OK, all you marketing and PR folks, listen up. This article is for you. Specifically for those of you that haven't quite figured out how to deal with us wine bloggers yet when it comes to wine samples. And there are clearly a lot of you.
I wouldn't ordinarily have thought to write such an article, but it appears that
a) a set of reasonable guidelines doesn't seem to be readily available out there
b) there is such incredible variability in my own experience working with you folks in the wine business around this specific domain, that everyone might benefit from this getting out in the open.
As with everything on Vinography, this is just my opinion, seasoned with an above average dose of dogma. This isn't an article written out of frustration, but you can expect me to express some in the process, as I continually see an awful lot of bizarre expectations out there when it comes to interacting with bloggers.
If you have to ask...
Perhaps the most common question I get with regards to wine bloggers and wine samples I am not going to address now or ever, because it's the most important question of all, and answering it is sort of like doing your job for you.
I'm not going to tell you which wine bloggers you should send samples to. Go figure it out and then come back here and read what I think you should do next.
Great. Welcome back. Now that you have a list of wine bloggers you want to send samples to, don't. That is, don't just send samples.
Do they even want your samples?
The first thing to do is to reach out to the blogger via e-mail and ask them if they'd like to receive wine samples from you. Not once, but every time you'd like to ship them. Don't waste your money and wine sending samples to bloggers that don't review samples or don't want your samples, or who are drowning in samples and would rather not have yours added to the stack right at the moment.
Make sure before you do this that you've actually bothered to poke around the blogger's web site to see if they publish some sort of policy about wine samples that can save you (and them) some time if you actually read it first. Such content is often available on some sort of "About this blog" page and/or from some link in the footer of the page.
What should you send?
Provided that you haven't learned the answer by reading the aforementioned content on their site, here's the questions you want to ask the blogger in your e-mail:
1. Would they be interested in receiving any of the following samples from you?:
Tell them what you're hoping to send them and let them decline some if they don't want them.
2. Presuming they would like samples, ask them if they would like you to include any marketing materials about the wines or the winery with the shipment. If they say no, don't ship them any brochures.
I personally prefer to save trees, carbon, and the winery's money by having no such materials included whenever anyone ships me wine, as 98% of the time I just recycle the stuff. However, I don't presume the same is true for all bloggers.
What I DO strongly recommend is that every bottle have a sticker affixed to it with the following information written or printed on it:
- Your name, e-mail address, and telephone number with a sentence encouraging contact for more information.
- The case production of the wine (if it's not on the bottle) and suggested retail price
- The URL of the winery
3. Ask them what address they would like the wine shipped to and if there are any special shipping instructions you should provide the carrier.
What carrier to use?
It used to not matter very much which shipping company you used, but now it really does, in my opinion. FedEx has gotten militant about their shipping of alcohol, and using them increases the likelihood that your shipment will get sent back to you. Most of the time you'll be shipping your wine to the blogger's home. And unless they've got someone there during the day to receive packages, chances are the delivery will be made when they're not around. UPS and other carriers will leave packages out of view on a porch, or with a neighbor if there is a note on the door, but FedEx will not. This has personally meant wine being sent back to wineries several times this year, which is a pain in everyone's rear, not to mention costly.
How to pack your wine samples
Styrofoam is the work of the Devil. 'nuff said. There are a million better ways to pack your wine than with styrofoam. Don't use it. If your excuse is that you're worried about heat, then that means you shouldn't be shipping wine at all that time of year.
What to do after you've sent the wine?
Nothing. Except maybe read the blog every day to see if the blogger reviews your wine. If you're lazy, set up a Google Alert for your wine's name so that you'll get an e-mail when the blogger publishes their review.
But most definitely, do not do any of the following:
- e-mail or call to find out if the blogger has received the wine. That's what tracking numbers are for.
- e-mail or call to find out "if the blogger has tasted the wine and what the blogger thought of it"
- e-mail or call to find out "if the blogger will be publishing a review" or "if they need any more information for their review."
Such practices are annoying and childish. Either you trust the professionalism of the blogger to review it if they liked it, or you shouldn't have sent them the wine in the first place. Assume they know what they're doing and spend your energy on something else more productive than following up with them.
Evil practices that you PR people just need to stop
Apart from the styrofoam thing above, which is more the domain of the winery or shipping company than you PR folks, please listen carefully to this request. Do not "get creative" and dream up fun little packages to send to bloggers along with the wine. No yo-yos, bits of film, books, wine glasses, wooden wine crates, viewmaster toys, whistles, vials of soil, picnic baskets, bandanas, corkscrews, squishy toys, matchboxes, microwave popcorn, pieces of art, cheese, or any other crap that you mistakenly believe will somehow positively influence the reception that your wine gets when it is opened by the recipient.
I have received every single one of the above, and I can tell you without exception, and without a moments hesitation, they have all gone into the trash, accompanied by an amount of swearing under my breath proportionate to how messy, difficult, or otherwise annoying your little package made it to pull the wine out of the box and put it in the stack next to the other press samples.
Such efforts are a phenomenal waste of your or your clients' money and for the good of everyone involved, they cannot die a quick enough death as far as I am concerned.
And as long as we're on the subject of evil practices, let's make another thing clear, just because you got a business card from someone that doesn't mean they gave you permission to add them to your mailing list. This isn't particular to bloggers or journalists, it's true for everyone. Call it 21st century ethics, as well as, incidentally, federal law.
Finally, about that web site of yours...
Remember that URL you were supposed to put on the bottles? Make sure there's actually something there for the blogger to look at. More to the point, and this is Alder wearing his customer experience day job hat as well, your web site should have the following things on it at a minimum:
- HTML or PDF downloadable tech sheets for every wine you just sent as a sample
- downloadable images of every wine, preferably bottle silhouettes on a white backdrop
- downloadable logo image(s) for the winery
- the name of your marketing or PR firm (if you have one) and the appropriate contact there
But of course, you also want all sorts of beautifully written content and images telling your story for the world to read, as well. Keep it all up to date, which means making changes when your winemaker changes, your PR firm changes, when you release new wines, etc.
Fire away. I'm happy to justify (or defend) any of the above opinions, as well as comment on anything you think I've missed.
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