Is The Medium the Message?

Marshall McLuhan“Obsolescence never meant the end of anything. It’s just the beginning.”
… Marshall McLuhan

The opening talk by Paul Wagner of Balzac Communications at the recent kickoff meeting at the St. Helena based CIA’s Rudd Center of the reenergized Academy of Wine Communications was filled with promise.Academy of Wine Communications Promise tempered by concern. Concern that the world of winery public relations was changing, and it was changing fast. How we all communicate our messages and to whom is in a state of flux. Our own local major urban newspaper, The San Francisco Chronicle is the canary in the coal mine when it comes to wine coverage. While the articles and reviews are still top flight, the once dedicated wine section no longer makes economic sense in a world where news, reviews and information availability is ubiquitous anywhere where there is an internet connection. Having been around for awhile, I’ve discovered that change is good for the soul. It’s adapt or perish. Old dogs can and must learn new tricks.

aka Bistro, St HelenaToday at lunch in St. Helena, I couldn’t help but notice the number of smart phones, netbooks and laptops that were visible and in use. The discussion of the decay of manners in American society is a topic for another’s blog, but the use of technology is here and it’s how we now talk with each other. Technology enables how we get and filter our daily information. My invitation to lunch was in the form of a text message sent from a client’s Blackberry to my iPhone, and my response was in kind. We both knew several people in the crowded room, so after the check was paid, we took the opportunity to network. Networking in the old school sense by shaking hands and swapping stories. My host became involved in a longer conversation, so I thought I would do some market research. Alaptop keyboard couple from South Africa was teleconferencing with their winery staff on their MacBook Air laptop. The honeymooners from Florida were posting pictures of their lunch on Facebook for their friends and family back home. The young women from the New York distributor, on an educational trip to the Napa Valley, were documenting lunch and the local wine choices on their company blog. The local vineyard owners were texting details of their luncheon deal back to their CFO. The room was abuzz, and the restaurant was mentioned to countless contacts around the States and around the world.

Reading the NewspaperIt is an incontrovertible fact that we are in an age of permission marketing. Consumers choose what message or marketing centric handshake to accept. We have to ask and answer the question as to what now works, and how do we track the metrics of Public Relations success in this new, new world. How can we still control the substance and intent of our brand messages? Do the number of mentions and the old circulations numbers still function as the measure of success? And, if now, what about tomorrow? The rise of social media and the conversations of wine bloggers, wine forums and the active wine community on Facebook and Twitter are in fact being tracked by Cruvee. Batchbook, a small company contact manager CRM has developed a social media interface that allows registered users to read what their clients are saying on social media networks about their brand(s)., the cloud CRM application has added a module offering clients the abilitytwittering to listen and interface with their customers on Twitter. So, it is now possible to initiate communications initiatives within specific targeted communities and then track and document the specific resultant metrics via Cruvee, or the appropriate hosted CRM. I happen to think this is more accurate and more effective than a review or a story in a classic metropolitan newspaper, where the accepted metrics were, in my opinion, perhaps more nebulous, by tracking insertions and assuming circulation numbers equaled reads. Of course the numbers won’t look as good, but we are now actually narrowcasting to an identified set of wine consumers rather than broadcasting. If we do this in a limited set of markets, then an ROI can be established by tracking the effect on wine sales within the defined geographies over a 30 day followup period.

Rutherford GrillTraditional CPG best marketing practice must carry the day without regard to the communications medium utilized. In a conversation at the Rutherford Grill,after the AWC meeting and reception, with two giants in winery PR, Jim Caudill and Tim McDonald it was agreed that times have changed, but that the basics have remained the same. The story to have value and to create interest must be unique,Jim Caudill replicable, visceral and verifiable. There must be an objective beyond just awareness. It has to be about managing your winery and your brand(s) reputation. Specific objectives for your communications program must be established and objective points of achievement must be tracked. Action without accountability is likely devoid of merit. Key communication points must be defined and repeated as part of your winery message throughout all tiers, all channels and all outlets. Listen to the pros, incorporate their ideas, and you’ll be effective in achieving your planned programs.

Inconsistency just doesn’t work in winery PR. In my time in the ether of social media, I have witnessed some egregious breaches Twisted Oak Signof sound public relations communication principles. Making the effort and then bailing seems to be worse than not making the effort at all. To be effective in your social media or traditional media engagement efforts it is important to be interesting, consistent, honest, transparent, and personable. The feedback from those in the know is that the format for conversation has changed, the rules of interface have changed, but the idea of

Jug Shop Pinot Days Promotionbest practices remain.There are many wineries and wine shops that do this job well: Twisted Oak, Hahn, St. Supery, The Jug Shop, Domaine547, Winery Collective, Walla Walla Wine Woman, and of course Bin Ends Wine, founders of Taste Live, to name a few. Hahn and St Supery have established the role of social media management as a key winery functional area. With the advent of the the Really Goode Job promotion, the industry has had the opportunity to identify a number of very talented individuals on Murphy-Goode’s bank. It is my fervent hope that many or most of these individuals, finalist or the overqualified, are offered wine industry PR positions.

In spite of the spate of current conversations and all of our observations of old media hand wringing, traditional print media is not yet dead. Perhaps they’re under the weather with a serious case of where are we now introspection. Each week in my iMac mailbox I receive an update from Wine Opinions listing wine reviews and stories that have been printed in major urban USA newspapers. Wine Opinions has also recently identified key wine bloggers and listed key stories covered in this emerging universe. Anyone in the wine business  who has worked with or talked to a wine distributor sales person in current times understands the functional role of reviews. Good to great reviews raise the awareness of your winery or brand with the first line of gatekeepers, and function as virtual key masters unlocking access to the market. So, don’t throw away or demean this still important point of market information.

Imagine How Others Would Do ItI’ve had the opportunity recently to interface with some real wine industry public relations pros and integrated communication wine marketers: Lisa Adams Walter of Adams Walter Communications; Michael Wangbickler of Balzac Communications; Victoria Bunch, former HP PR executive, and Tia Butts of Benson Marketing Group. The individuals in this group along with the aforementioned Jim Caudill and Tim McDonald will help you identify and craft your brand message and act as pilots to assist in navigating your winery through the now churned waters of wine business communications. Remember that Marshall McLuhan advised us that “it’s not the medium it’s the message.”

Note: Copyright © 2009 Think Wine Marketing® All rights reserved.

12 thoughts on “Is The Medium the Message?

  1. A VERY interesting and astute assessment of the “state of the Wine PR” John. I believe, as you SO clearly state, that it’s imperative that the professional communication process is integrated. My public relations practice, when each campaign is boiled all the way down, is focused in every case upon one thing: the MESSAGE. Social media in its purest form provides opportunities for NEW avenues, new channels and an expanded audience for spreading the message. Thanks also for recognizing the pioneering work of the wine publicists you mention. I am honored to be associated with these pros!

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  3. I completely agree with Lisa and Dr. David, John. I am learning from you as you sprinkle your messaging with links and photos to graphically reinforce your point. It gives the message layers and depth it in our former available formats.

    This new technology is awesome! I am thoroughly enjoying learning how to integrate it into my wine marketing/PR work. It’s a new explosion of creativity to help us do what we’ve always done — new tools, same basics.

    Thank you for your continuing astute input!

  4. Just coming home from dinner and opening night for sponsors of the Wine Technology Symposium hosted by Lesley Berglund and Skye Wallin my response to this article is Wow! How timely, accurate and right in the assesment.

    We are 5 year lead sponsors of this event and this story asserts the reasons. New technolgies and social media has changed how business is represented, how friends are made and how are world has changed. This article is right, timely and spot on! Chris Edwards

  5. John, I have to admit that I had to read this several times to absorb it all, but it was worth the effort. I find it fascinating the very conditions that created the need for AWC in 1994 are similar to the conditions today – while the means and the players have changed, it is still about getting the message out but we are no longer in control on how or where it is played. That may take some getting use to.

    Thank you for so clearing pointing out what we all need to work towards.

  6. John, you are spot on here with every assessment about technology being an indispensable tool when it comes to PR. What we can never lose sight of, however, is that our consumers must always sense that we have heart, that we are real. Sincerity can never take a back seat to any message, no matter how it is delivered. Nice post.

  7. Thank you John, a very good read and lots to absorb. Here is Australia wine PR seems to lag it its uptake and knowledge of online media; some wine cos are moving into it but very slowly (with one or 2 exceptions). If anyone would like to share some great US success stories I’d love to hear them – pse e me or post a reply.

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  9. John…you write so well…some excellent points…I would add that the wineries need to rethink their message and how its delivered. I have seen other industries bury their collective heads in the sand and then ask “What change?” Just because much of what transpires in the normal working day of the winery hasn’t changed significantly in the past decade or more doesn’t mean that the rest of the world has stood still.

    As far as the format for conversations changing, for those who argue, pull up a chair in any major city and sit and what the residents go by for an hour and tell me that communications ahven’t changed!

    The description of your lunch in the diner in St Helena is another visual validation of this point…

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