The Wine Economist blog about the Napa Valley Wine Writers’ Symposium is a very good summary of the event as well as the current state of wine media. Earning a living today as a wine writer is a challenging career path, unless one can figure out a niche that is sustainable and one that wineries or related businesses are willing to pay for.
I have hired numerous writers over the years – to write brochures, back label copy, wine cook books, sales meeting speeches and other marketing and sales related writing. During the Great Recession those types of marketing and PR expenditures diminished dramatically at the same time Social Media was coming into existence. Many clever writers found outlets in blogging, growing their own ‘personal brands’. Others found themselves among the growing ranks of freelancers.
What I encountered when social media was first adopted by the wine industry around 2007, was an adamant attitude that ‘anything goes’ – no need for proper grammar or spelling, just the free association blather of whoever felt like sharing. Wine business professionals in marketing and sales were told “don’t try to put a marketing spin or strategy behind Facebook or Twitter – it’s not authentic!” SM evolved over the subsequent years as tools beyond google search results became available that could measure SM effectiveness. And by 2012 there was a giddy sense that a wine revolution was happening – selling wine directly to consumers via Facebook!
Flash forward to 2016. Wineries continue to push out a cacophony of messages and very little authentic story telling. Most posts are still generated in-house by whoever is available, without a content strategy, often with the edict “make some noise – generate buzz!” Sadly, a tool that was passionately developed for the wine industry to monitor SM activity was recently abandoned by its new owner, well described in a thoughtful blog by Steve Heimhoff. The larger and corporately held wineries have watched and learned as the SM channel has evolved, and have snatched up individuals who had successful results growing their direct to consumer channel. Some, like Kendall Jackson, Wine.com and others have hired professional wine writers to lead their communications, with social media as part of the overall communication strategy.
With the virtual elimination of anywhere specific to send a ‘press release’ except out into the unknown ether of prewswire.com , newswire.com , or ereleases.com , public relations and wine writing as an in-house role has been completely disrupted. Wineries are left with limited channels to push their messages out to attract and engage with customers. In a sea of billions of tweets, FB, Instagram and Pinterest posts, how can a winery promote itself or be heard? Where have all the wine writers and the publications gone where wineries could develop media relationships and seek out a featured story or write-up about their wines? The viable, far-reaching media outlets (mostly ‘lifestyle’) are now down to less than a dozen, whereas the number of wineries trying to be seen and heard have increased thousands-fold. Wineries old and new alike need to evolve in this era. Authentic, well crafted story? Better have it. If not, find and hire a good writer to help you develop it! Sales and marketing strategy? Better have that too, because a story won’t help you if you don’t have a solid plan on how you will get your wine sold. Social media alone isn’t going to get it done.