Erica Duecy, a keynote speaker at the Wine2Wine business forum, had some bad news about the state of American journalism.
“This year, more than 3,000 jobs have been cut,” she said. “The biggest drivers are declines in ad revenues and subscriptions.”
Duecy, a well-known Chief Content Officer whose resumé includes major media brands like Condé Nast, SevenFifty and VinePair, was delivering her talk in November 2022. Since then, there have been mass media layoffs, from digital behemoths like Vice media to old prestige media publications like the Washington Post.
“We’re seeing lower pay for writers,” she went on. “Long-form writing is going the way of the dinosaur. The fact is, at this point, most people in the US are getting their news through social media.”
What does this mean for wine brands looking for media coverage?
The wine media is in a league of its own
Held in November in Verona each year, Wine2Wine is the brainchild of Stevie Kim, the Managing Director of Vinitaly. The two-day event focuses on offering practical solutions to wine industry problems; this year, the focus was on communications, and brought together media professionals from significant export markets, as well as influencers and social media gurus.
Duecy prepared for her talk by surveying wine media professionals across the US ― and found some glimmers of light. One was that the wine media in general was in better shape than much of the mainstream media, and still attracting plenty of readers. “You can see that even at smaller sites like JancisRobinson.com and Robert Parker’s site ― they’re getting more than 100,000 visits in the US each month.”
Influential digital micro-publications were also popping up, as well-known critics set out to create their own media brands. “They’re small and very specialised,” such as Jane Anson’s Inside Bordeaux, said Duecy. “These publications may have just a fraction of the reach or readership of the bigger publications, but they have something else which is valuable, which is really engaged readerships.”
Supported primarily by subscriptions, they are finding success thanks to tapping into groups of enthusiastic readers.
Duecy said that there was also an “explosion of content into other channels, beyond the written word,” including YouTube series with “mind-blowing numbers” ― German wine vlogger Konstantin Baum MW, for example, racks up hundreds of thousands of views a month. “You might expect to see that type of engagement for celebrity or fashion videos,” said Duecy, adding that Andre Mack’s Bon Appetit YouTube series was also garnering millions of views.
“It’s very exciting to see this level of engagement, and it speaks to the increasing importance of video and visual formats,” she said.
And don’t forget podcasts. Duecy, who co-hosted the VinePair podcast, said that when she was the co-host, she was surprised at the level of feedback she received, compared to a traditional article. “The engagement was much deeper.”
"If you are a brand or region that has a story to tell about travelling in your area, absolutely start getting that out.”
It’s not all good news, though. The 21-to-34 demographic is a key one for advertisers ― but it’s the same one that’s failing to take up wine drinking. “That’s why you’re seeing magazines like Food & Wine become more like ‘food and wine and cocktails and beer and spirits’,” said Duecy. “They’re shifting to the changing interests of both their advertisers and consumers,” which means less coverage for wine.
Travel media, however, is expanding its coverage of wine tourism. “So if you are a brand or region that has a story to tell about travelling in your area, absolutely start getting that out,” said Duecy. “We’ve been so surprised about the amount of wine travel stories that we’re seeing.”
How to get into the wine media
Duecy said wine companies with limited marketing budgets should pitch stories very strategically. “For example, if you need to have a clear path to sales, then you’re probably going to want to pitch the scoring publications, the Wine Spectators and Wine Enthusiasts,” because having a high score is still a good way to build sales.
Start by knowing whether it’s better to target the trade or consumers. “If on-premise is a major channel for you that’s important for your business, then you need to be pitching and advertising in places where somms go, like trade journals, educational resources,” and so on.
Finally, get out and about, and take every opportunity to tell your story. “It’s no surprise that people like Dan Petroski of Massican or Laura Catena of Catena Zapata get an outsized level of attention in the press,” said Duecy. “They’re constantly out there working the room. They’re talking with communicators, telling their stories.”
But the stories they’re telling need to be authentic. “Don’t say all the shiny, happy marketing stuff,” Duecy advised. “Be real. Talk about the struggles that you’re facing and how you’re adapting,” because such stories build trust.
None of this work will mean very much if wineries don’t make photos and other media assets easy to find. Just put them on the website, ready to download. Duecy said that brands that make it easy to work with them typically get outsized coverage in the media, just because “everyone’s on deadline. Art directors, editors, writers ― if a brand can make it dead easy to work with them, they’re going to be selected more often than not.”
1. Pitch your stories strategically.
2. Decide who your target audience is: trade or consumer?
3. Go out and tell your story.
4. Be authentic.
5. Make it easy for the media: Put photos for the press on your website.
Inside wine public relations
Rebecca Hopkins, who’s based in San Francisco, is a public relations expert who works with luxury and fine wine brands. Like Duecy, she said that the US media has been through an upheaval. And it’s not just because of financial difficulties, but because the times we live in are tumultuous, with implications for wine.
“There has been a lot of change happening in the US,” said Hopkins. “Our media outlets have been dominated by social issues and climate change,” and those stories that have pushed wine out. “Wine is a lifestyle product and, in the US, if you look at the top 10 lifestyle magazines, two of them have a wine column.”
The challenge for public relations professionals is to find a way to navigate the news cycle.
“Our deadlines are shorter, our hair gets grey quicker,” said Hopkins, adding that everything had to be done at top speed.
Yet wineries still expect outsized results from their PR campaigns, not realising how much things have changed.
“Anyone got an easy answer for how you make sure your client’s wine gets 96 points? Or Wine of the Year? It’s impossible,” and yet that’s what wineries often ask for. She said that the wine trade needs to moderate its expectations and that simply making a wine critic aware of a wine can be a major challenge.
Hopkins was blunt that while wineries often think they can do this work themselves, or that the PR agency they work with in their home country can do it, they can’t, because they won’t have the in-market relationships they need.
Wineries stilll expect outsized results from their PR campaigns, not realising how much things have changed.
She gave the example of the time she had an urgent request from an Asian-based critic who was visiting Napa, who needed to taste a French wine before the end of the day. “I had one bottle of it sitting in South Napa,” she said.
Delivering the bottle at top speed was only possible because “I had a relationship with the warehouse. I had a relationship with the receptionist,” and, above all, she had a relationship with the critic.
The wine stories that are getting coverage
It’s also important that wineries based outside the US don’t use the same messaging and tactics that might work in their own countries. Instead, they need to think the way that US journalists do.
Who and what is driving the story? When does the story take place? Why is it important that the reader knows about it?
"They will care if you’ve planted an endangered species of native plants, or if you’ve got a beehive on site."
“You’ve got to think about this every single time you talk to the press,” she said. “Does anybody really care about your single vineyard Cabernet?” Probably not, but they will care “if you’ve planted an endangered species of native plants, or if you’ve got a beehive on site. So think about those things.”
Once the story is boiled down to its essence, write it down in under 200 words before sending it to a journalist. “I’m going to give you the best tip ever,” Hopkins went on. When you send off that email, “write the word ‘pitch’ in the subject line” because it increases the chances that the email will be opened.
Timing is everything. If the media is focused on something huge ― an earthquake, or a major election ― your story is unlikely to be picked up, and it’s better to wait until things calm down again to send it.
Once you’ve landed the coverage, make sure everybody knows about it, by pushing it far and wide on social media. “If you’re not using your press coverage to leverage sales, brand awareness or marketing, you’re missing the point. Coverage in the Washington Post means nothing if you don’t amplify it.”
Approaching wine communicators
If the pitch has worked, and a journalist is ready to sit down and do an interview, or come and visit the property, Hopkins says it’s vital that everybody involved first read the work of that journalist ― don’t assume that wine writers are there to create positive news.
Above all, remember the golden rule. Wine is a relationships business. Getting coverage means having the right relationships in place and if you don’t, hire someone who does.