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As I read a wine writer’s newsletter with a story from a guest commentator, it really got me thinking…

It was a story about how many wine groups there are, and it came from an outsider… not someone responsible for running a non profit.

In the relatively small, growing universe of wine in America, there are more than 500 consumer and trade organizations representing various aspects of the wine industry. There are wine appreciation groups strictly for the trade, consumer groups, appellation groups, state and federal lobbying groups, and hundreds of consumer and trade wine groups.

He writes a lot more, including a mention of PSILY as one of the advocacy groups, and then states:

Oddly enough, other than hoping their members consume wine often, almost none of these groups is doing anything to expand the number of American wine consumers.

This is where his thinking made me realize how little people understand advocacy groups behind the scenes. If one hasn’t started a group or directed a group, the insider details ~ from being on the outside ~ only allows for inferences, not real hard data and understanding. (Does WSWA, for instance, do anything as a collective in advertising, except for what benefits the group: i.e., conventions, meetings, etc., or does it create advertisements to encourage those who don’t yet enjoy alcohol to become alcoholic beverage consumers? These groups are devoted to developing markets, not developing consumers, as they now stand.)

If I, or any of my colleagues, were to blatantly advocate wine consumption, we’d be putting a big target on our backs.

Example: yesterday a man was in front of our grocery store with a card table and propaganda. He was shouting to anyone who became within ear shot, “Sign a petition to legalize marijuana for tax money!” Every single one of us made a huge swing around him. Not because we don’t support the effort, but we didn’t support his methodology.”

That said, in an Email dialogue with wine writer David Falchek, who returned my Q&A completed for my wine writer page, I found the perfect answer for this author within David’s brilliant words and thinking ~ all coming to me on the exact same day.

David Falchek:

[Q]  For what would you like to be remembered?

[A]  When I’m going through God’s wine cellar, I’d like to have some wine drinkers saying “Remember that guy who used to write about wine for the newspaper? And do you remember newspapers? Well, that guy got me to drink wine.”

My most gratifying e-mails start with “I’ve never been much of wine drinker, but I read your column and picked up the ’07 Thus-And-Such.” Not enough Americans drink wine. In the last decade or so, I think the industry and wine writers have cultivated more of a messianic zeal to spread to the joys of wine and expand the base of wine drinkers.

The final solution, according to the author, is that these groups need to be spending more on advertising.

I have several answers for that:

  1. Who lives and dies by advertising to make purchasing decisions? I certainly don’t, or I’d be buying lots of Viagra even though I don’t need it.
  2. All of the groups that were mentioned are non profits, mostly of the 501 (c)(6) ilk ~ Non Profits being the operative words here.
  3. It is quite possible that 95 percent of these groups listed operate on a shoe string budget ~ PSILY operated on approximately $60,000 last year. Given that a full page ad in a WS or WE magazines, for instance, can run from $25,000 to $35,000, who in their right mind would spend that amount of money on advertising, when there’s so much day-to-day that has to happen?
  4. Which leads to this one ~ Many, many press releases left my desk last year that went to wine writers. Quoting David again, “In the last decade or so, I think the industry and wine writers have cultivated more of a messianic zeal to spread the joys of wine and expand the base of wine drinkers.” It’s our job (non profit advocacy groups) to feed the feeders, not create great advertising campaigns. I can’t speak for others, but I do my fair share of PR with my $60,000 annual budget.
  5. Getting wineries to join is the major thrust on such limited funds. (I have to market to the wine companies on a consistent basis, or lose them.) The day I have a half million to play with is the day you’ll see a full page ad in WS, WE, Food & Wine et al with PS I Love You’s brands being the focus.
  6. The author was also assuming we’re not advertising, just because he’s just not seen anything of note in a magazine ~ However, stealth advertising within the wine clubs for our Dark & Delicious event in 2009 brought us many people who love PS, with some of them being a whole new group of potential wine drinkers and lovers of Petite Sirah. These people all walked away praising the effort. That was 800 people with NO PRINT ADVERTISING, but we did lots of Email blasts, and paid Vertical Response under the cost center item of “advertising.”

I’m seriously looking for volunteers. I could sure use anyone’s help, including the author’s. I (along with my team) spend about 35 hours a month with PSILY as a paid contractor. Then, we collectively spend about 85 more as volunteers each month, but my staff is paid for their hours through Diaz Communications.

Non-profits stay alive with a lot of volunteer hours, and operate on shoe string budgets. With help from anyone, including this critic’s, you’d get a great look at the inside of what these groups are all about and the daily challenges we face… Including that advertising is the least of our worries. Hosting events is the way to go,when there are no real sugar daddies out there.

Most of us don’t have mammoth budgets. Our jobs are to advocate for a region or a variety. Getting people to enjoy wine is the job of each winery, and through the media, the word gets out and loyalties are built.