Food and wine PR companies: few professionals, many mediocre!


Yesterday I met up with a fellow writer at the Franschhoek Summer Wine festival, and we had an interesting discussion about PR companies, and how professional or mediocre they can be. Unfortunately there are many mediocre PR companies, and few truly professional ones.  Smart Communications & Events, the PR agency of the festival, was a prime example of mediocrity, with no presence at the event nor providing a media pack.

The discussion arose when the writer shared his pet peeves about PR companies, being particularly sensitive about not having been invited to a wine-related function earlier this week, yet he was sent a media release after the dinner, which highlighted that top Tweeters and Bloggers had attended the prestigious dinner at The Greenhouse, he obviously not being one, in the opinion of the PR company, he felt!  I shared a similar incident when I was not invited to the launch of a winter menu of Reuben’s in Cape Town, obviously seeing all the Tweets about it, and then received the media release whilst the lunch was on the go!  Media invitation lists are a sensitive issue, and an invitation exclusion can be held against a PR company and/or its client’s brand, especially as we were reminded by one PR company recently that it is not the communications representative but often the client that decides on the final attendance list. This can make things awkward for the PR agency, especially when they represent a number of clients in the food and wine industry.

While we were on a roll, we shared the following peeves about PR agencies:

*   not saying thank you for coverage received – a ‘thank you’ is a rare treat and much appreciated

*   being chased for coverage – attending a function is no guarantee that any writer will write about it, although one does feel obliged to write.  Most events attended are covered on Facebook and Twitter by the writers.  Many PR agencies charge their clients for the number of Tweets achieved for an event, and hence the use of the hash tag to track this easily, it was explained to me.

*   being asked to list an event on one’s ‘Events page of the blog’, even though our blog does not have such a page!

*   being asked to send a link to the PR agency when the blogpost has been written and posted, an absolute no-no!  Not all PR agencies follow one on Twitter, and are rarely ‘Likers’ on Facebook, so they don’t pick up the coverage their clients’ brands achieve on these Social Media forums.

*   being sent media releases with large format photographs in the body of the media release, and on a colour background, make it impossible to print.  The information is what counts, even though the ‘packaging’ of it does look impressive.

*   being sent media releases regularly about clients’ wine and restaurant brands, yet never having been invited to the restaurants or sent a bottle of wine to try before using the media release!  Such media releases have a very low chance of receiving coverage on a blog, and even on Facebook and Twitter.

*  functions that are too long and start too early in the day, especially day-time ones, given that most writers have paying job commitments which must take first priority, especially in summer.

*   not being introduced to fellow attendees, as not all writers know each other, the media mix changing for every function.  Name tags are rarely seen.

*   functions being held far out of Cape Town, where most writers live and work.  Many wine writers will insist on accommodation for evening functions, or a transport service, which covers the issues of drinking/driving and the cost of petrol, and usually leads to great camaraderie on board.

*   functions/launches being too similar – one takes one’s hat off to PR agencies that can find a new angle for their clients’ brands, and always search for new venues to host their clients’ functions.

When a media release was requested of the Franschhoek Summer Wines event yesterday afternoon, Franschhoek Wine Valley CEO Jenny Prinsloo contacted her PR company, and they promised to send a release.  It was the same two paragraph e-mail we had been sent to attend the function.  The PR company head said she wanted to wait for the attendance figures before she issued a media release, a total waste of effort, as most writers would write almost immediately or not at all.   The ‘release’ only contained the names of 12 of the 28 wineries participating in the festival.  Each winery only offered one white wine, Rosé, or MCC for tasting, yet there was no information provided about each of the 28 wines, and what makes them unique. With a few exceptions, it seemed as if the B Team had been sent to man the ‘stands’, which was just a wine barrel per winery.  Very few of the winery representatives offered information proactively, being pourers of wine rather than sharers of information.   Only Morena had a booklet of information one could take from its stand, always stylish with its owner Nick Davies hands-on and in attendance.  There was no information provided about the specialist tastings that formed part of the festival.

Leopard’s Leap was an ideal venue and the perfect weather helped the event greatly. Additional parking was opened up, and golf carts drove one to the entrance.  It’s a pity that a (outsourced security company) boom operator is persistently rude when one arrives at Leopard’s Leap.  The invited media guests had to buy their own food (the wine tasting was on the house), something one would rarely experience if one is the guest of an event – the petrol alone for the journey from Cape Town and back would have cost around R375.  The invitation’s description of the ‘mouth-watering deli-style food from the Harvest Table‘ was completely misleading, as they had changed their menu for the event, being chicken and a few leaves (R60), salmon quiche with a good helping of salad at R45, and a vegetarian wrap (R30), not representative of the fantastic food that The Rotisserie at Leopard’s Leap usually serves.  Even though we wanted to pay for an ice cream when ordering our food, payment was not taken, and consequently the ice cream had run out at 16h00, an hour before the close of the event!

The Franschhoek Summer Wine Festival was organised for the second time, by professional event organiser Darielle Robertson of DnA Events.  Franschhoek can do much better than it did yesterday to attract attendance, given its excellent track record in hosting the Franschhoek Cap Classique and Champagne Festival, Bastille Day festival, and Franschhoek Uncorked.  It is unfortunate that the festival clashed with the Cape Town Carnival yesterday, the Spar Ladies Race this morning, and the start of the ABSA Cape Epic today, which would have kept many wine tasters from Franschhoek.  From Twitter and spending time at the festival it appeared that the media attendance was extremely low (only three we picked up), which means that it will take longer to establish the event in years to come.  We Tweeted twice only from the festival, the food and most of the stands not being attractive enough to photograph and Tweet. As a brand Franschhoek and its excellent wine estates and good restaurants are far too special and unique to be represented by a mediocre PR company!

POSTSCRIPT 8/4: Epic Communications, organisers of the publicity for the RE•CM Top Ten Year Old Wines dinner at the Greenhouse last month, sent this e-mail today: The RE:CM 10 Year Old Wine Awards 2013 winners were announced at a gala dinner held in Cape Town on 14 March 2013 where valued clients and judges were treated to a three-course dinner at the award winning Greenhouse Restaurant by acclaimed chef, Peter Tempelhoff, who specially designed courses to pair with each 2013 RE:CM 10 Year Old Wine Award winner.  Please see attached social images, as well as images of the dishes served on the evening and the handover of the awards.  I have also pasted below captions for the images and a press release with further information.  Would this be of interest for your blog?’ Our bogpost about the event was posted on 18 March!

POSTSCRIPT 7/5: It appears that we were removed from Smart Communications & Events media list after posting this blogpost.  We have just been added back to the list again, after sending a request to the Franschhoek Wine Valley CEO!

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: Twitter: @WhaleCottage

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9 replies on “Food and wine PR companies: few professionals, many mediocre!”

  1. Have to agree with you again. We have worked with 2 PR companies and gave up after a couple of months. Shocking to hear what some of these “professionals” charge!

    We wanted to try a third company, but she was a one woman show and did not have space for us. If you can recommend the top 3 companies, who would it be?

  2. As I am not a specialist wine writer, I will withhold my answer at present Lolla.

    I know Spit or Swallow is doing a list of top wine PR companies, so I would rather wait for them to publish their list first. I will then comment on their list.


  3. No winery should complain about the mediocrity of South African PR companies, because they feed them. As long as PR & Marketing is considered as an unpleasant task that only cost’s money nothing will change. A fish rots from the head down that’s where you have to start. But anyway I totally agree with you Chris and hope that many PR companies will read your little extra tuition.

    Shame that we missed each other at the Franschhoek Summer Wine Festival. I really enjoyed the event even if the dishes were quite small and expensive. I had not the feeling that there were not enough people, as you can see on my photos . Maybe you left the event to early. The specialist tasting was announced on my website , perhaps you should visit it more often 😉

  4. Thank you for your input Chris.

    I was there between 15h00 and 16h00, and I do not see many more people in your photographs compared to what I saw.

    I don’t expect to find information about the festival tutored tastings on your website when I was a guest of Franschhoek Wine Valley Tourism – they should have alerted us to these.

    I was impressed with Hein Koegelenberg of La Motte/Leopard’s Leap calling last night, and welcoming the input.


  5. Chris,

    Most of the wineries present had information booklets so I don’t know how you could have missed them.

    You do sound rather pretentious with your many ‘PR requests’ and in terms of conplaining about the time spent travelling, many events should be experienced at the winery – if it’s too much for you, simply don’t go.

    The boom operator was very nice to us.

    I will agree with you on name-tags which is such a must in large gatherings.

    Usually ignore your comments but you do seem to have gotten more negative. I just wish you were more constructive in a down-to-earth way and less damming. There were some wonderful wines there and some great people who passionatelyexplained their choices etc.

  6. Thank you for your feedback Howard.

    Between 3 – 4 pm only Franschhoek Pass Winery had an information booklet from what we could see, and we visited each stand. I knew a number of the pourers, so that interaction was friendly.

    As a writer (and that is why I was invited) one needs information to take away, to do justice to the function. I am still waiting for the press release promised for Monday!

    You may have missed the aspects which I praised. I am at Leopard’s Leap regularly, so I know what fantastic food they lay on at The Rotisserie. There was no sign of that on Saturday, and it was expensive too.

    I was at a wine event yesterday, and a number of the wine writers came up to me to confirm my views, and promised to send me their pet PR peeves too, which I will add to the blogpost.

    I don’t think that the nature of my writing has changed in the past ten years.


  7. Thanks Chris,

    I do appreciate how quickly you reply to people’s comments.

    I look forward to reading the ‘PR pet peeves’.

    Perhaps I was a little too hasty – I did not taste the food because I refused on the basis of the price – so yes, did let it down.

    I too am waiting for this elusive press release.

    Thanks for clearing the comments up

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