Storytelling Lesson from a Winemaker

Maybe I have been doing this for too long but it seems like every time I turn around I hear something totally non-related that instantly makes me think of the PR business. A recent example came up at a lovely tasting at White Cottage Ranch on Howell Mountain (@whitecottage on Twitter): artisan wine making.

 Michael, the assistant winemaker at White Cottage, told me about some of the nuances of making their delightful Howell Mountain wines and it got me to thinking about how PR pros could learn from winemakers. Winemakers, especially those with the best wine, go into the fields and drop (i.e. toss out) the less-than-great fruit multiple times a year. They are smart enough to know that not every grape should be made into wine and trashing the bad ones makes the good grapes better.

Think of these grapes as the stories your company tells – it’s certainly best to have a lot of options but it’s good to know which ones you should toss aside in order to focus on the best part of the crop. Learn to sample the stories, cull things down and create the best possible story pipeline.

This type of crop thinning makes better wine – and staying focused on the best ideas makes for a better PR program. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t let some less-than-great stories grow in your vineyard, just know that when you go to put them to use, you should be smart about where you spend your time. Focus on the high-end Cab of a story vs. the two-buck Chuck.

And, know your crops – Michael shared some insight on Cabernet Sauvignon vs. Cabernet Franc. Winemakers know you can get great wine from a good Cabernet Sauvignon field on the first pass. Cabernet Franc however does what it wants to do. As Michael explained, it can be all head and you need to go out looking to “find the ass in it.” This can mean eight or nine passes through the fields to find the good stuff. Like a vineyard master, look to your crop of story ideas with a discerning eye. Learn how to tell when a certain story is going to be harder to make happen, waste cycles with no result or simply die on the vine based on a partner’s lack of media prowess or interest. And, begin to understand when the more intense, long-term effort is worth the work versus an exercise in futility.

It’s critical for PR success that you approach it like an art form, like winemaking. Don’t just churn stuff out. Build up a lot of options, swirl, taste, spit, and then decide what really works for your brand. Once you know, you can bottle and sell that. Unless your PR efforts are like making boxed wine, in which case, ignore this post.

Special Thanks to Marie Williams for her input, if you like the idea of singular focus, you should read her “Unlearning Multitasking” post on her amazing new blog.

Alternate Titles:

  • Your story is all head, I’m looking for the ass in it
  • Analogies are to wine tasting as… what was I saying?

~ by Julie Crabill on April 20, 2010.

5 Responses to “Storytelling Lesson from a Winemaker”

  1. Ahhh what’s not to like when it comes to a blog post about PR lessons learned from wine making. Agree that valuable lessons can be taken from wine, more PR people should pay attention to these lessons you talk about in fact. ;)

  2. I like this! So how do you tell a client that no matter how hard you sell it, a promising pitch angle turns out to be corked?

    • Good question, I think it’s a matter of not being up against a wall when it comes to being honest with a client (and not taking on unreasonable asshats). If you feel afraid to tell them that, even with the best laid plans and a seemingly great idea, no one is biting, it makes it difficult to be creative for fear an idea will fall flat. If they can see PR as an art form, they’ll get that sometimes we make a Picasso and other times what comes out looks like a rorschach test.

  3. I *truly* love the first alternate title! ;-)

  4. […] Storytelling Lesson from a Winemaker […]

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