Controversial Promoter Says Marketers and Media Are Hurting Wine

Pancho_campo“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.

20 Responses

  1. Winelush - August 22, 2012

    Interesting, those same wine critics are the ones that helped him get that Master of Wine he had to resign. He’s just still trying to make some justification or qualification of getting caught. I think he thinks everyone has the pockets of Parker or Robinson, he only affiliated himself with that level of critic.

  2. Marcia M - August 22, 2012

    Talking about biting the hand that feeds you, etc. How can he possibly expect people to do business with him after that???

  3. Per-BKWine - August 22, 2012

    I thought he’d left the wine scene….

  4. Leo McCloskey - August 22, 2012

    SPANIARDS & 100-POINT SCORES: As far as I can tell, Spain’s best public relations man might be Pancho Campo (MW and frontman for ‘Wine Academy of Spain’ which hosts the likes of the UN’s Kofi Annan) who is accused of . . . coordinating with Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. That’s exactly what winemakers ask their public relations function to do? So when Decanter says, ‘According to a storm of controversy, with bloggers – most notably Decanter writer Jim Budd on his Jim’s Loire blog – alleging that the Wine Academy has effectively been charging Spanish wineries for access to Miller’ it sounds like the pot calling the kettle . . .

  5. Wine Harlots - August 22, 2012

    April Fools?
    Pancho Campo, the wine shake-down artist of the year, talking about the lack of value of press trips? Why are we even listening? For guy who gave up his MW due to financial chicanery, it’s absurd to even entertain his half-baked theories on how to “save” the wine industry.
    Nannette Eaton

  6. W. Blake Gray - August 23, 2012

    Tom, I’ve been reading you for a while, and I really question your judgment in giving your well-read blog as a forum to this man’s views.
    I don’t mean to personally insult you. But I think you have made a large mistake with this post.

  7. Tom Wark - August 23, 2012

    You need to do better than question my judgement to insult me. I appreciate your comments.
    That said, in general the question of whether trade tastings and media engagement works well for wine marketers is a very legitimate question. This is unquestionable. And you don’t see it brought up that often. So, for this, Mr. Campo can be appreciated.
    However, as I note in the piece, he got it wrong. I also note a tinge of bitterness in his analysis. We all can understand why that might be.
    I make my blog a forum for many persons’ and entities’ views. Read my most recent post, for example. However, I do try to take the time to evaluate those views from my own perspective, which is what happened here.
    Congrats, by the way!!!

  8. W. Blake Gray - August 23, 2012

    Tom: Here’s the problem — if Campo has a legitimate point of view, he delegitimizes it through his support of it.
    If you, Tom Wark, want to raise these issues, you have enough weight to do it yourself.
    Re congrats: Thanks.

  9. Tom Wark - August 23, 2012

    I hear you. And I understand your perspective and its origin. I believe in the potential for redemption in most cases. If that potential didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have the life I do.
    That said, I did not think to raise these issues. Mr. Campo did. And his thoughts made me think about them. That I appreciate. However, it’s clear that he needs to think about them more deeply.

  10. Alan Goldfarb - August 23, 2012

    Forget this out-of-touch clown Campo; my comments are aimed at the wine producers and/or their publicists:
    Here’s a dirty little secret that has been festering around the edges of the industry forever — it’s my experienced observation that it is true that a majority of so-called “media” coming to these trade tastings, for years, haven’t written word-one about those tastings. They are free-loaders, and the industry has long known of them.
    But the onus is on the industry because it does not take the time or energy needed to properly vett those media members they constantly invite to their events.
    While I — as a wine journalist — do not write about every event I’ve ever attended, I in turn never attend an event that I believe I cannot take something away.
    A vast majority of times, I have written about wines from those events (perhaps not Campo’s wines, but others) from which I’ve accepted an invitation. If I choose not to write about said wines, for whatever reason, at worst, I’m educating myself about those wines or that region or that vintage; at best, I might come back sometime in the future and write about them. (The latter is called “background” in my business.)
    Most vintners never, ever have the vision or the patience to wait for something to be written about their wines. The publishing process, especially as it pertains to traditional media, takes an inordinate amount of time to materialize. Vintners must understand that what they invest as it pertains to opening themselves to the media, is not only dollars, but to brand and consciousness building of their wines. The process is not unlike waiting for your new vineyard to come in and/or your wines to age.
    Perhaps we in the media — those very souls who are in the communications biz — need to better educate their subjects about the business of communications. In turn, those in the wine biz — including the marketers and publicists — need to do a better job educating their winery clients; as well as screening those so-called media members who they continue to invite to their events, who never write about their wines.
    Other than that, I have no opinion.

  11. Tom Wark - August 23, 2012

    Well put. I don’t think I can add anything to that. Thank you.

  12. Thomas Pellechia - August 23, 2012

    I think that your blog should be written about subjects that interest only me and in a way that only I can appreciate.
    get with the program.

  13. Tom Wark - August 23, 2012

    I’m on it! In fact, a redesign of this blog and a new URL is coming and I’ve based it all on what I think you personally will prefer. : )

  14. Andrewjhealy - August 23, 2012

    I didn’t know Pancho’s history until I googled him. Turns out he has with own Wikipedia reference –

  15. Tim - August 23, 2012

    Well well well…maybe in Campo’s particular case MW is an acronym for Master Wrong. Great read Mr Wark and I tend to agree with Alan the opinionator…great to hear about your web makeover. Cheers!

  16. Thomas Pellechia - August 23, 2012

    Thank you, Tom. Now I can read in peace while everyone else tries to monetize their inanities 😉

  17. Mark Buckley - August 23, 2012

    Tom, I think your article is well written and brings up good points, but I think Pancho has lost all credibility and rightfully so. Others attached (or detached) at this point should also loose credibility and we all know who we are talking about… The gatekeepers that keep the distributors, restaurants and hotels as their customers. Ratings, Ratings, Ratings are for sale! I get this question from Sales Reps every week. How many 90+ point scores do we have on this wine?? Uhh… well we sent samples, we gave them to PR agencies and I’m not sure why we haven’t heard back. Overheard in the background… yeah… they don’t have time to review or taste your wine.. They are too busy taking inventory of who gets which wine and how many cases each do we get to put in our private cellars?… I’m not far off on this analysis. It’s time for Restaurants, Retailers, Hotels and Sales people to be “Educated” by us, the wine Marketing folks that Point scores are meaningless, written by people who have been paid to give their “Unbiased” opinion (Chuckle). That’s where the education needs to occur. Until we change their hearts and minds on this, nothing will change. Let’s stop subscribing or caring what they say in these “Bully” wine rags and pay attention to real consumers, that we meet at events, trade tastings and the like…Wow, that went further than I thought… Guess that’s my Soap Box for the day… Oh, and I guess I’m in line with what Alan said (lots of Freeloaders)… Keep up the good word Tom!

  18. Tom Wark - August 23, 2012

    I disagree with the notion that reviewers and critics have been paid for anything. Believe me when I tell you that if this were true, I’d have been suggesting to clients for years that they pay off the reviewers. I’d do this for the simple reason that for many, many years reviewers at mainstream wine publications that publish thousands of reviews are respected enough by the trade and public to be able to move wine with their reviews.
    There is no paying off of reviewers. I even did a study once that looked at the scores received by wineries that advertised and those that did not advertise: No difference.
    And here’s why I think many folks have and do respect the Spectator, the Advocate, Wine & Spirits and The Wine Enthusiast enough to keep their circulation up: 1) Wine geeks and the trade want to know what is out there. 2) These publications taste thousands of wines every year and publish their reviews to satisfy this desire. 3) The reviewers at these publications are serious folks who tend to know a lot about wine and are in fact in the business of know as much about their area of expertise.
    This all adds up to respectability and to giving folks what they want.
    Just my thoughts on the matter.

  19. Tracy Cervellone CWE - August 24, 2012

    Tom: I like the article. Whatever side you take on Panchogate, he’s brought up some serious questions here, and you’ve answered them in a serious way.
    The fine wine business is at a tipping point. We are being forced to admit that to be profitable,to survive as global industry, we need to increase consumption among younger adults, not just young sommeliers, wine writers and marketers or wineshop/online owners. I’m talking about the Y gen people that flock to Coffee houses and bars to drink anything but wine.
    I work every day selling/educating the trade and consumers/training/marketing of fine, family owned, luxury brands. And largely, in huge swathes of geography, interest in wine is stagnant… at the Gen Y level. They just don’t care. It continues to be “sold” to an older, wealthy demographic, which is rapidly dwindling. Some observations:
    Most Trade and consumer tastings (particularly the large ones) are completely useless. They don’t sell wine, they sell tickets. Or appetizers. Add the drunk driving liability issue, which is roundly ignored, and you have an insane equation that serves no one well, least of all potential wine drinkers.
    Small, themed events are the only exception. I do them regularly, when I can wrest restaurants away from the outdated “Winemaker Dinner” concept. You get one plate of nice food, and we spend the rest of the 1/12 or 2 hours (max) talking about: WINE. Not golf. And they actually learn something. It is a conversation, not a lecture. And they are always a majority of newbies. And you have to know how to speak effectively to ANYONE, about their lives as it relates to wine. A skill lot of winebiz people could use some instruction on.
    Wine Writing needs to be less about wine and more about marketing. Less about wine and more about ideas. Shorter, briefer, pieces and linked to other industries. Which is why I like your blog, Tom. You are bridging the gap.
    As far as the issue of experts and writers being paid for their time: The wine business is the only industry left where it considered appropriate, desirable, even, to be unprofitable. Except, of course for the restaurants who still charge usurious prices. Anyone in the wine business on any level today knows the constant struggle just to pay bills/break even, let alone a profit.
    Gee, some writers go to tastings and don’t write much about them. Surprise. They were probably hungry and the food too good. I have a lot more problems with the damnable point score system than I do with writers expecting compensation.
    To effectively market wine now we need to integrate it into the culture at large: sports, music, media, gaming, fashion, the list is too long for this forum. Young people react immediately to this. Example one: At a local blues concert recently, they had a badly executed, over priced “wine lounge” with no seating. Even stupidly done, but with better wine than the plonk at the BBQ stands, this was a focal point of the event. You could sense a real curiosity. God forbid they have a place to sit down and talk, though. Or not pay through the nose.
    Example 2: major rock concert. Only wine available comes out of a hose or 187 ml. NO Wine sponsorship. Beer tents, Spirits tents, Wine is a ghost there. Do the math with the demographics, folks. We are losing this battle. I still cannot believe the continued dialogue we in the business blather on about: alternative packaging, closures, etc. Who CARES? Certainly not Gen Y. They like the new stuff, BTW.
    Example 3: Gaming convention: where are the wine games? Where are the wine sponsorships? 18 or 21 year old gamers don’t exist? Huh?
    And the Doc says: “Anyhoo, it’s malignant” And the fine wine sector is not going to survive… as a relevant 21st century business unless we get off the dime and start reaching out to a MUCH younger group.
    Any way we can.
    Thanks for listening.

  20. italyhomemade - September 24, 2012


    Italyhomemade dep.

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