Cassoulet Day Campaign for Client Languedoc Wines

For the last three years, we have capitalized on this cassoulet trend along with an influencer marketing campaign accompanying national #CassouletDay (January 9, 2018) to bring the wines of Languedoc to a new audience.

DTC Wine Symposium 2018: Another Success for Industry

At Benson, we have the pleasure of working with the Steering Committee and managing the DTC Wine Symposium, the annual summit that raises funds for Free the Grapes!, the industry coalition that has helped open states and replace onerous regulations.

In its 11th year, the Symposium attracted another sold-out group of wine club, tasting room, marketing and DTC managers from 19 states and four countries. Along with speakers, volunteers from Sonoma State (thank you!), and sponsors, nearly 500 execs packed the Hilton Concord hotel for a 2-day program of 5 keynotes, 7 sponsor sessions, 7 workshop sessions and 4 Town Hall sessions (whew!).

Great Feedback. In our post-event survey, 105 respondents gave high marks. Ninety-six percent recommend the summit, and 86% said the conference was either “excellent” or “good.” Many people said it was the best DTCWS yet. Astra Digital even blogged about it.

Importantly, we also received great suggestions for improvement. The beauty of the DTCWS is that it is a “big tent” for the industry to learn what’s new and next, and to network with peers, vendors and experts.  Constant improvements, and a rigorous speaker vetting process, helps propel the DTCWS and helps the whole industry build the $2.6 billion sales channel.

Thought Leadership. This year we repeated the popular Town Hall-style discussion sessions, which put up some huge, positive numbers in our survey. For keynotes, we brought in one of the leading thinkers on design and AI, IOT and mixed reality, Phil van Allen, professor at Art Center College of Design. From inside the industry, we had a legislative update by Wine Institute’s Steve Gross (bottom line: rigorous compliance is key). Larry Cormier, GM at Sovos, gave us a sneak peek of the Sovos/Wines&Vines 2017 DTC report. Bottom line: YOY volume and value increased 15%+.

So Where does the Money Go? The summit is presented by and a fundraiser for Free the Grapes!, a client of Benson Marketing Group. While wineries, Wine Institute and Napa Valley Vintners contribute generously to Free the Grapes!, the vast majority of funding comes from the DTCWS. We then execute a state-specific campaign including hiring local PR agencies (e.g., NJ, AZ), creating and advertising in social channels, writing email campaigns, and an app that allows consumers to send personalized messages to their state legislators. In the first five weeks of 2018, we’ve worked in MS, AL, IN, DE and NJ, generating numerous press placements and 1,374 letters to state legislators.

How about 2019?  Soon, we will announce the dates and location for the 12th summit. In spring, we will bring the Steering Committee back together to plan how 2019 can be even better! If you’re interested in serving on the S.C., email us at If you are interested in speaking—and are willing to share detailed case studies and participate in mandatory rehearsals—we want to hear from you, especially if you have not had a chance to share your expertise at other industry conferences. (We like to shake things up.) But wait till the S.C. publishes a Request for Proposal in summer 2019. We’ll keep you updated as long as you sign-up for the Free the Grapes! email list.


What’s the future of marketing?

As previously covered in this blog, we placed a client (Campari America’s Dave Karraker, VP of Engagement and Advocacy) at ad:tech New York, which took place the first week in November. This provided a good excuse for several of us to attend and we’ve captured some thoughts from spending 2 days with the leading and largest agencies serving Fortune 500 companies.

Too much noise! Creative content is king.

While marketers are getting better at targeting specific audiences with the right message at the right time, we are far from proficient, or effective, in the eyes of many experts. The result is just noise. Conclusion: nobody cares if the content isn’t good. This conclusion carries some extra weight when it’s coming from the likes of Microsoft, Kimberly-Clark, Samsonite and others. Implication: great, creative content that addresses consumer concerns will win. Wine and spirits has amazingly rich content, but often we’re not focused on seeing our brands as solving consumer needs or problems.

Practical data use wins out.

The global VP of Media and CRM from McDonald’s gave an impassioned delivery about how companies can do a better job focusing on creating a “value exchange” between company and customer. Conclusion: companies that are best at using their own data to address their customer’s needs will succeed. Develop your own data, and don’t rely just on the walled gardens of Facebook and Google.

AI is scary, not scary.

The Internet of Things (IOT) applications, a subset of AI, are about to play a much larger role in our lives, removing the boring elements of our lives. But, wait. What? We like some of those boring elements! Sometimes, technology seems to replace things that encourage human interaction. What do we lose with efficiency?

AI is here, get over it.

Microsoft’s CMO ran two video ads from Japan and asked everyone to vote on their favorite. Of course, most preferred the artistic one – remember that the audience is full of ad creatives – over the one with a dog spouting green sparks (we’re not making this up). But the ad that did best in Japan was the latter one, created entirely using AI.

Audio search is here

There was much breathless excitement over the advances of voice-based search—not surprising since about 40 million Amazon Echoes have been sold. Also, ad technology, plus the popularity of podcasts, are coming together to provide more opportunities for highly targeted podcast sponsorships and native ad content.

360 Customer Views are a Fantasy

We all hear vendors purport to provide 360-degree views of your customers, a complete history of interactions through multiple touchpoints. But when senior execs from Samsonite and Citibank – who have the resources and a vested interest in this topic – tell you this is pure marketing fantasy, you have to listen. One of them said, and we’re paraphrasing here: “there are only three companies that have a 360 degree view of customers: Amazon, Google and Facebook.” Their recommendation, as we interpret for wineries: work with these “walled gardens” but create your own internal processes for understanding and owning your customer data.

Data, tech, content.

If there’s an overall theme from ad:tech, it’s that these three elements are just getting more important. Control your data destiny and use it to create solutions for your customers (e.g., Fitbit). Adtech technology will continue to improve audience segmentation and targeting (e.g., Facebook). Finally, none of this matters if you can’t turn ad content into desirable content unique to your brand (e.g., the LEGO movie).

It was an inspiring 2-days. But we have a lot of work to do!


Speaking Engagements: You’re Missing Out if you’re Not Participating

Not everyone likes speaking in front of crowds. It brings back memories of your college public speaking class. You’re sweating and your knees buckle, so why would you do it? Speaking engagements at leading conferences give brands added exposure and marketing executives a chance to establish their companies as thought leaders within the industry. This year, Benson secured five speaking opportunities for Campari America executives at leading marketing conferences including iMedia’s Brand Summit, Brand Innovator’s Brand Week and Argyle’s Leadership Summit.

Now, Campari America’s Dave Karraker, vice president of engagement and advocacy, is joining the ranks of esteemed executives (you may recognize names from Google and Visa) to speak at November’s ad:tech conference, a leading two-day marketing and advertising technology conference in New York. This is the conference where today’s top marketers go to exchange notes on the latest marketing trends and advertising innovations. This year’s conversation will focus on how technology has completely transformed the marketing landscape, empowering consumers and forcing brands to re-think how to deliver valuable content. The event schedule is so compelling that our team members will be attending (hint: there will be another post with the inside scoop, so stay tuned).

For a wine or spirits company, marketing conferences can be overlooked or ruled out. But if you have a point of view and something to share, here’s a list of reasons why you should reconsider:

“Guilt (Gilt) by Association”—This isn’t the same guilt by association for being friends with that bad kid in the class. Think of it as ‘shining’ among other leaders in your field. Speaking amongst these high level executives associates you with a class of thought leaders. Other consumer brand executives want to hear your perspectives on marketing wines or spirits. You have great ideas; share them!

Brand Representation—If you look at any conference website, you will see all the brands that are participating. There are usually several different places for a brand to receive recognition. Whether it’s through social media, media coverage, or their newsletter, conferences promote the brands that will be represented during their event. This brings us to our next point…

Media Coverage—Some conferences are held by media outlets, which means they are covering the event and as a participant your brand can be incorporated into press coverage. In addition, some conferences invite top-tier media to attend or speak on select panels and keynotes.

It’s Free – You read that right. Many conferences are willing to pay for your flight, hotel and even provide meals (and not gross ones).

If you’re thinking about where to start, take a look at Direct to Consumer Wine Symposium. It’s a combination of marketing and wine so you get the best of both worlds. We want to help you speak to other brands and executives, don’t be shy!

Why “Millennial Marketing” is Misplaced

The wine industry’s infatuation with “Millennial Marketing” needs a reboot.

For years, we’ve heard a variety of experts claim that the Millennial generation is, or is not, the savior of the wine industry—depending on who’s doing the talking.

But segmenting an audience based on age is a Marketing 101 mistake. A broad age range of consumers do not all act the same. Yet this is how the important topic is framed.

A demographic group of 77 million consumers is certainly a juicy target. But a 24 year old single person does not have the same lifestyle as a 35 year old married consumer. Yet, the wine industry tends to clump these two together. (To their credit, spirits companies tend to have a more nuanced view here.)

At the risk of sounding too basic, wineries must look beyond age brackets and segment based on behaviors, attitudes or interests, and then strategically connect this idea to their own business model.

Here’s a case in point. We manage US marketing for the Vinho Verde category of wines. A key to our strategy is to attract consumers interested in discovering new wine because Vinho Verde is not well known. While certainly not a unique approach, our campaign targets consumers that exhibit a penchant for trying new consumer products—i.e., discovery behavior. This fits our model of increasing awareness, trial, adoption and advocacy. We believe we’ve got a good shot at appealing to them based on Vinho Verde’s approachable taste profile and value proposition.

Our consumer target likes wine, but doesn’t worship it. They don’t know much about Vinho Verde (yet). They get their recommendations from peers more so than rating publications. They are mainly in their late 20s to mid-40s, want to discover new products, and are open to experimentation in a variety of CPG categories. We want to introduce them to something under the radar, delicious and affordable!

Who me? Millennial? Photo credit: James Coletta

Are many of our targets in the Millennial age bracket? Yes, of course. Are they all? No.

How do we reach them? For starters, digital marketing and social media are key because our segment gathers much of their lifestyle information through these channels. We use media partnerships with food, travel and lifestyle influencers to introduce them to a fun, innovative wine from northern Portugal.

Events also provide opportunities to connect, especially because Vinho Verde has a potentially high conversion of trail-to-purchase based on its approachable style and affordability. Last summer we put on a sold-out tasting for 550 consumers in Brooklyn, promoting the event as a fun, educational evening of wine and food discovery, and an unusual opportunity to meet 21 Vinho Verde winemakers (see picture).

Is our strategy working? Well, yes. Starting in in 2016, the US became the #1 export market for Vinho Verde by value, with more growth on the horizon in 2017.

You don’t need a large marketing budget to do effective segmentation. Does your brand seem to appeal to consumers interested in art, or maybe travel? That may suggest using media partnerships with art or travel influencers, and/or digital advertising, to interest prospective consumers with similar interests. Starmont (not a client) appeals to tennis fans through its tournament sponsorships. There are other examples, but not too many.

Once you find your niche, you can use inexpensive tactics – such as “like audiences” through Facebook—to target prospects most likely to be your next fans. Go beyond age; find a segment that might drive more awareness and sales, and then test, test, test.

PR: Five Things You Might Be Overlooking

PR = Marketing

All too often public relations is viewed as some other-worldly practice out on its own. For many companies, PR is Pluto. Sure, communications practitioners have slightly different audiences and timelines, but PR needs to be at the table when discussing new marketing communications and sales initiatives. The result is a more fully integrated campaign that pulls together trends, company news and facts to back it up. So when you’re drawing up a new brand launch, you want your PR team providing some sparks.


The Press Release is Dead, but Not Dead

Lots of marketing blogs will tell you that the press release is dead, but the idea of a press release has a very specific function that is actually still relevant. Think about a press release as a signpost on your company timeline. In 2017, this important mile marker occurred. A press release, is not, however, a story pitch. Today, a press release is best used as a reference document that summarizes the 5 Ws behind a campaign, a new hire, a big purchase, for example.


Nobody Likes a Trick Pony

Communications managers need company spokespeople to not only share defined, concise company messages, but also connect the dots sharing insights on larger trends, business motivations and even controversial ideas. Where is the gray space? Your publicist needs you to go there. Where can you show real thought leadership? A ‘trick pony’ simply performs the rehearsed presentation, whereas an effective spokesperson leads a reporter to a bigger story.


Sending Samples is Not PR

So, now you’ve got your PR team integrated into the marketing department, you’re leveraging your spokespeople, and being judicious with your press releases. Next up, tap into your best assets – your products. But simply sending a sample to a writer and submitting wines for scoring does not constitute a PR campaign. Your products are tools, but your company messages and points of differentiation tell a deeper story that can lead to feature press coverage. Don’t confuse access to your products with access to what makes your company unique.


Are You Using the Right Tool?

PR, or more precisely, media relations is an efficient strategy employed when your desired outcome is building your brand’s credibility. A key benefit of earned media coverage in reputable media outlets is that third party endorsement. However, if you are after a direct customer response (purchase wine, visit a destination), there are other tactics that should be considered. Direct response campaigns that utilize social media targeting tools, advertising, direct mail/email and partnerships are better employed here, offering more precise tracking and typically quicker results. Trying to drive traffic to a tasting room simply through editorial coverage is like using a feather to hammer in a nail.



Benson offers PR and other digital, social media and trade promotions services. Learn more about our areas of expertise and read about our integrated approach here. If you would like to talk more about PR and how its role in the marketing mix can work for you, contact Jeremy Benson to schedule a credentials review.

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!