Dear Jo ~ A question of when communications go bad…

The communication to me:

Dear Jo,

I hope you don’t mind me getting in touch like this but I wanted to ask a couple of questions regarding wine PR and marketing communications in the US. I’m trying to put together a panel talk for a European conference about wine PR and what happens “when communications go bad;” i.e., when a wine or winery is negatively reviewed. We’ll be looking at best practice, crisis management, the role bloggers can and/or should play, the ethics of good/bad reviews and so on. I have a rather UK-loaded perspective, so I was hoping you could help me identify one or two US examples that I could use.

I don’t mean to pick your brains for free, but if you have a few minutes and don’t mind giving me your thoughts, I’d really appreciate it.

Examples could be of a winery/brand turning round a negative review to something more positive…

Or of a winery NOT dealing well with negative reviews… i.e., how NOT to do it…

My return communication:

It’s actually a great question. The simple answer is to just ignore it. Not every palate is the be-all-to-end-all. The long of it is to see if this writer is consistently trashing your wine and avoid the person… however, if everyone is trashing your wine, take the hint [as a wine company].

I’ve been there and done that. I had a wine client who once got a 69 score for one of his wines, which appeared in one of the most prestigious wine magazines… What did we do? Nothing.

When a wine is negatively reviewed: Best Practice

DO NOTHING: The biggest perception when this kind of score happens is that it will bury the brand. It won’t, unless it’s Robert Parker who has given that score, and what are the odds. Robert Parker remains the most powerful and well respected wine critic in history for very many people. These consumers can and do buy a good amount of wine based on his opinions. I know wine bloggers would like to think that they’ve risen to his pinnacle. I also know that that’s not possible, having lived a longer life than most of today’s bloggers.

It takes years to build a career of his standing within the wine world; it’s not something that can (or will) be done overnight. Building any career takes time. (I can say this because I’ve had five major careers in five separate industries – fashion, cosmetology, education, broadcasting, and Wine PR. Each one took years, before I was recognized as credible.)

Obviously, the bottle the magazine received was tainted to get such a low score. No other wine in the history of the winery ever got this kind of score. To worry about a 69 score presumes that everyone in the world is going to see it, or everyone in the world is going to be talking about it. That’s not going to happen. As my husband has said more than once… “There are no Unshopping Lists.” So, we ignored it and it simply went away. In fact, this is the only communication that I know about it. It happened years ago and it’s over. The winery sold all of the wine, so it wasn’t as bad as the tasting evaluator’s perception, and/or it was a tainted bottle of wine.

When a wine is negatively reviewed: Crisis management

I have also asked the magazine to re-taste the wine, suggesting that a bad scoring wine had been tainted either during shipping, TCA,  etc. This particular magazine told me that it would re-taste the wine, but wouldn’t be able to retract the score. I said that it wasn’t so much about the bad score as it was for having notes within its system for historical purposes, as it evaluates more of my client’s wine. The magazine agreed and I was subsequently told that the next sample was better.

When a wine is negatively reviewed: The role bloggers can and/or should play

This one perplexes me a bit, to be perfectly honest. If it has to do with helping a winery that has received the bad score, it’s up to the winery to get over the hump. Any further communication about it (from bloggers, let’s say) brings it all back, like pouring salt in an open wound. Can bloggers get in there and defend it; i.e., “Ive tasted it and loved it.” Yes, but I don’t see this helping any of my brands (as a marketer and PR person). While bloggers and social media are beginning to have a modicum of influence within the wine world, it hasn’t arrived to the point yet when – even my evaluation as a blogger since 2005, well ahead of the curve – has that much power and influence over a bad score.

When a wine is negatively reviewed: The ethics of good/bad reviews

Personal choice here… “Did I taste the wine, I lean toward journalism, so I’m going to tell it exactly as I found it,” or “I have no reason to deliver bad news, so I’m just not going to write about this one.” The later choice is more of a lifestyle writer. Those are the choices one must make. Both have their own personal ethics involved. Professionally, I lean toward if you don’t have anything nice to say, leave it alone… as in the case of not naming the magazine involved in this 69 score. I mentioned Robert Parker, because I have deep respect for the man, and am only stating that he has a lot of power as a wine journalist. Does he wield it? No, he doesn’t. He’s a wine journalist, not a life style writer. He’s detected problems in his career, and has reported on them.

Bottom line… move on from a wine’s bad score.

Let’s look at the other part of the question as it pertains to the winery.

When a winery is negatively reviewed: Best Practice – Crisis management

This one needs someone to get in there immediately and apologize for a bad experience. The customer is always right, even with the customer is wrong. What I mean by that is that perception is reality and someone needs to get to the bottom of a problem as soon as possible, and fix it. I do have one caveat… When someone is abusive, walk away. Let the abuse person prove him or her self publicly. Time wounds all heel; karma. That, too shall pass. One scathing review, from someone who is never happy, is also not going to bury a brand.

When a winery is negatively reviewed: The role bloggers can and/or should play

Just write your stories about wineries you’ve visited. This helps to build the wineries reputation over time, with more and more positive experiences. If a wine blogger visits Winery XYZ, tell about your personal experiences that have personal touches… things that no one else could possibly know or have experienced. It’s these personal recounts that matter most to the winery story.

When a winery is negatively reviewed: The ethics of good/bad reviews

Again, it’s back to whether or not you’ve approached the winery as a journalist or a life style reporter. I recently visited an area that was a little bit too laid back. Jose and I traveled out of our way to visit the winery, and to arrive when their Website said they would be opened. We arrived a bit early to our destination city, and patiently waited for the appointed time for opening. Once we knew they were open for business, it was then very difficult to find in the small town, so we walked around in circles, over and over again. Finally, we asked where to find it, but then continued to walk in circles. We then finally found the place, well past the opening time, only to find another conflicting time for opening on the door. It was LATER than the Website. Honestly, I found myself reporting on that on my blog. Notice I wrote “reporting,” instead of “writing.” The journalist (and marketer) inside of me kicked in. It was obviously not anything for the winery to worry about, because I’ve never heard back.

Something to also discuss… Protecting the winery from a scathing report, if we’re simply journaling, is to not add the winery or wine’s name to any SEO or tag opportunities on the back end. It will have less impact, when it’s all said and done, if the wine blogger is just letting off steam…

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