Monday, April 25, 2011

Can Drinking Wine Improve Your PR Skills? Six Vintage Lessons From the Wine Cellar

     There's an old joke about a guy who says he went to to the fights and a hockey game broke out. Obviously, fights at a hockey game are about what you would expect to see. A recent night out turned into a PR experience I wasn't expecting. No, I did not go to the fights or a hockey game.

     I went to a wine tasting at a small winery in Central Pennsylvania. Let's face it, Central PA isn't exactly Napa Valley. No matter, the staff at SteveBauerMedia never passes up an excuse to drink a little vino. This particular outfit is called the Seven Mountains Wine Cellars. It's run by Scott Bubb and his wife Mary Ann. In his previous life Scott was a successful, award-winning amateur winemaker. But he paid the bills working at a factory. After a 35-year career in manufacturing, the factory closed and Scott was out on the street.

Scott Bubb, Vintner
     That's how Scott and Mary Ann suddenly found themselves in the wine business. The Bubb's are by no means PR professionals but they figured out the common sense basics. Naturally, they started with research. The couple spent a great deal of time touring vineyards across the country- always asking lots of questions. They learned what worked and what didn't. One of the first things Scott told our group was, quote, "It's all about the experience. A year from now you won't remember what wine you had but you'll remember how you felt. We want you to have a good experience here."

Lesson 1) A good experience. Is that what you're giving your clients and customers?

A barrel of fun!
     At Seven Mountains you can adopt a barrel of wine! It's a grueling five year process. First, you have to pay $500. (That's the grueling part) Then they put a plaque on your barrel engraved with your personal message. Once a year for four years you get a case of wine. Each case has a retail value of roughly $175.
Your message here!
On the fifth year you get the actual wine barrel. However, you can't do this right now because every single barrel in the place has already been adopted.

Lesson 2) Be creative. Engage your customers. Have fun.

     Scott gave us a guided tour of his whole operation. He answered all our questions and showed us how everything works. He tapped one of the 15,000 gallon vats and let us all pour a glass. We learned a lot about winemaking and had a bunch of laughs. Turns out Scott is a pretty funny guy.

Lesson 3) Be Accessible. Listen to your customers. Let them ask questions. A growing number of businesses are using social media to interact with the public. It gives the people you need the most (customers) a chance to tell you what they think- to make suggestions- and sometimes, to complain. But you are getting valuable feedback. And yes, you can follow Seven Mountains on Facebook. Follow 7 Mts Wine Cellar on Facebook

     Scott let us taste several different wines, explaining how different varieties are made, telling us about the history of winemaking- generally sharing his expertise. He also paired each wine with special food, chocolates, or hor d'oeuvres. And he made it a point of telling us exactly which local catering companies had prepared each dish. The Bubb's aren't just tooting their own horn.

Lesson 4) Network. Share the wealth. Build alliances. Pay it forward and pass along good information about your colleagues and business associates. You want them to do the same for you.

      When the weather is nice people are always welcome to stop by and picnic out on the deck. The Bubbs encourage customers to come on over and watch the big game on the flat screen! Seven Mountains also sponsors local bands and invites everyone to see the performances.

Lesson 5) Reach out. Be friendly. Be a part of the community.

     Before we left for the night everyone in our group was handed a souvenir wine glass featuring the Seven Mountains logo.

Lesson 6) Share your good name. Cultivate your image.

     The Bubb's started their business in the middle of a recession. They hoped to sell something like 15,000 gallons of wine by year five. Scott says they sold 8,000 gallons the first year. They reached their five-year goal of 15,000 gallons in just the second year. This year they're expecting to sell 75,000 gallons. Sure, the wine is pretty good. But what sets Seven Mountains apart? The ancient Greeks proclaimed, "In vino veritas"- in wine there is truth. And as it turns out, there's pretty good PR in there too. Cheers!

Photos courtesy of Trina Bauer Photography

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