Wine marketeers and PRs craft and communicate the stories which move grapes from the winery to the consumer’s glass. In the UK, the people who do this important job are predominantly female, who are predominantly working in small teams or as freelancers. We wanted to champion these fellow small teams and the networks of freelancers who are working harder than ever behind the scenes to keep the cogs of the wine industry whirring. We hope you enjoy this series of interviews.
The first in our series of interviews with drinks marketing and PR specialists, we enjoyed a lovely video chat with Emma Wellings. Emma needs little introduction: a PR savant of the agency which bears her name, current clients include LVMH, Ramon Bilbao and Alsace Wines. Joining us from her Isle of Wight home (she escaped there before lockdown was announced, no illegalities here), Emma discussed comms in lockdown and keeping her team – and clients – going in these most straightened circumstances.
You work with a wide range of importers, generic bodies and individual producers – how would you say the current situation has affected them?
About two weeks before lockdown was announced here, we lost two clients in the space of two hours. I thought it was the start – that they’d all drop off one by one. I couldn’t be happier to have been wrong. It’s amazed me how the wine trade has so quickly pulled together, reinventing what they do and how they do it. It’s been very heart-warming. You feel that the industry is working together as a whole to make it happen.
It begs the question – will the on-trade suppliers who’ve so masterfully pivoted to DTC sales be able to switch back?
Exactly. Will they be able – or willing – to undo what they’ve created? Our current situation is obviously so limiting and difficult, but I’m very interested to see what will happen when a semblance of ‘normality’ returns.
Are there particular challenges you’ve notice for certain channels or activities?
Obviously, events can’t go ahead. But beyond these limitations the majority of our clients have been very proactive – as have we. Along with so many others we’re becoming experts in what makes a Zoom tasting tick; there’s quite an art to it! We’ve also been heavily focussing on the machinations of formally simple tasks like getting samples sent out. Journalists who have columns still need samples! Some of our clients have helpfully been sending them direct but Lizzie has also spent the past couple of months turning her mum’s house in Oxfordshire into a remote packing centre with the help of her friendly local post office. We had all the wine boxes and tape guns and samples delivered to her – a heroic effort on her part! It really is a case of finding any which way we can to make the things happen which we need to get results.
How are you all doing as a team? How are you keeping up morale and team energy?
Sarah’s work visa from Australia had expired so we had a Zoom leaving party for her on 24th April. Then there were three! It was very difficult at first to replicate the way we work as a unit in the office from three separate homes. We have a ‘hello’ every morning at 10am to check in with each other, and have a live Google spreadsheet where everyone can cross off their to-do list in real time. It sounds so low-tech, but it’s the closest we’ve got to the awareness of being in an office knowing who’s talking to who and doing what. I do feel somewhat discombobulated without our wall chart though!
How to your various clients’ approaches to lockdown differ?
We have found that some clients have been much more proactive than others. And some have taken a little persuading. Fear is a huge factor: if they didn’t understand the tech and hadn’t done something before then of course they may be hesitant to put money into virtual activity. Krug were very proactive. They already have quite a dynamic digital footprint anyway, and they came to us almost immediately to tell us that they’d set up a system called Krug Connects. The first thing they did was internal sessions just to see if it worked; so, we had Oliver Krug talking to us about the Grand Cuvee 168. We then did a Zoom tasting for a number of press who were each sent a sample for them to taste along with Julie Cavil and Olivier. Once we had that as a case history, I could forward it as an example to my resistant clients. A large part of our work in recent weeks has been this hand holding, giving clients visual examples so they can understand what we’re recommending.
What advice and adaptations would you offer to different sectors and channels of the wine trade in how to come through this situation?
Reinvent if and where you possibly can.
Is it made easier by being a smaller team? You have inbuilt agility.
We are very fortunate because we can reinvent without jumping through too many hoops. We do have to be quite flexible anyway because we are so small as a company. The smaller you are almost the easier it is for you all to still work together.
Are you planning for the future – and how?
No, I’m not planning for the future because I don’t know what it looks like yet.
My plan is just to make sure we come out the end of this. We want to keep as many of our clients as we can and we need to give them results to do that. Then we can see how we can rebuild, what we can rebuild.
What do you think will hold in terms of comms after lockdown lifts?
I hope that Zoom tastings will. If they’re done well – and only if – they can be wonderful. Having winemakers talk direct from the vines is a game changer. They’re also fantastically time efficient compared to standard tastings which take up most of a day.
What is making you hopeful right now?
That the wine trade has been able to reinvent itself so successfully. That retail wines sales have risen. Let’s hope that some of these people who are spending a bit more on wine, maybe discovering wine for the first time or switching from spirits to wine, decide to keep on drinking wine when lockdown ends. There’s such a strong interest in living a slower life where you really consider what you’re consuming. Pleasures now are coming from what you’re eating and drinking – long may that continue.
The fact that there will be an end is also making me hopeful. And the hope that perhaps people will be nicer to each other, too.
And what do you think will be in your glass this week?
I love MIP – Made In Provence from Lea & Sandeman. We used to have the Provence wines account, years ago, and I’ve been such a fan ever since. Obviously, I’m not in Chiswick, I’m in the Isle of Wight and I’ve not been able to get hold of it. I’ve tried various other things and they just haven’t been doing it for me. But today I brought some MIP from the Chiswick Lea & Sandeman by our office. Lizzie is going to collect the delivery from our office and send it via Royal Mail to me. I’ve got 11 bottles coming and I cannot wait – so I’m hoping that that’s what’s going to be in my glass this week! The lengths we go to for the things we love.