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August 24, 2008

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Steve Heimoff

Maybe the early release to bloggers will prove to be a good move on Rodney Strong's part. But when I started seeing all these online reviews of Rockaway I really had to wonder. Why did all those bloggers give it free publicity? Don't they get free wine every day? So why write about Rockaway? I haven't had the wine (plan to review it tonight) and I have no idea if it's any good, but it shows how easily some parts of the blogosphere can be manipulated into providing free publicity to wineries.

Mike Duffy

Pro and semi-pro wine writers (e.g. Gaither/Brecht at the WSJ, Dr. Debs) generally buy their own wines to taste -- a sample, like the Rockaway is the exception rather than the rule (and a number of the bloggers noted in their reviews that they had received the wine gratis as part of a promotional experiment - it wasn't a real secret to the wine blogging community).

Here's the back story on how this experiment came to be from Jeff at Good Grape, a post I missed:
http://www.goodgrape.com/index.php/articles/comments/the_rockaway_wine_release_back_story/

As you can see, a number of bloggers declined to participate (I'd be surprised if Alder Yarrow at Vinography and Tyler Colman at Dr. Vino weren't approached by Jeff to participate).

Were the participating bloggers manipulated? I don't think so - they were all very up front about the deal, and it would be unusual if a $75 wine from a well-established winery was just awful. You can criticize their tasting skill, and it certainly wans't a blind tasting, but I think it was pretty transparent.

Part of the reason they gave it free publicity was because it was, in fact, pretty remarkable for RS to do this sort of thing (even though Stormhoek and Twisted Oak have already done variations on the theme). See the comments to the post above.

The next winery to try this (unless it's Harlan or Grace) won't get as much free buzz. And an average winery risks that a blogger won't, in fact, like the wine.

Anyway, I think the bloggers involved were transparent and aboveboard, rather than manipulated to provide free publicity.

Paul Mabray

Steve,
Yes many bloggers get wine but how many wineries (especially large ones) abandon traditional tasting media to focus on bloggers? I think the publicity (albeit RS gets a great degree of halo effect) is really around the validation of bloggers as a viable media and PR strategy that CAN be substituted for traditional media. Wine bloggers should all commend this innovative crew (and winery) and actually I hope more occurances of this still get re attention they deserve even if the wines benefit from a bit more press as a result.
Paul Mabray - Chief Strategy Officer - Inertia

Jeff

Well, Steve makes an interesting if not misguided point:

"it shows how easily some parts of the blogosphere can be manipulated into providing free publicity to wineries."

That smacks of some old media arrogance to me. "Manipulated?" Ah, I wish wineries were sophisticated enough to manipulate me and other bloggers. I think most people in technology and wine have dedicated their life's work to trying to get wineries to a level of sophistication that is normal relative to other industries.

If one reads my post that Mike linked to there is 100% transparency on the program and the motives behind the program.

To me, this was a litmus test. What I would change in the future and what I have talked about on my site, is to make these blogging programs a part of one blog whereby bloggers post in one spot. If I had to criticize the program the way I administered it, the posts all over the wine blogosphere can only lead to questions about motive instead of looking at it as an objective experiment.

Just the same, Steve's comments are made in something of a vacuum.

Jeff
www.goodgrape.com

Lenn

How exactly is this any different from WE or any other glossy getting samples and writing about them? Isn't that 'free' publicity for the winery?

Ryan

I have to say Steve is not nuts. I get samples all the time, some are VERY expensive. I've sat on tastings at highend wine competitions, and I've been to wineries that are not open to the public. If we(bloggers) want to be accepted as journalists, this should be the rule not the exception.

The Rodney Strong story, just seems to give me the feeling that they are saying, "Look we believe in bloggers..." which at this point in wineblogging should not be a news story.

Jeff required that to receive samples you had to review the wine no matter if you liked it or not. I understand his stance, I just think that is not a good way to deal with the media, bloggers or otherwise. In this story the wine plays second fiddle to the story about the winery who sent expensive wine to a blogger.

Were bloggers manipulated. No, since they chose to agree to the terms. But I still think it's more of a non-story overall.

1WineDude

As someone who participated, I thought I'd add a few thoughts.

I can attest that the entire process was as transparent / aboveboard as we could possibly make it on the side of the bloggers.

I did ask RS why they decided to do this, and my take on their response was that their PR / Marketing dept. was the driver behind it; in summary: since more and more wine lovers with disposable income are on-line, they need to engage them and might as well start now. They now that those consumers don't respond as well to print ads as in the past - they buy primarily on recommendations and bloggers are one avenue to those recommendations.

They're also increasingly impatient, and the instant-gratification aspect of blogging works well for them (my take, not RS's).

The publicity for the winery *is* free, but that is one of the draws for them to get in early. It's not manipulation per se, as bloggers know full well what they're doing on this - it helps to build the increasing credibility of wine blogging.

My tasting prowess not withstanding, of course! ;-)

This will increasingly become a "non-event." But for now, RS gets to look like a bit of a pioneer, getting in on a potential trend early. And they deserve that perception, because they are being a bit pioneering.

Cheers!

Tim Elliott | Winecast

As one of the bloggers who took part in this campaign I was amused by Steve's comment. Unlike him and most of the other tasters in the traditional wine media, I buy most of my wine at full retail. Sure, I get a fair amount of samples but on average it's only 3-4 bottles a month. And nearly all of these are in the $20 or under category. Not the hundreds of samples sent to publications like Wine Enthusiast and other wine pubs each month.

I find Steve's comment a lot like making the accusation that he might be "manipulated" by Wine Enthusiast advertisers. I think everyone who took part in this was transparent about the conditions we agreed to. I also agree with Paul that we will look back on this as a tipping point for wine blogger legitimacy, not the other way around.

winehiker

Why did bloggers give Rockaway some publicity? Perhaps because the bloggers were glad to be asked. Perhaps because they see the value of multiple timely commentaries. Oh, and perhaps because the folks at Rodney Strong are convinced that blogging is a legitimate media form.

As a case in point, take a look at the data points shown in this eLearning 2.0 survey and report: http://elearningtech.blogspot.com/2008/08/tools-used.html

People are reading blogs, for very good reasons. Interest in wine is only one of them.

el jefe

Actually, I'm happy that my next sampling opportunity (coming soon) will be more about the wine and less about the "back story".

I'm actually a little surprised that no one is commenting on the fact that RS simply threw the wine over the wall (metaphorically of course!) and is not really engaging the social media directly. What's really going on is a print review with a quick publishing cycle. Where is the conversation?

Ryan

Great point elJefe, social is not a one directional concept!

Sonadora

El Jefe and Ryan, actually RS commented on my blog to a reader who asked a question about the process of making the wine, and just engaged in the conversation on Steve's blog.

David Zeitman

Whether this promotional idea was good or bad, new or old, RS has got to be loving all this chatter/attention. Major halo affect...

Tim Elliott | Winecast

Jeff,

Great point about the folks at Rodney Strong being silent in this discussion. Perhaps they will read this and other comments and make a commitment to walk in your moccasins and engage directly in the online conversation.

As I said at yesterday's social media seminar, the first step is listening, next commenting on what is being said. RS seems to be stuck in the former right now.

Mike Duffy

I've had some e-mail conversation with Robert Larsen, the PR guy at Rodney Strong, and he looked at the comments being made and didn't feel he could add anything. Of course, the one thing he *can* add (which no one else can) is the authentic voice of the winery itself.

But I wouldn't criticize RS too harshly -- this is, after all, their first try. Let's wait and see what they (and other wineries) do next time!

A sincere thanks to everyone for the great comments. You've each added value to my blog, and I appreciate the time it took you.

Robert Larsen

Sorry I didn't pipe uo yesterday. Sonomna Wine Country Weekend is nearly upon us and I was sucked into a bunch of meetings/work on that. I posted to Steve's site, though, and here's what I had to say...

I would like to speak up about Rockaway a bit. I am the PR guy (name Robert Larsen) that initiated sending Rockaway Cabernet Sauvignon to a handful of wine bloggers. I work for Rodney Strong.

First, let me say that as a company, certainly as a communications person, we/I value all forms of media; traditional print, broadcast, and electronic. With Rockaway and all wines from Rodney Strong, we are excited to have people taste our wine and provide their opinions. Rockaway has now been sent to a number of traditional print journalists as well as the bloggers. The blogging community has demonstrated its credibility as a powerful communications group, one that can quickly get information to their audience. Lead times for most traditional media can be weeks, sometimes months. With something new, like Rockaway, it made absolute sense, with complete transparency, to send them samples and wish for the best. We were and are, after all, very excited about the quality we put in the bottle. And, admittedly, with genuine excitement about this wine, I wanted to get the word out.

Working with the bloggers was not a form of manipulation, nor was it intended to show favoritism; rather it was a real opportunity, having confidence in our product, to introduce ourselves to a new and real group of influential media.

The credibility of wine publications and wine writers is long established and recognized. They are, along with others (bloggers), arguably sommeliers should be included, part of a force that drives wine trial and ever-increasing awareness regarding the enjoyment of wine. The ways that people get information changes very fast, however, and sitting on the sidelines was not an option.

Ultimately, what’s in the bottle is what counts.

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