JD,PR Advice,Public Relations,Wine

Number 1 Rule of a PR Pro is to be a Writer’s Writer

The number 1 rule of a PR pro is to be a writer’s writer… It’s really imperative that you write to inspire, not tire, your audience.

PR Pro Joe Gargiulo, of JAG Public Relations, contacted me last week about my story called, “Top 10 Faux Pas of Wine PR People.” He was expecting something entirely different and commented on Facebook.

…your piece certainly hits on key issues re submitting PROFESSIONAL WINE SAMPLES, but I was expecting the bigger picture such as: (1) not knowing the difference between a ‘variety’ and ‘varietal;’ (2-5) press releases that aren’t newsworthy, have unimaginative leads, contain too much hype, or are simply boring; (6) not know the rules re the capitalization of personal titles; (7) using ‘terroir’ as a synonym for ‘growing conditions;’ (8) always capitalizing varietal names; (9) beginning 75% or more of sentences in a story w/ prepositional phrases/adverbial clauses; and (10) using trite imagery such as ‘nestled in the hills of … blah, blah, blah.'” THE END

Great Points, I Thought

What Joe didn’t know, though, and so I explained it to him, the story was written after becoming involved in a Facebook post about PR reps. It was mostly about how some PR people dog writers after they’ve sent samples. This group of writers would much rather get the free samples and then be left alone, rather than have any further communication with the PR person who sent the wine. Many times we have to follow-up, per the boss’s orders. And, since that’s the person paying our salaries, it’s necessary whether or not the writer approves of the intrusion. (Who wants to get fired or lose a client.) I reiterated tot he group that nothing is for free in life. (That went over like a lead balloon.)

Post phone calls are seen as “harassment.” My simple solution to them was to just stop accepting free samples, and purchase their own. Certainly that would stop all of the harassment. (The second lead balloon.)

I did, on Facebook, get a lot of appreciation from fellow PR pros, however, regarding the list of how to think about samples. What I wrote was helpful for them, they told me. Most especially for PR people just starting out, they deserve to know the rules of engagement, any may have fallen into their jobs accidentally, in an under staffed smaller wine companies. Or just hired by a big agency, and not given a play book. (It happens all of the time.) The newbies were the ones with the biggest targets on their backs. I remember when I just started out.  I had no clue what the rules were, so many I learned the hard way.  This 10 Top list was just begged to be written, so I did as a public service.

Then, I considered Joe’s Top 10, and saw faux pas of a different nature. His Top 10 are really important, because wine PR professionals are educating writers with your press releases. Making then inspirational is your real task.

Inspired by PR Pro Joe Gargiulo’s

Top 10 Faux Pas of Wine PR Pros

  1. (1) not knowing the difference between a ‘variety’ and ‘varietal;’
  2. (2-5) press releases
    1. that aren’t newsworthy
    2. have unimaginative leads
    3. contain too much hype
    4. or are simply boring;
  3. (6) not know the rules re the capitalization of personal titles;
  4. (7) using ‘terroir’ as a synonym for ‘growing conditions;’
  5. (8) always capitalizing varietal names;
  6. (9) beginning 75% or more of sentences in a story w/ prepositional phrases/adverbial clauses;
  7. 10) and using trite imagery such as ‘nestled in the hills of …

One at a Time

1) Let’s start with Number 1: Variety is a noun, varietal is an adjective; e.g., I love the varietal characteristics of this variety.

There are many new writers who don’t care about this one. Take a course at U.C. Davis, and your 4.0 just took a hit. (I also wonder how many Master Sommeliers know the difference?) Enology and viticulture  majors who were present during this discussion know the difference. Many wine pros find the incorrect usage a decomposition of the English language; academics do care.

2 – 5) Press releases. These have to do with “Business writing 101”

  1. A press release is about “news.”
    1. Writers don’t care about your gold medal, seriously. They have their own palates and some are even insulted with your news. They would rather judge for themselves.
    2. This news is better shared with your consumer social media audience. That’s the target for this news, not wine media.
  2. Have unimaginative leads?
    1. Become a writer’s writer.
    2. You’ll then inspire others to action.
  3. Contains too much hype?
    1. Less is more.
  4. If you’re boring, writers will be bored.

6) If you don’t know the rules regarding the capitalization of personal titles, here they are:

  1.  Capitalize people’s titles, when it’s about their credentials
    1. Our President John Doe is working on his allocation plans tomorrow morning, for what each broker will be receiving of his highly prized wine.
  2. Don’t capitalize people’s titles when the title is being used in a sentence, but not connected to the actual person.
    1. The president of the company is John Doe. He will be working tomorrow morning on his allocation plans, for what each broker will be receiving of his highly prized wine.

7) … using ‘terroir’ as a synonym for ‘growing conditions;

  1. Stop that… Terroir is so much more.
  2. All aspects of terroir include the people who work the land, the geology of soil types, geography of location, the atmosphere and climate of each location, and the sense of place.

8) Always capitalize varietal names.

  1. I would never write your name as susan or tom.
  2. The actual writing of Vitis vinifera names is to capitalize the grape variety, like Merlot
  3. But if a second name follows and it’s referring to a color of the grape, like Pinot gris and Pinot noir, the second word is not a name but a color and therefore is NOT capitalized.
  4. Honestly, it’s very hard for me now to writer Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir without all caps. (Forgive me Father, for I have sinned, miserably.)

9) Beginning 75 percent or more of sentences in a story w/prepositional phrases/adverbial clauses;

  1. Prepositional phrases are great for prose, not for press releases; e.g., “Into the vineyard went our winemaker to test for brix, and our sugar levels have hit 22 degrees.”
  2. Adverbial clauses contains no subject or predicate; e.g., “He checked the brix the day before.”

10) … trite imagery such as ‘nestled in the hills of …

  1. You’re not writing the story, you’re writing the press releases.
  2. Writers might want to make it “nestled,” so give them the logistical data and let them ‘nestle” it for your client.


Find a way to inspire, not tire, your audience, PR Pros.

16 Responses to “Number 1 Rule of a PR Pro is to be a Writer’s Writer”

  1. Greetings Jo,
    Thank you, as always, for sharing your valuable insight.
    Here’s a question that continues vex me…
    Should the reference to sugar levels as brix be capitalized since it is named for Adolf Brix?
    I’ve considered posing this on the LinkedIn journalist forum for AP style, but that spot has become overrun by rubes.

  2. Tom says:

    A great list. Thanks for sharing it!

  3. Jo Diaz says:

    Greetings, Eric. Thanks for sharing this. Honestly, I didn’t know that about Brix and it’s founder Adolf Brix. Now that I do, I’ll always Capitalize it. It’s the least we can do to honor the founder/originator. It’s like Durif… When I see it not capitalized: 1) It’s a grape variety, therefore, it needs to be capitalized. 2) It’s creator is Francois Durif… If you capitalize your own name, why would you not capitalize other people’s names?

    Wine blogging has allowed for a lot of rubes to come out of the closet and hang a shingle. Time has proven this one… It stems from, “Write about wine and the samples will flow in, in unlimited amounts.” Time has turned off that tap, due to a lot of people not really writing more than, “I like this fill-in-the-blank wine, I had it with fill-in-the-blank meal.” Sending samples is a very expensive endeavor, and in the final analysis, sales and marketing doesn’t get any return in the fill-in-the-blank rube posting. Consider this for those who have come out to take advantage: The cost of the wine, the cost of the shipper, the cost of shipping ($50 a box), the cost of a worker to get it all organized… It costs the boss a lot of $$$. When a marketing department says, “The wholesaler can’t use this review, I need something from Great Northwest Wines, bring me those,” that’s when you know that it needs to come from someone with history, not just a bottles opened and enjoyed with dinner. That might sell one more bottle, when the wine company needs to sell thousands upon thousands of cases… That one review cost too much, to only sell one bottle.

    I believe your story about Brix should be taken to your audience as an editorial/educational comment/feature. It’s a great story. Our own peer group will have some people who will be respectful and others who could care less. I believe you’re onto something important… History.

  4. Jo Diaz says:

    Tom, you’re welcome and my pleasure. Nice to have industry people appreciating these articles on PR.

  5. Kayla says:

    Hello! Once again I’m inspired to become better in my Marketing/PR position at my winery. I appreciate you taking the time to layout some ground rules, as there is no guidebook on how to manage wine PR specifically. I suppose that’s helpful for the seasoned veterans out there guarding trade secrets. I’m so new to PR that I can’t help want to stop and ask “Why are we doing it this way?!” Your experience in priceless and I’m really glad you wrote this post divulging some of it to us young and restless newbies.

  6. Joe Gargiulo says:

    Great embellishment of my reply to your orig post — you really made it sing!
    Joe G
    JAG PR

  7. Jo Diaz says:

    Thanks, Joe… you gave it the score.

  8. Jo Diaz says:

    Kayla, I had an earlier blog last week. “Top 10 Faux Pas of Wine PR People

    This one is about SAMPLES, and an important read, to gauge the temperatures of many new wine bloggers.

    The Top 10 story came from a rant – you know how those go – on Facebook. I tried give the side of a person on both sides of the fence. That didn’t work well. I tried to just be logical, because they call our follow-up harassment. I tried to explain that it’s our jobs. That didn’t go over well. They just wanted to vent. So, I wrote how we can all be better at what we’re doing. Many PR people have thanked me. One writer, who is also a wine retailer, wrote a great story as a follow-up. Public Relations, Media & Wine… A Tricky But Necessary Relationship.Stan the Wine Man

    This morning, Wine Business Month feature Stan’s story, after having featured mine a few days ago. Their intro, “getting too big for your britches? I think there are some writers out there suffering from this problem” Stan, who is also a retailer, is emphasizing manners and relationship building from wine writers/bloggers. I didn’t ever suggest that, but I do know that my efforts to be helpful fell on deaf ears during the rant.

    Reading my story will give you insight into a new breed of writers that still don’t know the game. Please play your game well. Build your relationships with people who enjoy speaking with you. It will build your brand’s visibility.

  9. Joe Gargiulo says:

    … a point of clarity on the capitalization of varietal names. … Per the Chicago Manual of Style (and if I recall, “Maestro” Dan Berger), the genus is capped while the species and subspecies are in lower case. Thus, Vitis vinifera merlot would be simply “merlot.” The CMS also says to set them in italics. You certainly place them in caps if part of a proper name such as “Dias Family Winery Merlot” and so on. … Properly applying some of these rules gets tricky when, for example, you are using “variety” and “varietal” in the same paragraph or referencing a generic wine and proper named wine in the same paragraph. Sometimes I compromise so it doesn’t appear like a made an error.

  10. Jo Diaz says:

    Confusing it even further: ON LANGUAGE; WINES WITHOUT CAPS
    By William Safire
    Published: August 25, 1985

  11. Blake Gray says:

    Style choices are just that. They are not rules.

    The San Francisco Chronicle capitalizes grape varieties. (Or varietals, if I feel like using a word that has become a synonym for many. Whaddya gonna do, reduce my GPA?) That is my preferred style. But now I write for Wine Searcher, which doesn’t capitalize them. Is either one correct? No, it’s a style choice.

    You can argue about the rightness of your style choices until your self-righteousness has dissipated, but you cannot dictate style to others.

    The English language evolves; the expanded definition of “varietal” is an example, as 50 years ago it wasn’t even a noun. Moreover, no country owns English. It’s the primary language of Australia, the Bahamas, Belize, parts of Canada, Ireland, Jamaica, New Zealand, Singapore, the U.K. and the U.S., and that’s leaving out a number of island nations. We don’t agree on the spelling of colour. Why would there be international agreement on the capitalization of Zinfandel?

    Less than someone’s style choices, I dislike pedantry in language.

    However, I do dislike it when somebody spells my name wrong on a PR email, or calls me by my last name, i.e., Dear Gray, which happens more than you’d think. (I’m totally fine with Dear W.)

  12. Skip Coomber says:

    Revisiting the word “varietal”:

    A “Varietal” is a wine made primarily from one “variety” of grape, as opposed to a “blend” which is a wine made up of more than one variety of grape.



    Sadly, “varietal” is being misused so often that its meaning will eventually change and it will become a synonym for “variety”. At that point in time we will have lost another word that is special, in that it actually describes something in one word. When the transformation is complete one will have to say, “This wine is made primarily from [insert a variety of grape] grapes.” instead of “This wine is a varietal.”.

  13. Aaron says:

    Bit confused on the color vs capitalization bit. Sure, I know noir/blanc/gris/etc all describe the color, but I’ve always seen it Pinot Noir, which I thought was it’s officially designated name, rather than Pinot grape, that’s noir. Or blanc, whichever.

    Oh, and:

    “Honestly, it’s very hard for me now to /_writer_/ Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir without all caps.”

    How do you writer Pinto Gris and Pinot Noir? 😛

  14. Jo Diaz says:

    I write them with all caps, Aaron, regardless of other rules. The rules are so muddled now that I just don’t know what to do. I tried to clarify with my “The University Wine Course Book,” that I had to purchase for Wine 101, but it’s not even there. I need clarity.

  15. Jo Diaz says:

    Thanks, Blake… You’re always an interesting read.

    I also get your name thing frustration, both as a concept and as a constant. For me it’s “Joe.” I dropped my middle name of “Ann,” when we moved to California. My parents gave it to me as a middle name, but always called me Jo Ann. When I got here from Maine, I was sick of people asking me, “What’s your middle name?” I just wanted to drop the “long story;” so, I shortened it to what it really, legally is… (Just) Jo. Now, I have to explain there’s no “e” in my name, when I’m addressed with one in communications. This would mean that I’m a guy, with an “e.” In some cases, it’s just better to leave it alone, because people read more men than they do women. (Just ask any successful woman writer in history, who has adopted a male pseudonym.)

    And, you may be right about “style.” You’ve got me thinking.

  16. Jo Diaz says:

    I’m with you on this one Skip. (Sorry, I just found your comment in my spam folder, which I don’t check on a daily basis, couple that with being in bed for the past few days with a virus.) I appreciate your comment.

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