Controversial Promoter Says Marketers and Media Are Hurting Wine
“Would you buy a product that has not worked? Would you import a wine
that has a fault? Would you adopt a strategy that had lead to defeat?
This is exactly what is starting to happen with most of the marketing
efforts and the approach to promoting wine in countries such as China,
Hong Kong, Brazil, Russia and even in the United States.”
Thus begins a rather intriguing and thought provoking broadside by marketer Pancho Campo. Best known recently as one of the players in a controversy involving the Wine Advocate and its Spanish reviewer Jay Miller, Campo recently took to his own blog to describe the well-evolved practice of trade tastings by wineries, importers and trade associations as useless wastes of time and money as well as taking on the wine industry’s relationship with wine writers:
“Wine marketing and promotion has always relied on guided tastings
directed to the trade and media, coverage in specialized media, ratings
and wine fairs. These strategies no longer work! The statistics are
there to demonstrate this point and anyone who does not admit these
facts is either in denial or has a hidden agenda. Guided tastings
conducted by winery representatives or wine critics are a strategy that
is clearly failing to increase consumption and boost sales.”
Among his most prominent points is Campo’s claim that most trade tastings are attended by members of the trade and media who pay nothing for the privilege and are invited to numerous such tastings in the larger American, European and Asian cities. The result, he claims, is that those who do attend aren’t buyers and the writers are as likely to move on to the next tasting as they are to write about the wines presented at these tastings in some small, obscure trade journal that only connoisseurs and other members of the trade will read.
Campo is absolutely correct about the long time reliance on trade tastings to attract attention to wines and brands. It is an old and established practice. Anyone who has been in the business of marketing wine for any amount of time has probably been involved in organizing such tastings. Furthermore, he’s right to raise the issue of “does it work” and “is it worth it”.
Answering that question surely depends on the goals that motivate the practice of introducing wines to the trade via tasting events. And Campo seems to understand this:
“They should be conducted in the right occasions, for the correct
audience and managed by people who are experts in events, not
winemakers, writers of bloggers.”
Unfortunately, he doesn’t offer examples of the kind of occasions and audiences that would benefit from the standard trade tasting, but merely suggest they no longer work. So, allow me.
If a brand or association of wines is seeking to get attention from those that sell the wines (retailers and restaurants) then it’s a good idea to give these folks a chance to taste the wines. In fact, it’s not a bad idea to give them background on the wines and even suggest the kind of consumers most likely to appreciate the wines in question. How best to do this? There are three ways:
1. Send your target audience wine and info via mail
2. Send a distributor rep into the retail shop or restaurant to give tastings and info
3. Get the trade in a room and give deliver a tasting of the wines in question.
While there are reasons why you might want to go with route number 1 or 2, I’d suggest that these options are far more limiting in their effectiveness than #3. Options #1 and #2 don’t allow for comprehensive tastings of multiple vintages. They don’t allow for interaction between retailers and restaurateurs on one hand and the brand owner/winery owners/winemakers/viticulturalist/marketers on the other hand. And, #1 and #2 don’t heighten the opportunity to focus attention on the wines like a good trade tasting will do. Trade tastings are in fact very often a good thing that dellivers a message very efficiently.
The media issue is another question. In the same article, Campo dismisses the value of providing wine writers with complimentary entry and access to trade tastings, wine fairs,wine regions and wineries
“If I pay for your expenses and sometimes fees, to attend our events then
you are working for me. If they are true professionals they should not
demand hospitality and the “red carpet” treatment to cover an event or
attend a fair. Inviting writers and critics to visit regions or wineries
is another way to throw away money. This only works if the publication
that wants to write about you has a considerable circulation and
thousands of people follow it.”
At this point, it needs to be fairly noted that, despite some confusion due to him not being completely clear in his writing, Campo appears to be evaluating the efficacy of inviting media to events and using trade tastings with the trade on the basis of whether or not such activities increase consumption primarily in Europe and emerging markets, but also in the United States. it also needs to be noted that, again despite some lack of clarity, Campo is evaluating these types of events and activities in terms of how much of an organization’s budget they justify.
Given those caveats, I think it’s fair to say that Mr. Campo’s view of the media is somewhat off base. The number of wine writers able to pay their way to the number of events they currently go to as invited guests is rather small. In fact, the number of media covering any industry that can afford to pay their own ways to events where they will learn a great deal is rather small. Still, he is right that it requires one to evaluate the cost of inviting media to an event versus the intended outcome.
Campo is wrong when he says that if an organization pays the way for the media, then they are working for him. I have to wonder what he has asked of the media for whom his promotional company has paid the way. I have a feeling that Mr. Campo may be bitter over the fact that in such circumstances the media who he has invited to wine events haven’t written or reported what he wanted to see written or reported. I can think of no other explanation for his bitter tone. In other words, he’s discovered but hasn’t come to grips with the fact that despite allowing complimentary entrance into events, media are working only for themselves and their publications, not for him.
Any publicist or marketing professional that believes they are owed good coverage from a writer or reporter who is invited to an event free of charge needs to be educated before they do themselves or others harm.
That said, Campo’s point about working instead to invite media with a large audience to the event rather than wine writers with a smaller more cliquish audience is a good one. Too often it’s easy to focus on working to bring the obvious wine folks to a wine-related event and there is much to gain by attracting members of the general media to an event and drawing back the curtain, as it were. But it’s not easy to accomplish and, it should be remembered, there is always the greater chance that a novice in the realm of wine is far more likely to get things wrong and highlight something as a negative that would never occur to a wine writer steeped in the business as being a negative.
If Campo is really speaking here about how various events and practices need to attract a broader audience that leads to increased consumption, he may not be completely off the mark. And I do think that is his point, despite his rant against trade tastings and media involvement.
In another post on his website in which he invites “some assholes” to “go screw themselves”, also recently published, Campo wrote this:
“We believe that organizing tastings, product presentations, trade fairs,
competitions and events the way they have been organized for decades is
a major factor for the decrease in consumption in Europe and has
contributed to the lack of interest in wine from the younger
This can’t possibly be true and that is why he makes no effort to back up this proposition. Still, it appears to be the governing idea behind his claims that trade tastings and media involvement is a useless practice. In those European countries where consumption of wine is down there is far more at work to influence a decline in interest in wine than the continued practice of organizing trade fairs and trade tastings. Cultural and demographic issues play a key role. But these marketing practices have no kind of “major impact”.
After the damage to his reputation due to the recent affaire, Campo still has many supporters and friends in the wine industry in Europe and Asia. He’s clearly a very competent marketer and promoter. But this particular rant is all wrong. More importantly, his claims are backed up by nothing. No statistics and very few useful anecdotal observations.
Marketers and publicists like myself ought to evaluate the effectiveness of their tools on a regular basis to determine if they are getting the job done. But before we throw various practices and tools overboard, it would be a good idea to evaluate those tools and practices with an eye toward reality unstained by bitter personal experience.