How Do You Onboard a New Agency?

Wine Institute’s MarCom 2017 seminar, April 18, included a panel discussion on how wineries can best work with agencies. Our president, Jeremy Benson, addressed the question of what wineries can do to successfully onboard a new digital or PR agency/subcontractor, and we’ve summarized his thoughts below.
Onboarding goals
The objectives of the initial few months of an agency-client relationship are straightforward:

  • Take steps to establish a strong partnership, not just a vendor relationship
  • Document clear, concise goals and metrics which define success
  • Quickly establish processes to fold internal and external teams together

If winery and agency meet these goals, they stand a very good chance of producing excellent results in a long-term arrangement beneficial for both parties. How do you make this happen?

Suggestions for wineries
Here are some more precise recommendations for wineries – and best of all, they are no or low cost!

  • Introduce the partnership. The winery’s senior management – e.g., president, or VP marketing – should introduce the agency via email to the whole winery team, or at least all the major functional areas of larger wine companies. The email should convey winery expectations, define roles and responsibilities and, maybe most importantly, convey what it means for the growth and evolution of your brand.
  • Kickoff Meeting: Again, senior management should invite the agency reps to present their plan in a meeting with the functional heads of each department, including winemaking and vineyard operations, finance, etc. As winery CEO, you want buy-in.
  • Creating Positive Momentum: It is human nature to work well with people we like. So a winery can take simple steps to lay the foundation for positive relationships that yield great results.
    • Quick praise: “reply all” with congratulations to the whole team when an agency emails positive news and wins.
    • Put the agency on your email list, club mail list, sales info list, etc. Demonstrate they are part of the team.
    • Recognize all members of your account team, especially the most junior members.
    • Feel free to request advice, even if the subject is out of scope with the agreement. Engaging your whole account team develops a sense of trust.

Suggestions for agencies and subcontractors
Here are some tactics Benson uses to onboard clients, and these are all recommendations that clients should expect from their agencies or subcontractors:

  • Translate the proposal into a plan. Your agency shouldn’t start a program based on a proposal. Instead, create a 12-month plan using three documents – the written plan, budget and calendar. Include:
    • Document the scope of work: what is the business challenge or opportunity addressed? What is NOT included? (e.g., graphic design)
    • Create a calendar: schedule workflow across 6-12 months
    • Document goals, metrics: Identify overarching goals, metrics and assumptions. For example, for PR include CPM (total cost per one thousand impressions after 12 months), top 4-5 most important media outlets, and your BHAG (big hairy audacious goal). For digital, break down social media (engagement rates, etc.) and digital (impressions and CPM) separately since these can address different goals.
    • Define roles: for each agency team member, with link to bios
    • Provide a contact sheet: include each team member, not just senior members
    • Define reporting, meeting processes: frequency, roles, format, participants, etc.
    • Document brand key messages: In most cases, Benson finds that a full brand messaging plan is required before starting a digital or PR program in order to define tone, voice and core brand messages.
    • Summarize the ‘courting’ phase: During initial agency-client conversations, a lot of context and useful info is shared. Summarize this for the agency account team.

The vast majority of agency-client problems are caused by poor communication. Benson has found these steps to be simple ways of avoiding issues and producing sparkling results.
Special thanks to Nancy Light, VP Communications, Wine Institute for coordinating the successful conference, and to Mimi Gatens, Marketing Manager, Trefethen Vineyards, for moderating the panel.

Wine Industry Expert Sources, At Your Service

At Benson Marketing Group, we represent leaders in their respective locales. These experts, in their fields, are excellent resources for writers and journalists who are researching topics related to wine. Here are just a few of the timely topics our clients can comment on in the press.


Wine Imports on the Rise: Imported wines are now a one-third of the market, a record high according to Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates. Languedoc AOP wines have certainly been the beneficiary of this trend. The 2016 import figures* for AOP wines from the Languedoc show +29% volume growth and +43% value growth, 2016 over 2015, outpacing every major French AOP category except Provence. In addition, the new VIN DE FRANCE category is really booming in the U.S., and represents an entrée into the French wine category based on varietal labeling, modest price points and broad distribution. In 2016, VIN DE FRANCE wines grew 16% in volume and 17% in value verses 2015.

Rise and success of the $15+ Red Blend: Client Rutherford Wine Company, a family-owned portfolio based in Napa Valley, has recently added two new red blends to their portfolio. This segment grew 23% over the last year according to Nielson, outpacing the category as a whole. Rutherford Wine Company says this segment is particularly healthy due to a desire from consumers for higher quality wines, but that are still within reach pricewise.

Chardonnay Style Evolution: Cabernet Sauvignon may feel like king, but Chardonnay is far and away the most popular wine in the U.S. California winemakers produce styles ranging from racy unoaked to bold and buttery versions. Clients Hahn Family Wines, Balletto Vineyards, Rutherford Wine Company and others in our portfolio can speak to the evolving tastes of American wine consumer as well as production considerations.

Love Affair with Rosé: A new generation of wine enthusiasts show no signs of cheating on their new found love–rose wines. What started as “Give me Domaine Ott” for summer has evolved and grown to include Rosé wines with a certain whisper pink hue anytime of year. Several clients are making rosés that are getting noticed including Balletto Vineyards from the Russian River Valley, and winemakers from the Languedoc like Famille Fabre and Gerard Bertrand, to name just a few.


Pinot Noir from North to South: Send your readers on a virtual Pinot Noir road trip from the North Coast of Sonoma through California. Clients up and down this fair state can comment on what are the hallmarks of Pinot Noir from their region. Benson Marketing Group is also prepared to help writers book their own actual Pinot Noir (or Chardonnay) road trip throughout California to get to know the various AVAs.

Legal Direct Wine Shipping: Did you know that Benson Marketing Group’s President Jeremy Benson is the executive director of Free The Grapes!, national grassroots coalition of wine lovers, wineries and retailers who seek to remove restrictions in states that still prohibit consumers from purchasing wines directly from wineries and retailers? Thirty years ago, only four states allowed for legal, regulated winery-to-consumer wine shipments. As of this writing, 44 states allow such shipments from out of state wineries, which cumulatively represent 94% of the total population. Find out what’s next for the cause.

Contact Sarah Jones Gillihan at or (707) 254-1114 to get connected with our experts.


*Source: Douanes françaises, UbiFrance/Département Agro-Alimentaire

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. 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