A Love-Letter To Wine PR Folks. Sort Of.

Vinted on November 30, 2011 binned in commentary, going pro

Since causing a minor sh*t-storm on Facebook a week ago when I lamented publicly about bad wine PR folks wanting me to “guarantee” reviews of their clients’ wine samples (with responses ranging from “cut them some slack, they have a difficult job” to “screw ‘em, they’re all idiots), I’ve gotten to thinking about the whole delicate relationship balance between media and PR, and have come to the following conclusion.

I have two words for 90% of all the winery and wine-brand PR folks with whom I deal on a fairly regular basis: THANK YOU.

Seriously. Thank you. You deserve my thanks because most of you are totally awesome. You are totally awesome because you’ve actually read the long-policy that I have regarding samples, press trips, and the like, you are true professionals in the best senses of the word, and some of you I actually now count among my friends, as in people I’d have a glass of vino with even if you weren’t trying to sell me on your brands.  You are awesome because you cultivate a real, honest-to-goodness relationship with me, trying to get me samples that fit what 1WD is really all about and respecting the fact that after the samples are sent there can be no promises of coverage or even of any follow-up on the wines if they’re not reviewed. I know that you’re looking to get your clients’ products in front of eyeballs, you know I am looking fro great content for these virtual pages, and we try to meet in the middle without overstepping each others’ professional boundaries. So… thank you for that!

For the other 10% of the wine PR folks out there – the ones who want me to promise coverage before they will deign to send me a samples (of wines that they’ve already deigned to SPAM me about in press release emails asking me if I want a sample in the first place) – well, I also have two words for you, only those two words rhyme with “Duck Poo” and I don’t want to print them here…

That may seem harsh to some of you reading it, but the latter 10% of that group are either unaware of the policies of the people to whom their pitching their clients’ products for review (in which case they’re under-prepared, or lazy – or both), or simply do not care about the policies of the people to whom their pitching their clients’ products for review (in which case they’re unprofessional, lacking in scruples, or lazy – or all three). Most people with any semblance of professionalism themselves do not want to deal with people similar to those described above in any setting, whether free stuff is involved or not. I’ve no doubt that there are many people in wine media who act like unprofessional douchebags and make unrealistic demands on PR folks – I wouldn’t want to spend much time with any of those folks, either.

Now, before you flame me for seemingly bitching about receiving free wine, hear me out a bit. We’re not talking about caseloads of great wine sent over so that I can throw the most bitching-est party ever conceived on the Eastern Seaboard (though I’ve been tempted, believe me); we are talking about product samples that I treat as other people’s property, examples of product that could, to some extent, help or hinder brand recognition and sales for the real, live people who help to make them. I might take myself fairly lightly, but don’t take any of the business end of it lightly (and the business end includes samples).

There’s a delicate balance-beam of trust that PR folks have to walk in this scenario, and many of them do it deftly and with a real sense of genuineness – consider this my love-letter to them (look, I know it’s not much, but trust me, from me this is a real tear-jerking gusher of a love-letter!). If you’re among that group, the 90%, I hope many years from now we are still walking that delicate balance-beam together.

As for the other 10% percent… don’t email me, I’ll email you, okay?






  • Kelly Conrad

    Thank you for even taking the time to talk about this delicate relationship. I also take it very seriously, and I only hope that those like yourself that I have developed friendships with don't think that I always have an alterior motive in the back of my head when we have a glass or a meal; that is what keeps me in this industry is the intelligent, fun people I get to meet and work with…

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Kelly. I think the anterior motive thing gets played up a bit too much – I mean, I am gonna be 40 in March, it's not like I have no BS-detectino capabilities. :) I enjoy the friendship with people like you, and the working relationship as well – because you know if I am in a situation where I have to tell you NFW on something, that I have good reasons for it and so you don't push it. You seek to build relationships and that is what makes you a PR rock-star in the wine biz.

  • Alison Dillon

    My heart sank initially when I saw the subject topic but having read it I'm pleased to see that the percentage is small of those annoying PR's and that the vast majority if your dealings are with true professionals. It was a fair commentary;)
    A UK Wine PR ( that's PR not Pariah!)

    • 1WineDude

      Alison – like anything else, the rotten grapes shouldn't end up spoiling the entire bunch I suppose! :)

  • Alder Yarrow

    A big AMEN from the choir here, dude. Though I can hardly believe you left off one of the cardinal sins — getting placed on all their clients' mailing lists after giving them your card at some trade function.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Alder – oh god, that *is* the worst. I am convinced that these folks do not realize that they might be breaking the law by doing that. I've reported several of those as SPAM actually…

    • SonomaWilliam

      This is a no no that happens to me almost every single time I hand out my card, and to make it even worse NOT be added to a PR list, which I don't mind that.

      • 1WineDude

        SonomaWilliam – yeah, it’s like we should expect the opposite of what we actually want to happen!

  • Jo Diaz

    I sit on both sides of the fence, as you may know, and I get to see the good, the bad, and the ugly, too… Like a guy who set up an appointment to talk via Skype and then stood me up. When I called his office, he was "still out to lunch." No doubt… Ugly…

    He also never returned any of my Emails, when I asked, ""Are you okay?" He set up the appointment… I didn't.

    It's my experience, as with all things in life, that just because someone is a PR pro, that doesn't mean that it's that person's calling. This is where the behaving badly comes into play. It's actually a hoot (did I just write "hoot"?) to watch the pitches, and I'm also learning some great tricks along the way.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Jo – and no problem using “hoot,” I rather like the word! :)

  • RobBralow

    It has been a LOOOONG time since I read a blog, or posted a comment, or… anything. But I saw this on Facebook and decided, why not.

    First of all, I haven't written on my blog in over a year. I even have an auto-reply set up on my account saying "You obviously haven't looked at my blog, so thanks for the e-mail, but take 30 seconds to go read it." I still get over 100 e-mails a day. A DAY! And I was never as popular as you Dude!

    Would it make you feel better if I told you that distributors are 100x worse than the worst PR person? I saw all of the crappy things PR people do, I will even admit to being forced to do some of them. But it is NOTHING compared to the ridiculous nature of the trade.

    But I would say that the same way I give more of my attention to those distributors that have a good relationship with me, you give more of your time to read what a good PR person has sent you.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Rob – here's hoping I don't have to deal with too many distributors…

  • Mia Malm

    Great post, Joe. Here's to the balance beam ballet!

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Mia. It is delicate – and there are already folks giving me flack for even saying something nice about those who actually respect the policies I put in place regarding no promises of coverage and no sponsored content, etc. Similar to those giving me flack when I complained about the ones who do not respect those policies. So apparently this topic is lose/lose! :)

      • Mia Malm

        Yikes! Well, there's at least 10% behaving badly on both the PR and media sides. Maybe someday when I'm retired to Tahiti I'll get together with a retired journo and we'll write a tell-all — and throw Rob B in there too for distributor stories! "Chateau Confidential"…LOL

        • 1WineDude

          Ha! :)

  • Doug Wilder

    I guess I'm fortunate that 99% of my interactions are great. The PR people who do contact me are already aware of what my focus is. I just met a new one last month who scheduled one of my Willamette Valley winemaker tastings and then asked me which of their formidable CA brands would I be interested to taste (certainly respectful and not pushy). If I am getting samples sent, most are coming directly from the winery at my request. Essentially, the more proactive a writer or blogger is regarding dealing with PR, the easier it is to establish what your expectations are.

    • 1WineDude

      Doug – You are lucky if 99% of the interactions have been great. :)

  • @UCBeau

    One of my favorite things to read in an email from a PR person is this: "Are you planning any coverage of _______ or running any themed blog posts that I can send you samples for?"

  • @UCBeau

    Ok, comment above was cut off, here's the full comment below…………………………….

    One of my favorite things to read in an email from a PR person is this: "Are you planning any coverage of _______ or running any themed blog posts that I can send you samples for?"

    That is for me, awesome. The PR person is reaching out, asking what MY preference is, and offering something of value to me, where in turn I can (hopefully) offer something of value to them in the form of a review or coverage.

    Something I hate getting: A generic press release about a winery's newest release and associated high score, a PR campaign where no samples are offered, or the often entirely non-wine-related pitches I get for things like vodka and holiday cocktails.

    That said, I feel that we bloggers, be they the big guns like you Joe or little guys like myself, must strive to make our samples policy crystal clear as well as do our part to cultivate relationships with the PR people we trust and respect. The two way street and all that. By helping make our favorite PR peeps' jobs easier, we can maybe set a good example for the rest of 'em.


    • 1WineDude

      @UCBeau – Exactly! And those that do not bother to read the policy or adhere to it can go get bent!

  • Tom Wark

    I don't have to worry about a sample policy…I don't review wines. (when people write and ask me for my address so they can send samples, I always give them Joe's and Alder's address). However, I do find myself in the interesting position of being both a wine blogger that is pitched stories daily and a Wine PR Guy that pitches stories daily, sometimes to bloggers. So, I have some insight on this whole issue….But instead of explaining it here, I'll just send it in a press release.

    • 1WineDude

      Tom – careful, some of us might delete that press release! :)

  • SonomaWilliam

    I was also fearful when I read the title, i was expecting this to be the usual blogger pathetic PR whining I see.

    I do a bit P/T work for a PR firm and contact writers/bloggers as well, so see both sides.

    I will say I have been very fortunate in dealing with PR firms and consider myself fortunate to have worked with many great people like Mia, Kelly, Jo and others who have responded here, and if anything, feel guilty I don't do more in exchange…good intentions, lack of time…. I have never had a 3rd party PR firm insist on reviews til samples until one group recently, which is going to boomerang back on them in a way they don't quite realize.

    I almost never publish bad reviews – perhaps if a PR person approaches me with a demand I review their wine, I'll take the sample and amend that policy. Thats a pretty stupid request.

    There are probably more bad bloggers than PR people, in my experience. You should see some of the sh*t that comes in when asking for samples.
    PR is often under appreciated internally by an industry that just doesn't get the importance of branding and messaging, which is often also the case on the media side. My heart goes out to you people, and I'll echo my kudos and thanks for the often thankless job you do.

    cheers, hugs and happy holidays.

    • 1WineDude

      @SonomaWilliam – regarding the demands of writers, I believe it, and have heard a lot of horror stories…

  • kelkeagy

    Thank you for this. You have to have somewhat of a thick skin to work in the world of PR, but it does get tiresome to always be referred to in generalized ways (and usually with a negative tone). It's really nice to be acknowledged by someone who has a good balanced view.

    • 1WineDude

      kelly – sounds a lot like… blogging! :)

  • @QuitWINEing

    I'm not cool enough to get as many samples as you. I actually pay for the majority of the wine I blog about. But after reading this, I'm kind of happy I don't deal with the headache of a million and one samples. Several samples that I have received have been quite good, and others…not so much. And since I'm pairing wine with food, the wine has to work.

    Although my pocket hurts, my annoyance scale remains intact.


    • 1WineDude

      @QuitWINEing – There are disadvantages to accepting samples for sure. One is the space, another is that you get a lot of okay-to-decent wine, much of it tasting similar and not really worth talking about to the 1WD readership. Upside is that you get access to a lot of wine that you wouldn’t normally come across for various reasons. But it does require a delicate balancing act to and a TON of transparency about what you are doing so that you are not perceived (fairly or unfairly) as a shill. I am cool with being transparent so no worries there, but for more private people it could be a BIG pain in the butt. Cheers!

  • @SDependahl

    Joe, I think you should sell “we are the 90%” T-shirts on the site! You brought up a key point on Facebook about the “what can you do for me” attitude. For any relationship to work, including journalist/publicist, it needs to be mutually beneficial and also based on an understanding of the responsibility that comes with working on either side. Thanks for the post.

    • 1WineDude

      @SDependahl – thanks; god known I would need the revenue from the shirt sales…

  • Lesley

    Hi Joe, Thanks for taking the time to write about something not everyone wants to discuss. I too have had mostly great experience with wine PR/agency folks. I'm still learning about this delicate balance. One thing that has really surprised me during the past year or more, though, is receiving a steadily increasing number of press releases that have NOTHING to do with wine! I wish such people would be more targeted with those e-mails…

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Lesley – press releases… I think you meant SPAM? ;-).

      • Lesley

        Yes, I guess that is what I meant! Especially the ones unrelated to wine.

  • @AshleyTeplin

    It 'tis an interesting balance and game that media professionals and journalists play. And I spend my nights crying over emails not returned, ignored or unanswered. Ok, not so much – haha. You just can't take it personally, and like previously posted, thick skin is essential. But, when it works and both sides are happy with the experience, it is pure bliss. Oh yes.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Ashley. Pure bliss? Uhm… That is really pushing it! :)

      • @AshleyTeplin

        I like to push the envelope…and there might have been a wee bit of fun sarcasm with the bliss comment. BTW: Hope your little one feels better. I had an awful bug a few weeks back, I blame a certain someone for passing on his contagiousness. hehe

        • 1WineDude

          :) Thanks!

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