What We Learned at Prowein 2017 (Or, putting in some miles at the U.N. of Wine)

Dusseldorf hosts the world’s largest wine party each year, with 6,500 producers pouring for 58k+ wine and spirits buyers. We attended the event again this year, and Jeremy Benson and our Lyon colleague, Mathilde Chevalier, shared a few observations.

  • “Millennial Industry.” Richard Halstead, COO of Wine Intelligence, used this term to describe the frequent misuse of data by companies (inside and outside the wine industry) to support self-serving hypotheses about its influence. His presentation managed to simultaneously burst bubbles and lend real insight, pointing out behaviors that are very common across generations.
  • Putting in the miles: It’s hard to capture the scale of this event. Here are two fun facts. Buyers represented 130 out of the world’s 193 nations. And over the main two days of the event, we logged 16 miles walking. (Thank you, Fitbit!)
  • Ok, but what was different this year? Well, not much, frankly. The format, timing, and even the booth designs and placements in the halls were largely the same, which struck us as odd. Industry events need to evolve and adapt.
  • The Japanese food in Dusseldorf is superb. From complex to simple, we had a terrific dinner at fancy Nagomi with our friends from CIVL, and then delicious noodle bowls at a counter the next night. Dusseldorf has the third largest Japanese community in Europe (Wikipedia)
  • Tweets not a plenty. For an event of this size, the low Twitter activity was surprising, but we managed to capture a good shot of Stacey Dolan Capitani educating the world about Napa Valley wines.
  • Blue Wine: not a thing.

Bring your comfortable shoes to Prowein 2018, March 18-20, again in Dusseldorf.

A Toast to 2016

Like the vineyards in winter, we take a rest, closing the U.S. offices between Christmas and New Year’s Day. It’s a great time to take stock of the previous year, and recharge the batteries for the next one.

In early December we started assembling some stats on 2016 activities for our holiday card. The process itself was inspiring; documenting success should be on everyone’s list of motivators! Here’s what we came up with:

  • 29 digital campaigns
  • 841 news articles, 198 million impressions
  • 6 regional tours for press and trade
  • 92 trade seminars for 1,800+ professionals
  • 6 private sommelier events (pictured above)
  • 796 in-store tastings for 35,000 consumers
  • 185 new retail placements for one client, in one promotion

In 2016 we starting working with exciting new clients like Accolade Wines, Rutherford Wine Company, Frank Family Vineyards, Chimney Rock Winery, Sanford Winery, Famille Fabre, and Anvin, to name a few. We also welcomed new teammates Kamyn Asher, Erica Wong, Alisa Langer and Megan Helphand to our offices in Napa and New York.

What conclusions can we draw? 2016 was a fabulous year: energized teammates, successful promotions, new client challenges. And, some creative thinking: a week-long, California Pinot Noir road trip for an influential journalist; tasting events for New York editors at lifestyle magazines like Cosmo; an online promotion that went global; promotions that helped retailers and restaurateurs.

Our network and creativity brought clients and influencers together in new and bold ways. I’ll toast to that!

Behind the Scenes at Benson

Our homepage underscores an important point: our clients, and their stories, come first. But we thought it time to pull back the curtain and share what we do in our off hours.

prowein 2016

What we learned at Prowein 2016

French Directrice Jeanne Peron and President Jeremy Benson recently attended Prowein 2016 in Dusseldorf. They share a few observations from the largest wine trade fair below.

  1. Bigger than Texas. Prowein is now the world’s largest wine-focused trade fair with 55,000 attendees and 6,200 exhibitors (99% of which are wineries).
  2. Wineries Bring Their “A” Game: The larger wine companies had immense booths with tastings, offices, couches and lots of espresso for guests; the marketing investment is substantial. But the sheer number of booths by small and medium-sized wineries was also impressive. This isn’t just for the ‘big guys.’
  3. Virtual Reality Comes to Wine: Castel had a VR bike route through Paris; we’re not sure if it was effective branding, but it was fun.
  4. A 59 Nation Army (couldn’t hold us back): Fifty-nine nations were represented, and just one of the many buildings was home to upcoming wine regions in Slovenia, Turkey, Bulgaria and other Eastern European countries. There was wine from China, England, New York, South America…you name it.
  5. Culturally Appropriate: The regional associations did an excellent job designing their spaces to reflect their culture and personalities. Champagne’s section was luxuriously carpeted in all white, Vinho Verde had a fresh and youthful feel, while California’s wooden frame booths and faux fireplace were inviting and contemporary.
  6. Mood: Like at other conferences, you see old friends and make new ones at Prowein, but the mood is all business at the same time. Event organizers did an excellent job of providing the tools to facilitate both, including a useful app with maps, summaries and a meeting scheduler (all grounded with sturdy Wi-Fi).
  7. Prepare NOW for 2017: Next year’s Prowein takes place March 19-21, 2017. Get your comfortable shoes ready and reserve your hotel rooms eight months in advance (and close to the 78 or 79 metro lines, which connect downtown Dusseldorf to the Messe Exhibition Center). We’ll see you there!

What U.S. importers look for in a supplier partner

We’ve had the pleasure of working with a number of U.S. importers over the years, and we often ask them, “What makes a great winery client?” In summarizing the responses from various importers, key points start to gel around some practical suggestions for international wineries looking to export to the U.S. Here is the condensed version:

  1. Job #1: Sell the importer. Know how your brand will complement their portfolio. Show how your wines fit trends, will make them money, have a compelling story, are priced right, and have great volumetric potential.
  2. Do your homework. Wine-searcher.com is your new best friend. Go online and research competitor product lines, pricing, and positioning so that your offer is competitive and realistic. Know the sales channels where you are most likely to succeed.
  3. The real work begins after the first shipment. We’ve heard that importers in other countries provide more sales support than U.S. importers, so don’t expect U.S. importers to do all the selling. Present them with a comprehensive marketing and sales plan including media plans, market visits, PR and scoring plans, etc.
  4. Start by focusing on a few states. By demonstrating success in 2-3 states, you can entice importers in other states.
  5. Provide a professional presentation. Include items like a winery fact sheet, tech sheets, winemaker bio, accolades from third parties that are recognizable to the U.S. trade (e.g., Decanter), etc.
  6. Consider secondary markets. There are a number of great wine markets outside of the usual suspects of the New York tri-state area, California, Texas, Florida, Massachusetts and Illinois. Do some research to uncover those secondary markets.
  7. Bring a global mindset: A French winery, for example, is not just competing with other French wineries, but also with Australia, Italy, Washington state, and Chile.
  8. Know the difference between your “brand” and your product: Your product is what you make; your brand is what you stand for, your story. These are often confused.

These are some practical suggestions. But you should also Google, “How to do business in America” so that you understand its business culture. A few quick suggestions:

  • Get to the point. For example, summarize what you want and why in the first sentence of an email, not at the end.
  • Be on time. Arriving late to a meeting, or being unprepared, is considered disrespectful.
  • Know cultural values. Americans, in general, place a lesser value than Europeans do on tradition and history, organizational hierarchy, and youth versus experience.
  • Follow up. Follow-up a meeting with an email within 24 hours that summarizes who will do what and when.

Why your photos are as important as your press fact sheet

I love a good sunset photo; who doesn’t? Sunsets are beautiful and often transport us back to a relaxing moment. But I am about to tell you why they often don’t work for your wine marketing and PR materials. Can you tell which one of the three photos is our client’s vineyard? Of course you can’t, and therein lies the problem. Simply put, these three photos could have been taken anywhere.

Consider your images as closely as you do your words for your marketing materials and PR fact sheets.

Here are three guiding principles when thinking of photographing your vineyard:

  1. Sense of Place: Your images should show where you are. Every vineyard has a defining feature, so work with your photographer to capture it and anchor your image.
  2. Tell a Story: As cliché as it sounds, what story are you trying to tell about your vineyard? There are a thousand words wrapped up in an image. Is it organically farmed? Is it densely planted? Is it always handpicked and pruned?
  3. Beware of the Green Blob/Mega Vineyard: You’re growing world-class grapes. Let’s make sure we can see they’re grapevines and not another agricultural product. This is best done from the end of the row and not across the row. Additionally, going wide angle or with an aerial view may just make you look big and industrial. Showing one small portion of your vineyard is OK, and often showcases the vineyard best.

In case you were curious, Photo A is the vineyard. Photo B is from my honeymoon in Hawaii, and Photo C is a stunner of Mount Moriah in New Hampshire, which I found by Googling ‘sunset.’ And for the record, I wouldn’t mind reclining in wonderment in front of any of them!

by Sarah Jones, VP Public Relations

Sipping in Singapore, Imbibing in Burma

As a wine & spirits marketer, the most fascinating aspect of world travel is discovering cultures through the lens of drinking. It was no different on my recent journey to Singapore and Myanmar (formerly Burma).

Singapore has one of the highest GDPs per capita (almost $56,000 US); Myanmar has one of the lowest (just over $1,200). However, there is a stronger drinking culture in the poorer of the two countries. Here are a few insights I gained while drinking abroad.

Alcohol is Prohibitively Expensive in Singapore
Singapore discourages its citizens from drinking with a hefty “sin tax” on alcohol. Thus, a 12 oz. light beer can cost you almost $14 US! Wine drinkers will spend much more. A bottle of Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi (take your pick of Sauvignon Blanc or Zinfandel) will cost you more than $60 US ($87.80 SGD). And that’s with a discount! The SRP is over $100!! ($144 SGD)

The result? The little bit of available wine stays in stock a long time. While checking out at a local grocery store, I noticed a Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon behind the counter… from 1999! Let me assure you, the display case was not climate controlled. My pity goes to the buyer of that poorly-stored bottle.

Myanmar Loves Campari
sodaCampari is a global spirit. No better reminder of this than seeing it prominently displayed on every back bar in the country and offered on multiple happy hour menus. Ironically, the flagship Negroni was not a specific option on menus, so I usually opted for a refreshing Campari and “pop soda.”

Craft Cocktails Feature Local Flavors
At the Rangoon Tea House—a hipster-esque local restaurant in Yangon, Myanmar—bartenders concoct creations where local ingredients shine. I sampled two cocktails: one with pineapple and red Thai chili peppers that gave the drink a spicy kick, and a sweeter option flavored with tropical purple dragon fruit.

The Medal System is Universal
Myanmar beer, the major local brew, has an adept marketing team. The ad below uses a tactic we suggest to some clients at Benson—using competition results to validate quality. In this case, Myanmar beer is the “international champion” with 12 medals between 1999 and 2010.

Myanmar Beer Advertisement in Airport

Bar at Rangoon Tea House

Decisions under duress: should you cancel that big wine event?

Paris trade tasting, November 16, 2015

At some point, every marketer faces the difficult decision of whether to cancel an event due to bad weather, a strike or some other problem. So our Paris trade tasting on November 16 – three days after the horrific Paris terrorist attacks – provides a particularly poignant example.

We had been hired by VinHOP, a Parisian wine distributor, to organize a tasting and series of seminars to showcase their portfolio of 65 wine producers and brewers. We booked La Rotonde Stalingrad, a beautiful although unusual venue for a wine event, located in the east side of Paris, and planned to welcome 650 buyers and journalists registered for the event.

Then the terrible events of Friday night occurred. The whole country was on edge.

On Saturday we checked all our traps, conferring with our client, the winegrowers, venue security, the district police department and others. After much deliberating, we decided to continue with the Monday tasting; we wanted to acknowledge the tragedy but to do what the French do best: eat, drink and socialize!

An official message was sent the 650 participants and posted on the client Facebook page. We received a lot of encouraging messages from trade and media who confirmed they would attend. And as it turned out, the sense of community and comradery that helped to shape the decision was echoed throughout Paris.

On Sunday, we arrived at an eerily quiet Gare de Lyon, but while driving up to La Rotonde across the district of the terrorist attacks, we saw more and more people having drinks at cafes and paying tribute to the victims with flowers and candles. Paris was still Paris!

On Monday at 9.30 am we opened the doors and, amazingly, 400 attendees attended the event, which had an unforgettable, positive spirit. We hope no one has to face our own, albeit modest, dilemma in the face of tragedy. We approached the decision making process by quickly getting the widest possible understanding of the situation—from our client, the community, authorities, etc. –and the result paid off.

Photo credit: ©Crédit Photos VinHOP

Newspaper Circulation Stats That May Surprise You

Which newspaper has a larger print circulation: The San Francisco Chronicle or the San Jose Mercury News? Would it surprise you to know that the Mercury News has nearly 3 times the circulation of the Chronicle? Or that the Mercury News is in the top 5 U.S. newspapers by circulation and the Chronicle doesn’t crack the top 20?

While everyone is busy heralding the fall of the regional newspaper, the circulation statistics below paint quite a different picture. Some of these newspapers reach A LOT of people on a daily basis and should not be forgotten when considering press outreach campaigns.

On the other side of the coin are monthly online viewers. Here we see a different story, with the Chronicle reaching more than 10 million people per month while the San Jose Mercury News barely reaches 1.5 million.

No matter how you slice it, none of these numbers are anything to sneeze at, and are a reminder that even in the digital age regional newspapers still have a role to play.

Check out this comparison of some of the top U.S. daily newspapers. Green indicates high circulation, and red indicates low circulation:


And a scatter plot that shows print circulation versus unique monthly viewers, excluding the “Big 3” USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

print circulation

Print Circulation Numbers: Alliance for Audited Media
Digital UVM: Cision Digital Research

The Top 8 Things Not To Do in Wine Industry Advertising

Some contend that advertising is dead, but anyone who works in marketing—or who reads a magazine for that matter—knows it isn’t so. Advertising has changed tack and focus since the digital revolution, and there are still plenty of ways to effectively reach your target audience, provided you follow a few golden rules. The wine industry has its own specific advertising challenges, so we share our top eight things not to do in wine industry advertising below.

  1. Don’t silo your campaign: An integrated approach to an advertising campaign will increase its reach as well as the impact. Think about advertising as a partnership, not a one off expense line item. Developing relationships with media publications and working across a range of mediums—print, website, social media, emails and events—will help current and future campaigns go farther.
  2. Don’t accept a first offer: Rate card prices are almost always starting points for negotiating a better price, not a final offer. Do your research on competitor’s prices and just keep asking, “What else can you offer?”
  3. Don’t dive in blind: Before committing to anything, do your research to find out where and how the ad appears by looking at the publication’s current ads and asking to see samples. There’s nothing more disappointing than realizing that your digital ad appears at the bottom of a murderously long webpage once it’s already launched.
  4. Don’t skip the metrics: You should always know how the success of your ads will be measured. If running a print ad, know the number of subscribers and talk to the publisher to understand the most likely pass-along rate (i.e. the number of readers who read each copy, usually between 1.5-4, depending on the type of publication). If running ads online, ask the publisher to provide a report at the end detailing how many people saw the ads and how many clicked through. Better yet, link your Google Analytics account to the ad so you can actually see the results yourself.
  5. Don’t underestimate the power of print: Print ads can still be key to an ad campaign, and publishers will go a long way to get you to run a print ad. Ask for added value in the form of digital ads, email sponsorship, social media posts, and even special events as part of your print ad run to get the full mileage out of your campaign.
  6. Don’t be narrow-minded: Traditional wine media may not be the best way to go. Sure, you’ll reach wine enthusiasts by advertising in the major national wine magazines, but you’ll stand out more and reach a less saturated audience in food, travel design and lifestyle publications. Don’t be afraid to branch out!
  7. Don’t plan a campaign around major holidays: Unless you have a $200K+ campaign, your message will be lost in the chaos of holiday advertising blitzes. Continuing with your regular advertising for consistency is smart, but save your extra dollars for a time of year when it will stretch farther, such as late spring when wine country tourism begins to pick up.
  8. Don’t forget to review industry guidelines: Follow Wine Institute’s Code of Advertising Standards and the Code of Responsible Practices set forth by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) to help keep you compliant.