Questions of a publicist

This past week’s questions to me are all frequently asked, so I thought I’d share. I was able to answer two of them, and am including the third one for this morning’s blog, for which I’ll send my colleague who asked the link to this page.

I’m betting that this is pretty boring stuff for anyone but the professionals involved: PR professional, freelance writer, and a grape varietal organizer.

However, getting this information into the public domain will mean that I’ll never have to rewrite this again; because they are — as I mentioned … my frequently asked questions.
Question 1 (From a fellow publicist): “Are you aware of any freelance wine PR people in this neck of the woods? I’ve always been a one-man shop along with my wife, who handles graphic design. She’s got tons of freelancers she uses when we need them. But I’m pretty full at this point. And I may be picking up a new client that I want, but will need someone else to do most of the work. I’m looking for someone at a level of experience a step or two below us. Any thoughts? Thanks again!!”

Answer: You may want to consider an entry person, someone just out of school. That person could support what you’re doing with several clients… handing off admin kind of stuff, leaving you to the higher end copy writing, continued direct communications, etc. Remember, with a person just out of school, there’s a ton of experiential learning that must now happen, before this person could possibly fill your shoes. There are tasks you can hand off for each client that aren’t of a higher nature. Think about what you’re worth for an hour’s wage, then hand off the following work load to an entry level person for a fraction of the cost: wine competitions, clipping service reviewing and recording, filing, answering the phone, executing on all mailings. This way, you’re still directly interfacing with the client who came to you for your skill and relationship base. That client came to you for “you,” not someone else who you’ll have to train to become as capable and talented as you’ve become.
Question 2 (From a freelance writer): “I want to make some changes to make my Web site, making it a little friendlier and to perhaps induce more people to subscribe, offering a few more members-only services. Memberships are very low and I’m not making a cent on the site. I may eventually have to go to advertising…….What to do?”

Answer: First of all, there’s nothing wrong with having advertising. Your site is awesome; so, it’s not about making it friendlier, it’s about making more friends… You need to ask yourself, “How did the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, wine magazines, etc. get going?” There’s a myth among writers that when they strike out on their own, they need to maintain their journalistic integrity by not associating with advertisers… The advertisers won’t be the wineries (budget are too small for that, or they’d be drained in no time), so there’s nothing wrong with co-marketing. You’re now in business for yourself, and co-marketing is all it is, and that’s how successful companies stay alive, by aligning themselves to the benefit of all. (Everyone has to eat.)

A winery data base is needed so that you can query wineries, let them know that you exist, samples are appreciated, etc. (“Wines & Vines” has that available. It’s a bit expensive, but it will pay for itself in time.)

You need to send an Email newsletter to everyone on the list, asking for it to be forwarded to the winery PR person. Send it through a company like Vertical Response, so you can legally broadcast to a large audience. This way, people can unsubscribe if they want to. Depending on how many Emails you’re sending, the highest amount you’ll currently spend is .015 cents per Email; so if you send to 300 wineries, it costs a little over three dollars, all of which you can write off to advertising.

In your newsletter, list your credentials. This is like a resume. [Who ever thought you’d need that again, right?] State that you’re now an independent writer. Give a hot link to your site. Have a subscription component in this mailing. There are a few Email newsletters out there, and any good marketing department should be paying attention.

That’s a start. It takes a while to grow a business, and reinvent yourself. Journalism isn’t a well-compensated career when it’s tied to a newspaper, I’m finding. The pattern seems to be that once you’ve helped the paper to grow, firmly establishing itself based on solid advertising dollars, they sell it. New owners come in and make sweeping changes to down size expenses (even though they swore they wouldn’t do that dastardly deed). The first thing they do is let go of those who are on the higher end of the salary spectrum, those who built the paper in the first place. No one is sacred from this practice in the corporate world. It’s business evolution.

Once you’ve been given your pink slip, it’s all about marketing yourself, as you’re now the product.

(My story’s called, “Bitch in a Pink Slip — or — The Layers of My Tulle.”)

Question 3 (From someone wanting to create a wine organization): “How did you organize PS I Love You, as there are some wineries in this state that I just moved to [not California] that would like to start an association for a particular hybrid that grows here?”

Answer: Start with passion, build with patience, and be willing to throw yourself into it, which means that you’re going to have to give yourself away. Finally, find a way to live within a shoe-string budget… This is very much like giving birth to a child. Although it doesn’t have a body, it has an extension of your soul.

This is not the first time I’ve been asked about organizations, as I’ve been an organizer since the time I started a club in my neighborhood when I was about 12. By the time I was 23, I has hired to set the curriculum and then be the director of a school. By the time I was 35, I was the director of Androscoggin Girl Scout Day Camp. (I was the only one old enough to be able to spell and pronounce it… It’s amazing what the “benefit of age” delivers as a gift from the universe.)

Here’s my 12-Step program; and remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day:

Step 1: Dan Berger was asked if he thought there should be a Petite Sirah Symposium. Dan said, “Yes, and there should also be an advocacy group called PS I Love You.” Dan had already identified a need, and I moved it forward to execute.

Step 2: After Foppiano’s successful First Annual Petite Sirah Noble Symposium, I sent out the evaluations, and asked, “If there were a group, would you join?” (All this time, I had Christine Wells of Foppiano whispering in my ear, telling me things that would help to grow this dream. This was all done with the blessings of Louis M. Foppiano. If you are to start an organization, you need advocates on your side. They many not do the work, but they’ll objectively lead you in ways that you can’t subjectively see from your vantage point.)

Step 3: While waiting for the answers to arrive, and in anticipation of success, I created a registration form. Within the registration I stated a) the mission, b) what I planned to achieve as a group, c) the dues structure to carry the group’s expenses in actualizing how it would all be done. I was then ready when the “Yes’s” began to arrive.

Step 4: Those who answered my anticipated “Yes” were sent the registration form.

Step 5: I opened a bank account.

Step 6: I got a P.O. Box number.

Step 7: Meanwhile, I turned to my husband and said, “Build a site; they will come.” Anyone wanting to do something like this needs to find a Webmaster who’s willing to be a volunteer in exchange for a link on the home page to his/her Web business. My husband built our first site, and it’s now in its third incarnation.

Step 8: Once the membership began to build, we became a 501 [c] [6]. — Not a 501 [c] [3]. The [c] [3] is for charity groups; e.g., American Red Cross, United Way, United Cerebral Palsy, etc. These groups raise funds in order to help others in need. A 501 [c] [6] is a trade business-2-business, non-profit group that supports the group’s business concentration e.g., Chamber of Commerce, PS I Love You, etc.

Step 9: We identified who would serve on our board of directors, as every group needs leaders and active participants.

Step 10: We next incorporate to protect ourselves form those who might see us as a target. [Imagine that you’ve had a tasting, and someone who didn’t take responsibility for him or herself has an elevated blood alcohol level, and then has an accident. The usual next step is to blame someone else; which of course, will be the event. All of a sudden, our event would become liable. (This reminds me of Joan Rivers’ “Oh grow up!” but I know that’s just too much to ask of our litigious society.)

Step 11: Get insurance.

Step 12: Keep the camp fires burning, because most organizations are related to the energy of the person who started it; and, when that person walks away from it, in all likelihood, the organization will fretter away. The only way to keep something like this afloat is to find a person of similar passion and mission. And, say a few prayers to Bacchus. I’ve seen so many groups dissolve when the creator moves on. Like any other body and soul, there’s a life cycle.

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