Five things I learned on my sabbatical

By Thea Schlendorf

One of the perks of working at Benson Marketing Group is that, after 4 years of being with the company, we are eligible to take a sabbatical trip. After 7 years with the company, I finally exercised this opportunity and took myself over to Australia and New Zealand this past March. Below are a few things I learned along the way.

*Note: WWOOF stands for Willing Workers On Organic Farms. It’s a global program that, in a nutshell, allows for city folks like myself to get the experience of a real working farm or vineyard in exchange for room and board.

A few things I learned on my sabbatical:DSC_0638

  1. Both Australia and New Zealand experienced earlier harvests in 2015 than in years past. This was particularly true of the Swan Valley in Western Australia and the Auckland region of New Zealand – the two areas where I was able to spend some time. Auckland saw a drier than average summer which bumped up harvest by about 3 weeks. It also caused our residential water tank to go dry. Twelve wwoofers*, one bathroom in the flat, no running water – a whole host of life lessons were learned.
  2. Turanga Creek, the winery in Auckland where I worked for a few weeks, is all organic (certified) and uses some biodynamic practices. Did you know that the dung used in the preparation involving a buried cow horn must come specifically from a lactating female cow? At Turanga, this employee’s name was JarJar.
  3. Vegemite, Australia’s signature spread, is a by-product of beer brewing as it is made from leftover brewer’s yeast extract. The Aussies do love their beer. Rich in B vitamins, Vegemite was originally marketed as a healthy food product for children during World War II. Rigorous proprietary testing confirms that it is still completely unpalatable to the average American (i.e. me).
  4. Qantas stands for “Queensland and Northern Territories Air Service” – and they serve really excellent food! (Vegemite excepted, though it should be noted that Air New Zealand is no slouch on the food front either)
  5. In the US, we call them flip flops. The Aussies call them thongs. Both names are obviously derived from a physical aspect of the footwear in question. The Kiwis inexplicably call them jandals….and even they don’t know why.

Finally – I learned that I have a new appreciation for New Zealand Pinot Gris wines. I think this variety could really have a future alongside Sauvignon Blanc as an alternative white wine offering from New Zealand. Less aggressively acidic than most Sauvignon Blancs and without those really green aromas and flavors, the Pinot Gris’ I tasted still possessed a refreshing acidity but also a more round mouthfeel and, on occasion, some residual sugar. The wines were sometimes fermented in barrel or saw some lees stirring to get that rounder, creamier texture and put more emphasis on the floral and ripe stone fruit aromas and flavors. Try New Zealand Pinot Gris today if you can find it on US shelves and lists!

What We Learned at Wine MarCom2015

image1Ben Palos and Elizabeth Caravati recently attended the inaugural Wine MarCom 2015, a workshop hosted by the Wine Institute’s Communications Committee in Sonoma. Here are five things they learned:

Take a Long Term View: Virginie Boone, Napa and Sonoma reviewer for Wine Enthusiast magazine, encouraged communicators to take a long-term approach to media relations. Don’t just reach out with a single announcement; take the time to build relationships with writers over a longer period.

Trendy vs Classic: Wine lifestyle expert Leslie Sbrocco pointed out that while alternative white wines (like Vermentino and Gruner Veltliner) are hot right now, classic wine varietals that have a compelling story will always be interesting. You don’t have to chase the current trend to create buzz around your product.

Don’t Be a Wine Snob: Sara Schneider, wine writer for Sunset Magazine, says as people take a less reverent approach to wine, she is following suit. This approach plays well with Sunset’s audience, many of whom don’t have specialized wine knowledge and are looking for a more fun, lifestyle approach to dining and entertaining.

Find Your Unique Story: Dave Mering, founder and CEO of creative agency MeringCarson, suggested wineries find a unique story by exploring their core values in a new context. As an example, MeringCarson implemented this strategy for Disney Meetings, the corporate conference and tradeshow arm of Disneyland, to position it as both the “Happiest Place on Earth” as well as a serious place to do business.

For Big Memories, Think Small: Barbara Talbott, CEO/founder of GlenLarkin Advisors and former CMO of Four Seasons Hotels, emphasized that being memorable doesn’t have to be expensive. If a guest buys a case of wine, always offer to carry it to the car. Are they heading to lunch? Go beyond recommendations: offer to call the restaurant and make a reservation. With little or no added cost, these small details create big “wow” factors to winery guests.

PR 101: Creating an Effective Public Relations Campaign

Why PR?

PR is an excellent tool for raising awareness about your brand. Here’s why:

• Press offers 3rd party endorsement of your brand
• “Earned media” is more credible than paid media

• PR creates more content than other marketing tools

• Brands with content are easier to find online

Cost Effective
• Lower CPM (“cost per thousand impressions”), often <$5 versus $15+ for advertising

The Basic Approach

Before embarking on a PR campaign, it’s important to make sure you’ve created a Brand Messaging Plan. Your Brand Essence will inform the key messages you want to communicate, and which audiences you want to target. Then your PR team can identify the appropriate media outlets who will be receptive to your messages and can share them with those audiences.


What To Look For in PR Plan

How do you know if a PR plan is a good one? Here’s our checklist:

• Identifies target demographics and segments and defines opportunities and challenges for each one

• Understands what differentiates your brand and proposes novel ways for translating them into story angles

• Logical strategy for creating online content that is searchable & shareable

• Suggested actions flow logically from audiences, messages, content
• Warning: “creative story pitching” looks boring on paper, but it’s what you need

• Identifies specific #s of placements by media category, CPM or ad equivalency goals

Looking to expand your company’s PR reach? Contact us to find out how we can help.

A Checklist: Benson Marketing Group’s Brand Messaging Plan

One of the most common pitfalls in marketing is to focus on tactics without first defining your strategic goals and messaging. Defining and documenting your messaging provides a compass for all sales and marketing tactics. Best of all, you can do this for free.

Born from years of working with wine and spirits brands of all shapes and sizes, we’ve developed a checklist of exercises that will help lay the foundation of your own Brand Messaging Plan.

The first step is to gather together key decision makers in each functional area (ownership, winemaking, DTC, etc.) and schedule a 4-hour brainstorm meeting. Identify a moderator or two who will lead the discussion, preferably in an offsite location equipped with a large whiteboard and free from interruptions by calls or emails. We also recommend designating one person to take notes.

Here’s the checklist of exercises, in the order in which we think they are best discussed:

  1. SWOT: The basic SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) Analysis is a great way to get people to start talking.
  2. Purpose Statement: If money were no object, why would your company still exist? Why would your team want to continue working for you?
  3. Envisioned Future: Pretend it’s 10 years in the future. What were the key milestones that defined your success? Eg, reaching 10,000 cases or being on the list at the French Laundry. (This is less intimidating than asking, “what are our goals?” and you’ll get more insightful responses.)
  4. Brand Essence Wheel: Identify your brand’s essence.brand-essence
  • Values: What concepts are important to and represented by your brand?
  • Personality: What is the core disposition of your brand?
  • Properties: What are the physical attributes and assets of your brand?
  • Essence: After identifying your values, personality and properties, distill these down into the 3-4 basic, inherent qualities of your brand. These become the main concepts that are communicated consistently and repeatedly throughout your sales and marketing actions.
  1. Key Brand Benefit: Identify WHY consumers should buy your wine: “Consumers purchase our brand because it (fill in with solution), and it makes them feel (emotional response).” If you have trouble coming up with this sentence, try this working through these three steps:
  • Capture your brand’s most important attribute in one sentence
  • Provide 3-4 verifiable supporting points
  • Summarize in one sentence why a consumer/trade buyer will care
  1. Positioning Statement: Complete the sentence:“For (target audience), our brand is (differentiated, sustainable position).”
  2. Elevator Pitch: Describe your brand to a stranger in 10 seconds. During the brainstorm, develop this sentence together.

After four hours, stop. These meetings can be tiring for everyone.

Over the next few weeks, synthesize the notes and results of the brainstorm and return with the same group to review, refine and complete the document. You’ll arrive at group consensus on what messages you should – and shouldn’t – use and why. Then, armed with your Brand Messaging Plan, you can get down to the nitty gritty tactical details of creating a PR plan, advertising, email marketing, social media, trade promotions and more.

The process is relatively easy and fun, plus you’ll get the team on the same page and have clear direction on the right tactics to pursue.

This Checklist was adapted from a presentation delivered by Jeremy Benson the UC Davis Wine Executive Program, March 25, 2015.

Looking for help refining your brand strategy? Our team is here to help. Contact us to schedule a consultation.

Sitting Down With Hahn Family Wines

The team at Hahn Family Wines, a luxury Pinot Noir producer in the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation of Monterey County, recently returned from a New York City media tour with Benson Marketing Group.

Owner and chairman Philip Hahn; winemaker Paul Clifton; and president Tony Baldini met with Wine Enthusiast, Saveur and Beverage Media. Plus, they led a Santa Lucia Highlands comparative Pinot Noir tasting and wine dinner. Here’s what we learned while hosting them in the media capital of the United States:

  • HFWinBensonNYCofficeTrading Up: Consumers have become more sophisticated and discerning drinkers, and are seeking higher-quality drink options. This is most apparent in the rising popularity of the mixology movement. But Tony observes this trend is bolstering both the luxury wine and craft beer industries, too. Perfect timing as Hahn has shifted its focus to its luxury wines.
  • Wine on Tap Still Trending: Philip loves wine on tap, and is seeing more on premise accounts adopt the option. Pouring a glass of wine from a tap lessens the burden on bartenders (especially during a rush), always provides the consumer fresh wine and offers higher margins for the account.
  • iPhone Irrigation: During California’s severe drought, keeping tabs on irrigation is crucial. Even while three time zones away, sensors allow Paul to monitor soil moisture in Hahn’s 650-plus acres of Santa Lucia Highlands vineyards from his iPhone. This eliminates guesswork when managing irrigation, which directly impacts both the fruit’s flavor and Hahn’s water conservation efforts.


Sitting Down With…SGP Packaging

January 22, 2015 — This week we met with new client SGP Packaging, the US-based division serving North America for world leader Saint-Gobain-Verallia, one of France’s largest companies.

A week before the Unified Symposium, here is what we learned chatting with Jean-Pierre Giovanni, General Manager, and Isabelle Le Graët, Marketing and Account Manager, about the market for glass packaging:

  • 3D Printing is Here: SGP Packaging can create 3D mock-ups of bottles with cartouches and other designs. It is a much better solution for helping their clients understand what a design might look like – because it’s right in front of them – than to ask them to envision it using a more traditional 2D sketch. If you’re ever had an architect or contractor tell you, “just imagine what your house will look like based on this blueprint,” you know what we mean.
  • Interior Embossing: At Unified 2015 (see booth #1203) J-P and Isabelle will demonstrate a novel service that embosses the inside of a glass bottle. A bottle full of red wine does not reveal the embossed design until it is emptied. Think about the variety of designs, names, brands, icons you could potentially have revealed as a bottle is enjoyed in a restaurant! We’ve never seen this before.
  • There’s an app for that. Go to Apples App Store and download the iPad app, “Verallia Virtual Glass US.” Design away!

What We Learned at DTC Wine Symposium 2015

One advantage of organizing the event this year is that we got a sneak peek at all the presentations and keynote speeches before the January 14-15 program. Here are some key takeaways that piqued our interest:dtcws-2015-recap

  1. “Mass will be massive”:. By 2017, ShipCompliant projects MA will generate $80 million in wine shipment value, and in the top 10 wine-receiving states.*
  2. The DTC Growth Opportunity: The DTC sales channel now supports about $2 billion in wine sales, yet it represents only about 3% of total U.S. wine sales. .*
  3. Tasting Room Abandonment: A staggering number of wineries don’t systematically capture contact information for tasting room visitors. There are some new tools – such as Winery Finder App and Vino Visit – that make this data capture easy and efficient.
  4. The Digital Divide: Mobile usage continues to grow across the board. Vin65 reported that mobile accounted for nearly 1/3 of traffic to all their websites in December 2014.** Mobile ecommerce is also growing rapidly. However, many wineries are unprepared for this shift.
  5. The 80/20 Rule Lives: The top 20% of wineries selling the most direct vastly outperform their competitors, making up 88% of ecommerce sales.*** Both Vin65 and WineDirect cited a focus on email marketing as the #1 differentiator of those top 20%.
  6. Boomers vs. Millennials: Boomers still spend most, but Millennials are growing fast. In 2014, Boomers represented 51.4% of wine sales by volume, but purchases were down 5.9%. By contrast, Millennials made only. 8.5% of wine purchase by volume, but they grew by 57% last year.*
  7. The Explosion of Pinot: Shipments of Pinot Noir increased by almost 25% by volume in 2014 alone, and the value of Pinot Noir shipments have increased 94% since 2010. Pinot Noir is the #1 shipped wine to California and New York State.*
  8. People Are Ordering More – and More Expensive – Wine: The number of bottles per shipment in 2014 increased to 6.17 from 5.74 in 2013. The average bottle price in 2014 was up 1.6% YOY to $38.40.*
  9. The Rise of Oregon: The Ducks didn’t win the Big One, but Oregon wineries won big in 2014: 46.3% growth by volume and 53% growth by value of wine shipped. This was more than double the growth experience by any other wine region in the US.*
  10. We’re Not Done Yet: Since 1997 we’ve gone from 17 to 42 legal direct shipping states, representing 90% of adult population.. We’ve come a long way, but we aren’t done yet! Now that we’ve succeeded in Massachusetts, next up are Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Indiana, Delaware, New Jersey and others.
  11. Delivery on Consumer’s Terms: FedEx can make a residential wine delivery on Saturday, at a time the consumer can specify, on their mobile app. We didn’t know that.

Ok, finally, even a fire alarm in the middle of a wine conference of 425 professionals won’t necessarily disrupt the proceedings!

For more insights into DTC Wine Symposium 2015, check out Cathy Huyghe’s great recaps on Forbes: Day One & Day Two. Download the full ShipCompliant/Wines&Vines 2015 report here (thank you ShipCompliant and Wines & Vines!):


* Source: ShipCompliant 2015 Report
** Vin65
*** WineDirect

Vulcan Brand Meld: How to Find Your Brand’s Purpose

Some of the most compelling brand stories—the ones that really grab consumers—are discovered when you understand the true purpose of your brand.

Let’s say you own a winery. Why does a normally sane professional drop a more lucrative career in (industry: fill in the blank) and invest time and money in a capital-intensive, competitive business that is reliant on the weather?

Vulcan-Brand-MeldPersonal motivation is often at the heart of this decision, and can provide a rich source of heartfelt, authentic story telling. Frequently, your story is more important than what’s in the bottle or whether the wine scored 89 or 90 points. Maybe your purpose is to pass along a successful company to your children, or you want to support organic grape growers, or you are fascinated by the mysteries of fermentation. Whatever the case, chances are your brand’s purpose provides the framework for your human story.

But for many owners, getting to the brand’s purpose is difficult. Pardon the STAR TREK reference here, but Spock’s ability to tap into the memories and emotions of other characters may be an apt metaphor. You can tap these ideas by recreating some “exercises” commonly used by management and marketing consultants (like us).

Normally we moderate meetings with clients to unearth these ideas, which help us develop the communications foundation for marketing and sales. But you can probably do the same thing with your team.  Set aside 90 minutes with your team and answer questions such as:

  • If you won the lottery tomorrow and worked only for fun, why would you still work?
  • What part of your role is the most satisfying, and can you identify why that is?
  • Pretend it is 2024, and you are looking back at a decade of successes. What were the milestones? What were the key turning points that defined your success?

What are the benefits of finding your brand’s true purpose? Knowing the fundamental purpose of a brand can guide and inspire sales and marketing communications (often centered around a summary “purpose statement,” which is for internal use only). Second, it’s difficult to get your whole team on the same page if they don’t know why you started the company. Third, these exercises surface misplaced assumptions.  In one project we conducted, the vision of the owner and president were diametrically opposed, and fortunately the president found another employer four weeks later!

Unlocking a brand’s true purpose will help you create the communications foundations for your brand, including a positioning statement, elevator pitch and key brand benefits.

About Benson: We are an integrated marketing agency with offices in Napa, New York and Paris, specializing in strategy, trade promotion, PR and digital marketing for wine and spirits marketers.

Quick: Describe your company in 10 seconds…

You’re traveling on business and a stranger asks, ”what do you do?” If you don’t have a good answer—the so-called “elevator pitch”—this post is for you.

For many wineries, our focus, the difficult part of the elevator pitch is not what to say, it’s fitting it into 10-15 seconds. But the art of clear communication is simplicity. Many wineries err on the side of completeness because they don’t want to leave things out. But a complex answer is difficult for the receiver to remember; a confused mind says “no.” And for many wineries who rely on direct-to-consumer sales – that is, most wineries—they’ve just missed an opportunity to interest a prospective customer.elevator-pitch2014

For some unknown reason – an improving economy or perhaps a hyper competitive retail market — we have had a lot of requests lately for our Brand Consulting Service. Coming up with an elevator pitch is part of these client projects, and for winery brands, here are some tips:

  1. Anchor your winery in a wine region.
  2. Tell them one compelling point about your winery that doesn’t necessarily have to do with the juice.
  3. Invite them to engage in your brand.

Let’s break these down. First, most wine consumers naturally associate a winery with a geographic location. Sounds simplistic, but if you’re located in the Willamette Valley, say so. But also add “Oregon” in case they don’t know where that “Valley” is. So, you might say, “I work for Winery ABC in Willamette Valley, Oregon.”

Second, tell them one interesting fact. And please avoid winery clichés like “handcrafted” and “artisanal,” or throw-away words like “quality.”  You might say, for example, “We were the first Oregon Pinot Noir served at the White House.” Or, maybe, “We started our winery with a group of friends from college.” Something interesting to the listener, something they can relate to. And never underestimate the power of the personal story; if you used to be a rocket scientist, that’s interesting.

Third, close the deal. Wine brings people together, so invite them to visit your winery, in person or online. “Next time you’re in Portland, we’re just a short drive from downtown.”

Let’s put it together: “I work for Winery ABC in Willamette Valley, Oregon. I started the winery with a group of friends from college and we’re best known for Pinot Noir. Next time you’re in Portland, come by for a visit.” Ok, maybe it’s longer than 10 seconds, but you get the idea.

Simple, colloquial, but strategic and welcoming.

5 Tips on Photographing A Wine Event

Sometimes you may not have enough time to hire a photographer while other times it just doesn’t work in your budget. Assuming you have a decent camera and not just a camera phone, here are a few tips to prepare you to photograph your event.

Step 1: Plan accordingly

Research, research, research! It is always best to visit the venue prior to the actual date of the event. You can get a feel for the lighting, the best perspectives, areas where you can move around freely and run over compositions in your head. Like any project, the more knowledge you have the better prepared you will be, so do the same here.

Step 2: Prepare your shot list

FloorPlan Shotlist

After taking a look at your venue, you may want to do a quick run through of the images you will need to tell your story. Whether it’s unveiling a new product, a tasting event or blessing of the grapes your images will need to reflect the scenes taking place. Here are a few shots you don’t want to leave out.

  • Exterior. Most people forget to get shots of the exterior building. These can also tell a lot about the event. Was it an event at a well-known restaurant? Does it capture the hustle and prestige of a big city like New York City? Maybe play up the beautiful landscape of the countryside? Even if the exterior isn’t that pretty, take the shot. You don’t have to use it if you don’t want to, but you may not be able to go back again.
  • Interior. Arrive early to snap some close-up, detailed shots of the décor. Lots of time and effort went into decorating this event; do it justice by capturing little details.
  • Shoot establishing shots from the corners or someplace high up. Is there a balcony? Or a stage? Can you get a shot of the entire crowd? These are establishing shots that show the entire venue. Take one before anyone arrives and another when the place is packed.
  • Profiles. The looks and expressions on the attendees will tell a lot about how the event is going. Laughter, excitement and other reactions to the event can really show how successful it was.

Step 3: Shoot a lot

Great shots can pass at a moment’s notice and you will not get a second chance. Take as many photos as possible to capture spontaneous actions. Most digital cameras have a continuous shot mode where multiple shots can be taken at once; learn this setting. Even after the event is over, stick around; a smaller crowd can give you more intimate shots you were not able to collect earlier.

Step 4: Avoid the common mistakes

Remember you are not here as a guest, don’t shoot what they normally see. Many people at wine tastings have their back to the room as they hover over the wines spread out on a table before them. But we don’t want to see their backs! Navigate to areas guests are not normally allowed to get interesting perspectives. Do not take a million photos of just the bottles being served. We see this so many times. Take photos of the bottles to have them, but focus on the broader event.

Step 5: Know where the photos will be presented

It is always best to shoot for the highest resolution photos. You can always lower the resolution of your photo for the preferred outlet (like a website), but you can never add detail to a low quality one. Knowing the final placement and audience of the photo will also aide in preparing. Certain blogs and social media outlets have different requirements on dimensions depending on the image.


With very little effort, a nice lens and a big memory card, you can document all the details of your events without spending a fortune on photographers. While this won’t make you a pro and there are times where a pro is certainly needed (dark rooms, evening events), this should be enough to help you better document your events.

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