Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Wine biz Tweeter these days on social media

Karen Cline does yeomen’s work as coordinator of publicity and marketing for the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail. She’s a go-to resource for me, someone I can hit with an e-mail or phone call on any given day and get what I need – story ideas, trail info, contact information for a winemaker or proprietor or someone associated with wine -- to continue churning out the blog posts on a daily basis. Any trail or winery would be lucky to have her.

So while I was pleased to hear that the trail sent her to Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio, a few weeks ago to participate in the third annual License to Steal Marketing Conference, as someone who works for a newspaper I wasn’t thrilled to hear that we and our media brethren are being slowly phased out. Not maliciously, mind you, but because so many other forms of marketing, much of it now through social networking, are becoming increasingly successful at a cost far less than running an ad in any of the major media.

“A lot of wineries are slashing their advertising budgets and using more social media to get to customers,” she said. “One person said they slashed their ad budget for print media and traditional radio, and things like that, to 25 percent of what it normally would be.” Gulp.

Cline was one of around 90 people who attended the three-day conference, sponsored and coordinated by statewide wine offices of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Essentially it was a chance to share experiences and swap notes, then bring the ideas back to their respective wineries or wine trails to see what might work for them.

“Some wineries realize the value of bloggers, some of them have contacts like yourself,” she said. Others are doing [the blogging] on their own.”

One irony was that Cline wasn’t sure when we talked exactly who was making contact through myspace and Facebook and Twitter or producing their own blog because the event’s coordinators gave out a list of attendees that only included physical addresses. Not a phone number or Web site or anything else. But that problem was soon to be rectified, and Cline was waiting for that other data to be e-mailed so she could make a better assessment of who was dabbling in what social media.

Appropriately, a local newspaper
carried a story on the event. Lifestyle editor Carl Feather wrote that Bill Geist, a marketing consultant from Wisconsin, was the guest speaker. Editors and representatives from major wine media, including the Wine Enthusiast, Vineyard and Winery Management and Wines and Vines, presented a session and were available for story pitches from the attendees. Tim Morarity, editor of Wine Enthusiast, was one of the evening’s keynote speaker.

Several observations based on a year doing this blog and out of my conversation with Cline:

* Check out this
home page for the Norton grape, part of an extremely successful marketing campaign being done in Missouri. “Norton is a variety of grape, and they’ve actually personalized Norton himself into a person and they have very cute promotional ads and stuff, and he has a Facebook page," Cline said. "And the woman who does the marketing and advertising for Norton, she’s on Twitter, so I'm following her around now.”

* There are marketing directors out there working wonders by utilizing the media without incurring a cost. Certainly, the Brandywine and Lehigh Valley trails have generated much publicity for some of their events. To a lesser extent, from what I’ve seen, the Bucks County and Berks County trails have gotten stories written in the mainstream press. Alison Smith with the York County Convention & Visitors Bureau seemed to create a ton of coverage for the recent
Tour de Tanks, including TV drive-bys, that helped to drive record crowds into all the wineries during the March event. A few at this point -- Chaddsford, Crossing Vineyard and Hauser Estate -- are leaning on agencies to provide press releases for upcoming events, but those remain in the minority.

* Wine trails are becoming more and more useful in order to drive traffic. And you’ll see those continue to develop in Maryland and Pennsylvania. The half-dozen wineries in Maryland’s Frederick County have developed a trail, for instance, and another seems to be taking shape in and around Lancaster, Pa. The Mason-Dixon Wine Trail actually includes four wineries from Pennsylvania and four from Maryland, and after several years of falling by the wayside has re-energized its efforts to develop new initiatives.

* Finally, my observations is that some proprietors seem put off by even a phone call; indeed one question that some of the old-line winery owners seem to ask is how they’re going to find the time to upgrade their marketing and promotional arms with all the work required to run the winery. It’s a good question, but taking five or 10 minutes to talk to someone (whether it’s me or one of many other bloggers now writing on wines in this area) would seem to be a good way to get the word out with an absolutely minimum amount of investment. As someone told me a while back (and if you don't mind me getting just a bit self-serving), “It only takes a little while to talk to you. You’re doing all the work and taking the pictures and writing them up. They don’t do anything. They should be very grateful.”

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