, fat, Italian uncle.
    Speaking of big fat Italians, I got a press release just the other day about the new Sopranos wine, which I kept in my in box because I may want to use it.
    In the end, it all circles back to communication. Just make it efficient. Duh.

  3. Tim Keller - July 31, 2009

    While GV has a point, it’s the extremeness of his position that makes him wrong. – and he is confusing strategy with tactics.
    Telling a story… Right. But a good press release will hint (dryly) that there is a story to be told by the targeted media.
    Confusing the need to tell a story with the social media tactics of high engagement, twitter, relationships. etc. That is the error. A press release is part of the toolkit alongside those other things – not the antithesis of them.

  4. Jim Caudill - July 31, 2009

    Gary should see what we do: press releases starting conversations, telling stories and being used widely as a jumping off point for even better story telling. But then, he may be seeing press releases that real pros would never send, full of fluff and useless information, self-aggrandizement, and placed with the wrong people. That’s why you hire pros if you want things to work right. Like everything else, it’s just one arrow in the quiver, not the whole set of tools. Gary will get what is essentially a press release done in video, and if it’s done well, he’ll praise it, and use it. The basics still matter.

  5. kelkeagy - July 31, 2009

    One thing is for sure. Writing them is no more fun than reading them! What bugs me more is the trend toward bagging on winery PR professionals. I know a lot of them and for the most part they (we) are some of the nicest, most genuine and fun people around. You’ll never hear a journalist who ignored his/her deadline (and now needs that graphic immediately) complain about the PR team!
    Lighten up people… it’s wine, not brain surgery.

  6. Jack - Helpful as Always - July 31, 2009

    “As a tool for wine businesses,the press release remains vital for communicating the happenings at a company.” – Wishful thinking, I think – and I so disagree. I’m afraid in Gary V’s camp; they’ve long outlived their usefulness.
    In my mind, and I’m hardly the only one who thinks this, Press Releases are simply junk mail/spam. I repeat, Press Releases are simply junk mail/spam. 2009 Earth to Tom, Come In Please?! 🙂

  7. Shana Ray - July 31, 2009

    Great post. Though, I may not like writing or reading press releases, I do agree that they have their place. Just as I said in a recent comment on another blog, the internet has allowed us to personalize the way we get information and given us more choices of what we read. And that is the way we like it.
    I think that the way people want to receive press releases has changed. PR people cannot just send out a blanket release through email (or as part of a paper press kit) and expect something to happen.
    But there are still those people that like getting their information that way.
    What the internet has done for PR people has made it easier to access some members of the media, blurred the line of communication and created new challenges (and opportunities) of how to personalize the message.
    Public Relations 2.0 (blogs, twitter, facebook, etc), event planning, traditional press releases, simple phone calls and meeting in real life are still all a part of the mix. By discounting any of them you risk not getting your original message (the story the release is about) to the public.
    Thanks for linking the video of Gary, while I agree with him that it is about creating a story… To discredit press releases is just as absurd as to discredit bloggers IMHO.

  8. Tom Wark - July 31, 2009

    I hear you. And I feel your pain. But I’m pretty sure a case can be made for using the press release as a way of informing today’s media that an business event of some sort has occurred. In fact, I’m willing to bet that a great number of writers and media will say the same.
    Now, I do understand how some, depending on how they write and what they write, simply would not need press releases.

  9. jane - July 31, 2009

    Could NOT do my job without them. Glad they’re mostly emails now, so the fluffy ones can be deleted without killing any trees. Use them for virtually all of our news briefs, as a starting place for online Headlines and print news section, as inspiration and sources for future features.
    As to wine PR pros: the best, and keikeagy is right, you won’t hear me complain about them.They do provide us with most of the art for the pretty pages of our glossy trade mag, not to mention arranging timely interviews when asked.
    At every wine industry event I attend, I hand out stacks of business cards and encourage all I meet to feed me their news.
    I read Tom’s blog and a few others; get Google alerts and read many online publications/news services. Pick up the odd tidbit, but the meat for this newshound comes in press releases. Keep it coming, all you pros (including you, Big Jim).

  10. Thomas Pellechia - July 31, 2009

    Press releases are fine, as long as they are newsworthy (and written well).
    But the number of releases I get that are newsworthy (and written well) is far fewer than the number that need my attention.
    The weekend getaway event is not newsworthy; it’s advertising.

  11. Richard Beaudin - August 1, 2009

    Tend to agree Tom: PRs are simply one of the tools any company (including those in the wine business) use to inform. For instance, I would think a well written press release would work better for information targeted to investors, where this focus would not be of interest to Twitter followers or Facebook fans. Simply part of the marketing mix.

  12. Morton Leslie - August 1, 2009

    “The well-written press release should be indistinguishable from a well-written news story.” L.Perdue
    That really says it all. Maybe things have changed, but less than a decade ago when emailed press releases became common they were well received. Wineries commonly would send out pdf’s thinking a “portable document file” would be useful. But, they discovered quickly that a more easily “editable” form was far more effective.
    I was once shown by an applicant in a job interview, a press release the applicant had written and a subsequent article in the NYT. One paragraph of original content, the rest was cut and paste from the release.

  13. Stuart George - August 13, 2009

    Richard Beaudin is right…Too much of what passes for wine (or any other) writing is simply a lazy hack cutting and pasting a press release. That is not journalism.
    Admittedly, PRs can be useful sources of information, images and contacts. But I think people should be more concerned about the increasingly blurred boundaries between PR and journalism. Do we really want to read undiluted PR rather than properly investigated and written articles?

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