Shocking Public Relations

When sleep doesn’t come right away, I often watch movies on TV, catching bits and pieces of them, rarely watching a movie from start to finish.  Hence, it often takes months before I see all of a movie, if ever.  I’ve seen snatches of the 2008 film Bottle Shock, the mostly true story of how Napa Valley took on the French wine industry in 1976.  It makes for an entertaining take on the vintner wars, even when you know it was shot from a unabashedly patriotic view.

I see it as an interesting public relations story.

In the movie, an Englishman living and working in the Paris wine industry arranged a blind taste test, pitting US and French wines.  In true underdog fashion, the California wines won the contest and an article in Time magazine led to success for the region, and a more open minded attitude to other regions producing great wines.  In the words of the film, “If one of us (California vintners) wins, we all win.”  Sounds like a great victory to lay at the feet of a PR program, doesn’t it?  Maybe.

Since I am a believer in taking your lessons where you find them, how about a quick look at the success or failure of the PR in Bottle Shock?

1) Success or failure? As presented in the movie, the blind taste test was actually conceived of as a PR stunt for the organizer’s wine shop and wine classes.  At the end of movie, he and his establishment are shunned.  He embarrassed the French industry.  He describes himself as the “pariah” of the French wine industry.  He and his friend are shown sitting in an empty shop.  You could say he won the battle and lost the war, or you could look at his shop and business as a casualty of war.  The big victory was for the US wine industry, never the intended “client”.  Either way, the goal set up at the beginning for the PR strategy wasn’t fulfilled.

Things to consider:

  • What’s your ultimate PR and Marketing goal?
  • Does your strategy connect to your business goals?
  • Just because there is a positive outcome for one organization doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone wins.

2) Exclusives: The taste test was covered by a single journalist.  More in-house and agency hours have been wasted on the “exclusive versus broad-based coverage” argument than many other discussions  I can think of.  In the words of one of the Bottle Shock characters, “One great journalist is worth a thousand hacks.”  Or is he?  Again, let’s look at your goals.  In the movie, the son of the CA vintner is aghast learning that the single journalist covering the event is someone he’s never heard of — he was obviously expecting a group of journalists or at least someone who wrote regularly on wine, the topic at hand.  There is no right answer.

Things to consider

  • Will you get bigger play for a story by offering one publication an exclusive story?
  • Will any publication care enough about the story to want to give it bigger coverage?
  • Does the single journalist have the knowledge to adequately interpret the occurrence?
  • Does the single journalist’s audience represent your goal audience?  (1976’s Time magazine audience was certainly different from today’s Time magazine.)
  • What are you losing by giving access to only a single journalist?