When Chris Nishiwaki returned to Seattle in 1997 after a stint as a sports reporter for the Kansas City Star, little did he know that his career as a journalist was going to take a hard turn toward food and wine. “I had enjoyed good wines when I was in Kansas City,” he says, “but when I got back here, everyone seemed to be talking about wine and I just didn’t get it.”
He certainly gets it now. Nishiwaki has emerged as one of the premier wine writers focused on Washington wine. He writes for multiple regional media outlets – Seattle Metropolitan, Seattle magazine, Northwest Palate and Sip, among others – and covers the Washington wine industry for the likes of Food & Wine, Wine & Spirits, Decanter and Stephen Tanzer.
He’s the Cork Dork on Patch, the community media source for Bellevue and other Eastside communities. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@chrisnishiwaki) and you get a daily dose of the region’s bustling food and wine scene, as well as unabashed cheerleading for University of Washington, his alma mater.
In short, Nishiwaki reaches a very large audience of consumers in the Puget Sound region and undoubtedly influences their opinions and buying decisions when it comes to wine and food.
Nishiwaki knows the wine industry, he knows journalism and PR, and he definitely understands what works and what doesn’t when you mix the two. So it seems only natural to ask him how wineries can improve their overall public relations efforts.
Washington Wine PR: What makes for good public relations in the wine industry?
Chris Nishiwaki: Good PR should be seamless. It shouldn’t feel forced, especially in the wine industry. PR that is too polished is annoying to me. As a reporter I want to get straight to the source and to the core of the winery.
Also, good PR should reflect the culture of the client. If the winery’s image is regal then the PR should reflect it. If the winery appeals to a young audience (of drinking age), its PR should reflect that, too.
Public relations is just that – a relationship business. Establishing relationships early on and understanding a journalist’s schedule and priorities will set you in the right course for many years.
Establishing relationships early on and understanding a journalist’s schedule and priorities will set you in the right course for many years.
Anticipate, as best you can, what that writer will be covering next. For example, anticipate that the deadline for the holiday shopping guide for a wine magazine may be in the summer or spring well in advance of Christmas. Don’t expect immediate results but be prepared at any time when a journalist comes calling.
WWPR: Are press releases dead?
CN: I don’t think press releases are dead, at least, I hope not. I read every single press release I receive. I trash most after the first sentence or paragraph.
Good, clear press releases seem to be on life support, however. Too many press releases are too long and filled with nonsense. Flowery and general superlatives and descriptions are useless. Effective press releases should be less than one page and to the point. In some instances the critical information is buried in a pile of meaningless adjectives. If you insist on using superlatives use measurable superlatives such as “the first” or “largest of its kind.”
Too many press releases are too long and filled with nonsense. Flowery and general superlatives and descriptions are useless.
A good press release should inspire the journalist to move a story idea to the “maybe” pile or the “to do” list to follow up with the business or public relations agent. In some instances, a well written and concise press release will be lightly edited and added to a briefs section or a calendar listing. Now that’s an effective press release.
WWPR: Most memorable PR tactic by a winery?
CN: Most journalists worth their salt will see beyond a gaudy PR stunt. I have a little crush … OK, a big crush on Christie Brinkley. Her hawking Domaine Ste. Michelle years ago did not make me want to drink it or write about it anymore than before she was hawking it. Unless she was pouring the sparkling wine for me at my next dinner party I am not any more likely to drink it.
Humor gets my attention – self-deprecating humor, in particular, if it feels candid, exposed and unrehearsed. That pure, visceral quality is very charming, more charming than Brinkley.
WWPR: What are three PR mistakes that no winery should make?
CN: First, do your homework on the journalists you want to engage. Read some of the most recent articles they have written.
If a writer is freely giving positive reviews in exchange for free stuff, his or her reviews probably aren’t worth much.
Second, don’t ask the journalist to show you their copy before it goes to print. Related to that, don’t ask the journalist to send you copies of the article once it has published. Go look for it yourself. That’s your job or your PR agent’s job. Once you read it and you want extra copies, ask the journalist or the appropriate person at the publication.
Third, don’t succumb to writers who demand free samples in exchange for a positive review. If a writer is freely giving positive reviews in exchange for free stuff, his or her reviews probably aren’t worth much. Ideally, you want to pour a sample of your wine for them while they are at your winery or tasting room. Walk them through your wine. You have a captive audience. Make the most of it. Answer the writer’s questions, explain why your wine is unique and superior, and be specific.
And just one more: I hate it when wineries try to sell me on their wines by using praise from another publication. Why would I write that Bob Parker gave a wine 98 points in my publication? Am I supposed to be impressed that Parker likes your wine? My job is to evaluate the wine on its merits, not on Parker’s merits. If that’s the information my readers want they’ll get it from Bob Parker’s Wine Advocate.
WWPR: What’s the one thing to remember when pitching a story to the Cork Dork?
CN: Make the pitch timely and straightforward. I get bored with flowery and general descriptors. They’re too general and therefore meaningless.
If a winery or their agent is still telling me their wine is “great” or “the best,” it’s meaningless. The next 1,236 wineries also will tell me that their wines are “great” and “the best.” Give me something more unique and quantifiable. Be creative when pitching. Yes, anticipate that I will write about turkey wines in advance of Thanksgiving but give me a new angle on turkey wines.
WWPR: What are two or three simple things any winery can do to improve their PR efforts?
CN: The main thing is to be prepared when a journalist calls. Ideally, the winemaker and/or principals are ready to be interviewed. Don’t hide, don’t over-think it. Have a few general talking points ready but mainly speak from the heart. Most good journalists will detect if you are hiding something.
Also, have fact sheets and “camera ready” images, well, ready. Have the fact sheet and images, as well as public relations contact information, available on your website and for the winery’s sake, keep the website up-to-date! If you don’t have time to do those things and to engage media, then hire a reputable PR agent. Most good agents won’t be cheap, but they will pay for themselves many times over.
Chatter is an occasional series of interviews with journalists, wine business influencers, winemakers and others, all of whom have interesting ideas and opinions on PR and marketing for the wine industry.