A Wine Publicist’s Vow of What He’ll Never Do

A vowAs a publicist working in Northern California in the wine trade, there are certain things I come to vow never to do. While many have to do with my trade, others have to do with the result of working in Northern California and working in the Wine Trade. Those things I vow never to do, in no particular order:

I was reminded of why I never do this when today I saw a tweet from a wine reviewer who seemed to complain about having to taste a flight of wine early in the morning. (you know who you are). I’ve never done this and never will for the simple reason that the possibility exists that the person I complain to might turn back on me and explain they had to dig a ditch or climb a pole or work retail at the holidays or assassinate a target. Tasting or drinking wine just isn’t something to complain about

Not only does opposition to wine shipping strike a highly anti-consumer tone, but working for someone that takes this position would mark me as a hypocrite in a serious way. In my early days in the Wine PR business I actually spent a good deal of time ghostwriting editorials for a client who hoped to influence lawmakers to make wine shipping illegal. At the time, I worked for an agency and not myself. Still, I long took showers when I got home at night.

This is a cowardly question to ask a writer or editor to whom you sent a wine sample because, first, I know if they got the sample—my shipment tracking service tells me, and second because it’s not the question I really have. “Did you get the sample,” is a cowards way of asking “Did you like my client’s wine” or “have you tasted my client’s wine”. Once you send out a sample to a writer or editor, your job is to wait.

As a publicist, any time my name is in the paper as a “spokesperson for XYZ Business” I’ve failed my client. Not in a terrible or unethical way, but in a fundamental way. My job is to get my client’s name in the business and facilitate communication between the media and the spokesperson or owner of the business. If I do my job well, my client will see themselves quoted and saying something that defines their product or service. Using me as a spokesperson is a last resort.

I always have and continue to be a wine publicist that believes having one’s wine rated by a reviewer or publication is an important marketing effort, resulting in important marketing tools. But when recommending to a producer client that they send wine for review, I never make a promise that their wine will be receiving a score or a review of a particular number or type. I don’t even promise their wine will be reviewed. These are things I simply have Zero control over.

And a tool of only certain value at that. The rise of social media tools for marketing has made every publicist’s and every consumer product marketer’s life more difficult. The expectation has arisen among media and consumers that business will be accessible via social media. Because millions of consumers can have an impact on your brand via social media tools, publicists and product and service marketers MUST engage via social media. MORE WORK!!  However, trying to use social media to advance a brand in serious ways isn’t likely to result in serious brand equity without serious work that might otherwise take place with other tools resulting in more useful results. So, tend to talk to clients about using social media prudently, rather than forcefully.

Perhaps this should go without saying. However, the number of times I’ve heard employees or contractors say negative things about their employers or clients is too high to count. The way I see it, if I’m being paid to work for a business or paid to provide services to a business, I’m obligated to, at least, do nothing to harm thier interests and, at most, do everything to advance their interests. This is true if the owner is the the biggest asshole to ever walk the earth.

I made this vow a long time ago. The cost of living in Napa and Sonoma is outrageous. But it’s outrageous for a reason. I will play golf a number of times in January, February and March. They won’t start to paly in Michigan until May. And that’s just a commentary on the weather. It’s a personal thing, but until I am forced to, I simply will not leave this little piece of heaven where I’ve been privileged to work for 20 years. That said, a salary of a particular size WOULD constitute “being forced” to leave.

16 Responses

  1. Doug Wilder - December 13, 2011

    It was hardly a complaint about tasting wines this morning, Tom. I regularly leave a flight of wines overnight to see how they develop. In this case, not much changed. Thanks for mentioning my tweet, though 😉

  2. Tom Wark - December 13, 2011

    Hey Doug….I actually wasn’t referring to you. But I can’t imagine you complaining about tasting anything.

  3. Joel - December 13, 2011

    Feel free to come and play golf with us in late March in Michigan, Tom. Just be sure to bring your long johns.

  4. Steve Heimoff - December 13, 2011

    Amen to #3. “Hi, just calling to see if you got the wine.” Happens 2, 3 times a day.

  5. 1WineDude - December 14, 2011

    #3 FTW!!! My Inbox is SPAMmed with those – I’m now simply deleting them rather than repsonding, which feels rude but not sure there’s any other way to deal with them at this point :(.

  6. Jeff - December 14, 2011

    Ironically enough, if I had a salary of a particular size I WOULD be leaving for Sonoma.
    The Midwest has a lot of things going for it — wine culture and weather are not a part of that equation.

  7. Rusty Eddy - December 14, 2011

    I hope all of the in-house winery PR people are listening, as well.

  8. harvey posert - December 14, 2011

    tom —
    re #7: the basic rule with media is honesty, and if there are negatives it’s unprofessional to deny them. another aspect of this is that writers are looking for tension in the story, and a little negative might vitiate a bigger one!

  9. Tom Wark - December 14, 2011

    Harvey, with #7 I’m primarily thinking about the occasion when you hear a PR rep diss their client in private: “My client is SO pig headed”….I’ve heard such thing on numerous occasions from Reps.
    That said, if a client ships a serious flawed wine and a writer calls me to ask about it and we all know it’s clearly flawed, for example, this is not something I’d deny.

  10. Tom Wark - December 14, 2011

    Here’s the thing about calling a writer and asking if they got a sample: If I DON’T know if the writer received the sample, my client really ought to reconsider their relationship with me.

  11. Carolyn Blakeslee - December 15, 2011

    About #3: I log in every shipment and promptly notify the publicist/marketing person/winemaker (whoever has been in contact with me) that their wine(s) arrived safely.
    In that email notification, I also tell them we will leave the wines alone for awhile to settle, then will get to “work” on sampling/reviewing, and will send them a link to the post if/when it’s published. It doesn’t take that much effort, prevents phone calls and anxiety, and generates appreciation.
    If I ever become overwhelmed by doing this, I’ll bring on a 21-year-old college intern! … like, one of my kids! 🙂

  12. Michael Wangbickler - December 15, 2011

    Well stated, as usual Tom. This should be required reading for any wine publicist.
    BTW, Joe, did you get the wine I sent you? 😉

  13. winebroad - December 15, 2011

    Numbers 1 and 3 are my favorites!

  14. Hoke Harden - December 15, 2011

    An admirable list and well said.
    One nit I will pick—and rather far off the path, but what the hell. You say: “work retail at the holidays” as if that was a terrible thing. You likely mean those oft desperate temps, I guess (giving you an out), but when I was in retail I relished the holidays, because a job worth doing is worth doing enthusiastically and to the best of your abilities, and retail during the holidays was the best test and measure of that. If you are in the business of dealing with customers, what could be better than having more customers more of the time?

  15. Alice Weiss - December 19, 2011

    This is hard to do but with determination and correct mind set he can make it. Hope to read the success of this post.
    How to Start a Small Business

  16. Fred Minnick - December 22, 2011

    I am thinking about putting this in my signature box. As a writer, I love my job and feel so fortunate to earn money writing about wine and spirits. But, I also feel fortunate that most wine PR pros are good at their job. As you know, I write about other industries and wish other industries followed a code similar to wine PR. I don’t get a lot of “did you receive that sample?” But, I get a lot of forwarded press releases from other industries that go something like this: “Fred, I just wanted to make sure you received this press release I sent yesterday, the day before and three months ago.” If I don’t reply to that email, I’ll get phone calls, even letters until the PR shop is fired by the client.
    I think all and all wine PR pros are the best in the business. There are some bad ones, but they typically don’t last long.
    Keep up the good work!

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