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Richard Siddle: the PR lessons to be learnt from recent media blitz on wine

Published:  04 November, 2013

It has been quite a week for the wine industry when it comes to national media coverage. Like the proverbial London bus you hang around for ages for anyone in the mainstream press to write about the wine sector, and then you have two major stories breaking on the back of each other.

First up we had the rumpus over the widely reported Morgan Stanley report that the world was going to have to face its first ever wine shortage with consumer demand outstripping demand.

The initial round of reporting was then followed up by counter reports knocking the Morgan Stanley findings and putting across counter arguments. So much so that it was one of the major trending issues of the week across social media with even the likes of Piers Morgan throwing their 2ps worth in to the debate.

Then we have had this weekend the replaying of the great supermarket wine promotions debate following a report in the Guardian that again shone on the media spotlight on what exactly it is that our favourite supermarkets do when offering half price wine bargains in-store.

Again this has been followed up and spread across the national media like wildfire with other newspapers and websites re-publishing the Guardian's research. Both the Mail On-Line and The Sunday Times simply regurgitated what had been reported in the Guardian the previous day.

In PR world they say there is no such thing as bad publicity and whilst both these stories were hardly from the "good news" camp, they succeeded in putting wine, and issues surrounding the wine sector on the front and home pages of national papers and their websites. They have resulted in major reports on all the key national and international news channels. Publicity you could not pay for.

But crucially none of this information or findings came from the wine industry itself. Instead they came from either a respected independent body such as Morgan Stanley, or in the vast majority of the reports this week from the press and national media itself. The Mail On-Line and Sunday Times stories this weekend simply regurgitated what had been in the Guardian the day before in a classic case of what we in media land call "churnalism".

Wine succeeded in getting itself on the national news agenda because the national media decided to put it there.

The national media likes doing nothing better than report on itself. You only need to look at the coverage currently being given to the phone hacking trial, or the recent fracas between Labour leader Ed Milliband and the Daily Mail over its reporting of the political record of his father to see how the national media works.

What it does not like to do is publish or follow up what it sees as self-serving press releases from a particular company, industry or trade body. Instead it would much rather publish independent, third party reports and findings on a particular sector. Better still independent research carried out by a fellow member of the British press.

It is why you will see medical research published in the Lancet receiving widespread media coverage whereas if that research was presented directly by the professor or medical body that it came from, it would not see the light of day.

In the past I have succeeded in having a whole array of surveys, polls and trade findings on issues such as bootlegging of alcohol and tobacco or retail store violence be picked up by the national media, because it came from one of their own. An independent media outlet. Not a self-promoting trade association or industry body. 

There are a number of PR and communications lessons to be learnt from the publicity and coverage the wine industry has received in the last week.

When it comes to telling the truth, revealing the facts, and getting the story out there, the national press is far more likely to use material sourced and published by one of its rivals than take the word of the industry it is reporting on.

Hence the reason the recent BBC Watchdog investigation last month in to supermarket promotions received so much coverage was the fact it came from the BBC and was delivered by TV personality Oz Clarke. A winning combination. It created so much publicity at the time that it has now been followed up by other news channels looking to tap in to the issue for their readers.

So if you have a story to tell then you may not be the best person to tell it. Or at least not under your own steam. Give it to an independent third party (and I am not talking PR agency here), or better still convince someone in the media to follow it up, then your phone may not stop ringing.