Making Events Work for You

Every year it seems that we are approached by more and more wine events asking our clients to buy sponsorships at consumer events but, at the same time, we and our clients become more and more skeptical. In most cases, the events offer a “sampling opportunity” but unless there is a larger strategy to make the event to drive sales, sampling can just be another word for wasted product. However, there are ways to get benefit beyond the event itself. Here are some ways we do it:

Wine Tasting Event

  • MAKE A BIG IMPRESSION: Big events are expensive and it’s easy to get lost among the crowd at a “grand tasting,” but for launching a new product or positioning, a high-level sponsorship can be worth the spend.

EXAMPLE: Burger Bash at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival for Rosé d’Anjou. This off-dry rosé was once very popular in the U.S. but now it needs a re-launch. Burger Bash is a high profile event for 3,000 people, where 35 celebrity chefs from around the country compete for the best burger in the show. As exclusive wine sponsor,  we made sure each chef got a bottle, and we collected contact information so that sales teams could follow up. In addition, the event is well chosen to communicate Rosé d’Anjou’s positioning as a fun wine for casual drinking, grilling and outdoors. We poured 82 cases worth of samples in 3 hours.

  • GIVE VISITORS SOMETHING EXTRA: Exclusive sponsorships are not appropriate or affordable for all clients, and we need ways to stand out from the other tables in those big rooms where thousands of guest are trying to taste as many wines as possible. Give them something they are not getting at other tables, and that doesn’t just mean swag.

EXAMPLE: Loire Valley Wines at Wine Riot. Loire Valley wines are gaining in popularity but they are still not widely known, so education is essential. We give our staff talking points for each wine that are clear, memorable and can be delivered in a minute or less. They include the grapes, the style and a suggested food pairing for each wine. Of course, if visitors are interested, we can tell them much more and people love learning something new, but you only have a few seconds to get them interested.

  • KEEP IT SIMPLE: Too much variety is confusing. After four wines, people want to move on to the next table. Don’t ask people to remember too much.
  • MAKE THE EVENT WORK FOR YOU: But how will visitors remember what they have learned once they move on to the next table? We print pocket sized cards for all events with the names of all the wines, prices and where they are locally available. This may seem obvious, but it is surprising how few brands do it. If visitors cannot buy on the spot, we need do all we can to remind them what they tasted and where they can buy it.

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Message in a Bottle: What You Need to Know About Creating Successful Press Sampling Campaigns

We’ve learned a thing or two about press samples. What’s effective. What’s not. When to be creative, and when it’s necessary to only send wines with technical data, and nothing more. Excuse the pun, but don’t box your wines into the same sample strategy every time.

Since the primary goal of every sampling campaign is to generate positive reviews or stories about your wine, it’s important that your shipment stand out from the other 100+ samples press get each week. That requires some creativity (don’t mistake that to mean it can’t also be simple), relevancy, solid execution, and that special “wow-factor.” Here are some rules to live by:

Wine Writers

  • What’s Your Intended Outcome? Before executing on your sampling campaign, think about what you want to accomplish. Do you just want reviews? Make a bold statement? Predict or create a new wine trend? Raise eyebrows? Your goals should always determine the path forward on how elaborate or creative to get.
  • Think Outside the Box: The focus shouldn’t always be about what’s in the bottle. Consider clever, yet appropriate ways to connect your wine to newsworthy current events, food pairing trends, or consumer consumption data. For example, if you’re releasing a new Moscato, insert relevant market data on the rise of Moscato. If you really want to stand out, take a non-traditional wine industry approach by creating a bartender tool kit with some delicious Moscato cocktail recipes.
  • First Impressions Matter: If this is the first time you’ve sent samples, make sure everything matches what you want your wines to convey. There are no second chances, so your first impression will leave a lasting memory – good or bad. Pay attention to every detail, from what you say to the look and feel of the material. If it doesn’t match the wine’s branding, it won’t have the desired impact.
  • Go Big or Go Home: If you’re samples have a theme, make sure every aspect of the mailer reflects that. If you’re encouraging entertaining at the beach, wrap a beach towel around the wine instead of foam inserts, or use a tote bag instead of shipping boxes. Create an experience beyond just tasting the wines.
  • Look Outside the Wine Industry Bubble: Wine marketers take for granted all the alternative media who are not accustomed to receiving wine samples as frequently as their wine writing peers. Match your pitch or theme to writers covering those topics. For example, if you’re wine is on the pricier side, send it to editors at luxury publications who cover expensive watches, purses, etc.
  • Don’t Forget We Live in a Twitter World: Make sure the look/feel of your sample mailer is something you wouldn’t be embarrassed if it appeared on Facebook or Twitter. In this day of 24/7 news cycles, media are impulsive and may want to post something immediately. Be prepared and ready to respond.
  • Famous Last Rules: Trust us, writers HATE receiving wine samples that are unavailable in their market. So, make sure to confirm your distribution before mailing out samples. Finally, make sure you’re not breaking any laws by shipping wines to states that ban wine direct-to-consumer shipments.

Wine Writers
For an example of a successful creative sample mailer campaign that was graded an A+ by the media, visit

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Wi-Fi in Winery Tasting Rooms

How does offering public Wi-Fi in your tasting room affect your online engagement? Our curiosity led us to drive up and down Napa Valley’s Highway 29 testing public Wi-Fi connection at 20 of the major wineries. What we found was only four out of the 20 wineries surveyed offered free public Wi-Fi (No passwords required). As smart phones have increasingly become a staple of everyday life, offering free Wi-Fi can benefit a winery in a few simple ways:

Wi-Fi in the Valley

  • Social ‘check-ins’ – The act of checking in allows visitors to share their location with friends. Check-ins are a great form of indirect marketing for wineries and boost engagement on your brand’s Facebook page. When someone checks in at your winery a story is created in their newsfeed, which expands the reach of your brand to people outside your existing fan base.
  • Online sharing – Uploading photos to Facebook, writing reviews and Tweeting have all become “normal” ways people share their lives and experiences. Facebook and other channels act as digital diaries chronicling where people travel and what they are eating and drinking. Social media is built for sharing the exact type of experiences people have while visiting wineries. Offering free Wi-Fi can facilitate the free word-of-mouth exposure social media provides for your brand.
  • Building relationships – One of the goals of tasting rooms is to foster relationships with customers not only when they visit but also when they leave. Having Wi-Fi in the tasting room makes it easier for people to get online to ‘like’ a Facebook page, join a wine club or sign up for an email newsletter – all easy ways to stay connected to the brand after leaving the tasting room.
  • Providing information – The internet is where most people turn to answer questions and research unfamiliar things. If a customer would like to find your wines near them or read more about your current vintage on your website, then making it easier for them to connect to the internet is going to give them access to information and lead to a deeper involvement with your brand.


Why do we want people online in the tasting room versus simply enjoying the experience? The reality is we want them to do both, but making it easier for customers to engage with you online is something wineries should want to facilitate. Even if your winery has good cell reception there isn’t always the best coverage for visitors trying to connect to the internet. This is an area of opportunity for wineries to support their current marketing efforts in a simple way: create an environment for people to easily engage online.

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Is your website share-able?

Optimizing your website for social media can help people find your social media sites and sign up for your updates by following or fanning you there. This can also help generate more interest in your content and traffic to your site, social media platforms and online store through social media posts and updates. Here are three areas that you should review to make sure your content is able to be shared easily and effectively:

  1. Add social media icons: Dedicate a certain area on your website to link to your social media platforms. This can be as simple as the icon at the bottom or top of each page on your website as this example from the Crate & Barrel website demonstrates. We recommend putting these icons in a very visible spot, such as the top of the page or next to the login section (if you have one).

  2. Add social media “plug-ins” (3rd party applications that link your website to social media platforms) so people can easily interact with your website through their personal social media profiles.
    • Facebook’s social plug-ins offer a variety of options including: commenting (so people can comment as their Facebook account), Facebook sharing (so people can share something they like from your site with the click of a button) and the option to like your Facebook page from your website.
    • Twitter sharing is also a great tool on your website so people can easily share on Twitter if they like something from your site, such as a specific wine, photo or article from a blog post. Make sure your Twitter handle is included in the share so that it is automatically included in the Tweet and more people can easily see the Twitter handle.

  3. Confirm images can be pulled from your website, be it by Pinterest, Facebook or another social media site to get peoples’ attention before they actually click through to your website.
    • Pinterest can pull images from a website if there are images available. These images can click through back to your website, driving traffic. Test that the images on your site can be pulled by going to Pinterest and adding a Pin (with the url to your website). If no images display, your webmaster should be able to fix this.
    • When linking to a url on Facebook or Google+, an image (“thumbnail”) is automatically pulled from your site.  Test that the thumbnail you would like is being pulled by going to Facebook or Google +, update your status with a link to your website and see what image is shown. If no image appears, your webmaster should be able to fix this.

Example of image pulling from a website:

Example of no image pulling from a website:

All of this is helpful in making user interaction easy and keep the consumer engaged in your site and social media presences.


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Is Google+ something you should add?

Google+ launched in June 2011 and currently has over 170 million active users. The Google+ Brand Page is Google’s social networking platform. It is similar to Facebook — individuals and businesses maintain profiles and share information and updates with friends.

But Google+ is not right for every brand. Should your brand be on Google+?


  • Integration with other Google platforms: Search, YouTube, Google Maps, Zagat to help create a unified brand message and link the information on these platforms
  • Better Google search results for your brand because “social search” provides relevant results for individuals signed into their Google accounts as well as optimized results based on keyword usage in page posts
  • Opportunity to target posts to people in “Circles,” which are categories created to organize connections and can selectively share information with specific circles
  • “Events” for people to interact with each other before, during and/or after physical or online events (includes invitations, RSVPs and photo sharing)

Google Plus

  • People appear to be less active
  • Not as large an audience as other social platforms
  • It is another social network that needs to be monitored and updated


  • Better search results when people use Google to search for your brand, topics relevant to your brand or keywords that you have used in your posts
  • If you have a physical location, you can control the information provided on the Google+ page for your location (“Local”) and map results
  • You are active on YouTube and want to better use the available options to interact with fans


  • Launch with a similar strategy to Facebook but keep checking and readjusting as needed
  • Don’t expect the same results as on other platforms right from the start
  • Have fun and test different approaches on how to interact with fans!

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Press Dinner, Lunches and Tastings – Yay or Nay?

“Should I go to New York and host a dinner for press?” is a question we get all the time. The answer is, predictably, it depends. There is no one-size fits all solution. The type of event will depend on your story, wine and company. Ask yourself a few questions.

  • Do I have news to share?
  • Can I teach writers about a specific topic?
  • Does my story fit into a larger trend? (Relevance)
  • Am I ready to show my best? (Is my distribution in place, the wine shows my vision)

Ok, so you’ve answered ‘yes’ to most of those. Now, the format it takes will depend on your brand story and goals. We’ve employed all of these. Chances are you’ll know right away which one is right for you. But don’t be afraid to experiment with the format.

  • Vertical tasting followed by lunch or dinner
  • Competitive tasting, pouring wines alongside direct competitors
  • After work ‘Happy Hour’
  • Mid-day ‘walk around’ portfolio tasting
  • Tasting and bar bites hosted throughout the day

Now that you’ve decided to host a press event, here are some must dos (and a few don’ts) to make the most out of it. Good writers will not spend their free time taking a free dinner; it needs to help them get their job done.

Think Way Ahead: This recommendation is two-fold. 1) Invite press further out than you think. 6-8 weeks is an ideal timeframe. 2) Writers are thinking about holiday gifts in spring and summer, and white wines in December. Allow this to inform what you present.


Focus: Chances are you have a thousand stories to tell. Your invitation should focus on one. One message has a better chance of being heard than three, four, or more.

Location, Location, Location: The restaurant where you’re hosting your event makes a statement, so pick a new hot spot, where the food pairs well with your wines. Given the choice between a mainstay that has your wines on the list and a new trendy account that does not, pick the new hot spot and use it as an excuse to speak to the wine buyer.

Think Like a Reporter: This may seem obvious, but put yourself in the writer’s shoes. What will her editor think is interesting? What aspect will his editor think is newsy? What would make for a ‘sexy’ column? Is there is a controversial issue (alcohol, replanting, hangtime) that you can take head on? Is there a story behind your first harvest or difficult challenge at the winery?

Become a Resource: Whether you’re planning on a tasting for 100, a dinner for 8, or a 1-on-1 press meeting, be an educator. Writers will make time for a meeting or a dinner if they feel they will learn something or they can pitch their editors. And a story is rarely about one wine, so the syllabus needn’t stop with your brand or vineyard. It should include your region, varietal or category you’re playing in.

Be Bold: Don’t be afraid to pour competitors or other wines in the category. Don’t be afraid to show how your winery’s style has evolved over years. Don’t be afraid to show who you are. Bottom line, don’t be afraid.

Be Yourself: Nothing annoys a writer more than a trained pony. If they feel you’re reading from a script, they won’t be able to connect with you. Wine writers love to tell authentic stories behind the story. How did you get to be where you are? What mistakes did you make? Who are the people behind the bottle and what makes them who they are?

Be Realistic: Not every writer who attends your event will be able to write a story about it, but you’ve created a connection with that person that you can nurture over time. Not every writer will actually show up! It’s true; writers have deadlines and sometimes have to cancel. We often recommend overbooking the table since cancellations are inevitable. Your job during an event is to get to know these writers and for them to get to know you.

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When to get snap happy with Instagram

The newly popular social media platform Instagram is a free photo-sharing mobile application for iPhone, iPad and Android that allows users to apply filters to alter the look of their photos. Instagram has quickly become one of the top three social networking platforms with Mashable reporting that it now has more daily users on mobile than Twitter (7.3 million daily users reported in August compared to 6.9 million daily Twitter users). The success of Instagram can be attributed to its simplicity. It merges photo sharing and mobile,Instagram Samples two of the hottest trends in social media, and it lacks the ability for brands to clutter user’s feeds with advertising or even clickable links to buy products.


  1. Visual Storytelling – This is really what Instagram is all about. Telling your brand story through the use of images. The quote “a picture is worth a thousand words” rings so true for this platform because memorable images can offer a deeper insight into the brand than copy.
  2. Gain Insight into User Experience – The same could be said for Facebook and Twitter but the searchability and image-only content allow marketers to actually see how people are engaging with the brand offline. Like Twitter, you can search different hash tags to find images users are sharing about your winery. The best images can also serve as valuable content for your other social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
  3. Give an Insider Look – Consumers love feeling like they are getting an exclusive look at what goes on behind the scenes. Take images that show a day in the life of the winemaker or “of the moment” updates on how harvest is coming along. Make your followers feel like they won’t get this information anywhere else.
  4. Show Products in Action – Use images to show your followers different ways to enjoy your wines. Take photos of people enjoying your wines on a hike or at the beach, show how your wine can be used for hot mulled wine during the holidays or share photos of your wines paired with different dishes created by your chef or restaurant partners. You can also share consumer-generated photos to show the creative ways others are using your products.
  5. Teach – Share a series of images to teach consumers how the wine is made. Take photos at different points in the winemaking process to show the step by step process. Consumers who buy your wines will feel like they are “experts” in how it was created.

Without advertising or the ability to share clickable links, Instagram serves merely as tool to help build awareness and tell the brand’s story. Users appreciate the absence of heavy sales messaging and embrace the brands that offer something unique. As with any other social media platform, develop a strategy for your Instagram channel, ensure you’ll have a steady stream of images to share and use your established social media communities to cross-promote to help build a following.

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Turn your Media Buy into a Media Plan!

CTRs and CTAs Leave an Impression:
A “Media Buy” is a term that describes any sort of purchase of paid media for advertising purposes. Marry this up with a strategy and you have a “Media Plan,” a list of purchased advertising space for your ads. A diverse Media Buy can contain print, online, Social Media, out-of-home (billboards, subway ads etc), partnerships and unique items like sponsorships or “street teams” (which may be handing out product in the subway, for example).

Ten years ago, a “Media Plan” in the wine industry would probably only mean a print ad in a few publications like Food & Wine Magazine or Wine Spectator. Today, opportunities abound; the shift toward online advertising is creating interesting opportunities for small digital buys (like Facebook ads).

But how do you define a successful Media Plan? First, this depends on your goal and your message. If your goal is to get people to know about you, then you want high impressions and don’t really need a high Click-Through Rate (CTR), the amount of times your ad is clicked on. You just want them to see your ad over and over (think billboard on the side of the highway). Conversely, if you have a something you are trying to lead someone to, like an online store or a list of places pouring your wine, you want a high CTR. Much of the success of these ads depends on your Call to Action (CTA), such as “click to read more” or “click to purchase”. While Media Buys, CTRs and CTAs are easily understood on their own, putting them together strategically is what can make a great Media Plan.

Sample Click-Through Rate
Your mileage may vary, but here are some ranges we have experienced in campaigns:

Facebook .03 to .15% ads .29 to .34%
Tasting Table ads .07 to .35%
Apartment Therapy ads .09 to .10%
Apartment Therapy sponsored email .42 to .81%

Think Outside the 728×90 40k Animated GIF
Oddly, while all this jargon and the thought of contacting 30 publications doesn’t sound like fun, it can be. The key is to push publications into ideas they wouldn’t normally come up with, so that your ad delivers better metrics. Ask them to create a new ad space for you. Ask them to include Social Media posts in their proposal. We asked one online publication to change all their website background colors to our client’s brand colors to match our ad campaign. While they didn’t go for that, they did create a new ad location just for us and we secured a 6-month exclusive on the space for our client.

Example of Media Plan for Chicago.
The last word
Go into a Media Buy with a plan. Know what you want the results to be – high impressions or high CTR. Gear your Call to Action accordingly. Then get creative while approaching publications. Think of your Media Plan as you would a stock portfolio: get some hard working average returns in there, but dedicate a small amount of budget to get creative and try a new publication or a new platform. You may hit a winner that is the perfect formula to drive the results you want.

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Mangia! The State of New Food Media

It's no secret digital food magazines have gained popularity and greater importance over the last decade. Ever since Condé Nast's launched in 1995, the internet has been a trusted source of food editorial and recipes. Today, the space is increasingly fragmented with more and more new players creating unique editorial content for a younger and interactive user. These outlets combine community with online and email editorial content together with a distinctive tone and voice to connect with the coveted younger foodie demographic.

And, as everyone knows, where there is food…there are wines and spirits, so it's no wonder why they should be on your radar. Here's a short list of who you should know and how it should impact your press outreach.

The Players: A short list of sites

What to Know

SeriousEats: 1.6 million unique users per month visit this multi-channel website. "Serious" doesn't mean stuffy; this page is seriously passionate about all things liquid.

Food Republic: Founded to reach a male audience, the site generates 500,000+ readers with a combination of food tips, history, recipes and drinks.

Tasting Table: Every year since 2008, Tasting Table has doubled their readership. Today, 1.5 million readers reached daily through five National and six regional editions with things to eat, read, drink and do.

Chow: Part message board, part food community, part editorial blog, part food TV station, leverages owner CBS to generate 1.8 million monthly users.

Food52: Another part food community/part editorial blog, Food52 created the first user-generated cookbook in 52 weeks. Today, the site includes wine and spirits as regular features. 161,000 unique visitors per month.

DailyMeal: Combination of unique and syndicated digital content, Daily Meal prides itself on being "All Things Food & Drink" with a specifically 'pop culture' sensibility. 800,000 unique monthly visitors.

ZesterDaily: One to Watch, Zester Daily was founded by former Los Angeles Times reporter Corie Brown. So it's no wonder that Zester combines smart, researched food reporting. On the rise, the site has 63,000 email subscribers.

Traditional Media Goes Digital, Too: Even traditional food media, such as Food & Wine Magazine, Bon Appetit, and Saveur, have unique content developed just for the web and consumer emails.

The last word:
The last word is actually not the last at all! We just haven't seen the finale of the evolution of food journalism. Continue to watch, read and share the content that resonates with you and your brand.

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Should you be Pinterested?

Pinterest is a virtual pinboard that lets you organize and share interesting web content. Popular with consumers, Pinterest was recently cited as the fourth largest website traffic driver worldwide, and the fastest-growing social media site (23 million users as of July 2012). The emphasis on images and ease of use are two reasons for its rapid growth. Some of the most popular image categories on Pinterest have a lifestyle focus: home décor, arts & crafts, and fashion. Many marketers are wondering if, and how, to get involved. The answer? It depends. Here is a quick check list to determine if Pinterest is right for your winery.

The Checklist:

  1. Are you popular with the ladies? Almost 80% of Pinterest users are females between the ages of 25 and 44; it is the only major U.S. social network to skew so disproportionately female. Before jumping in to Pinterest, make sure your brand makes sense for this audience.
  2. Start with your website. Can the images from your website and products in your online store be easily “pinned” or posted to the Pinterest site? Test this by entering URL links from your website to the “Add a Pin” page. If your site is optimized for sharing, you will be able to select your best images to share on Pinterest. Pinned images that link directly to your website ultimately drive traffic. Websites built with Flash are not optimized for sharing.
  3. Audit your winery’s visual assets. High quality images are the most engaging posts on Pinterest. Your photos should catch people’s eye and invite them to explore further and ultimately share (“re-pin”) your content. Do you have an iconic photo from the tasting room that links to information on the winery experiences, photos and recipes of gourmet meals prepared by your chef, or educational tips with photos on how to taste wine? In this case, casual social media-quality photos won’t work; you want to share your highest-quality images.
  4. Can you keep it up? In order to be successful on Pinterest you need a steady stream of quality images and text. You will want to stay active and pin daily. Do you already run a blog that is updated regularly? This is a great source of content that can be easily pinned and drive traffic to your blog. Also, interact with other Pinterest users by searching and repinning photos they share of your winery.

If you can commit time and effort to engage your followers, your brand has the potential to reach a new, very social audience. While it may seem overwhelming to take on yet another social network, if armed with the right strategy, Pinterest can be well worth the effort.

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