Even in the age of social media, the UK drinks industry is still heavily reliant on the expertise of PR firms and their contacts in the press and media world. A well-run campaign from a respected PR company can help make or break a brand's performance in the market, while leading journalists and critics still have an important role to play in influencing consumer choices.
Of course, things have changed dramatically over the past 20 years; a critic is now simply a trusted source of information, rather than a newspapers columnist. The scope of communication has changed beyond comprehension, with PR firms now targetting professional Instagrammers and bloggers, as much as critics like Tim Atkin MW and Jancis Robinson MW.
Their task has, of course, been complicated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet the most resourceful companies have adapted with impressive speed and agility, swiftly utilising the digital space to continue to bring writers and winemakers together.
“The Coronavirus landscape has been a challenge. We were fortunately early adopters of Zoom, and have generated some fantastic coverage from key press for our Zoom events since April 2020, says Emma Wellings, owner of Emma Wellings PR.
“Some clients were initially resistant to the new ways of working, so we had to coax them along gently. In fact, a big part of our job is about trying to get people to do the things that we know are best for them.”
Wellings, like many of her colleagues, potentially faces another turbulent year. But her clients can be assured that the facilitation of communication between producer, press and consumer will not stop.
The following companies have stood up to the Covid-19 challenge, and will continue to do so. They represent the best of wine PR and communications in the UK.
Wine producers looking to create some noise in the UK market should seriously consider Emma Wellings PR. The business was founded in 1999, set up by a former editorial assistant at the magazine Decanter. With over 21 years experience, her small team understands how to attract the attention of busy writers.
“A number of the wine writers I contact today are the same journalists I worked with 21 years ago, so you can imagine how much more knowledgeable these press are now, and how hard we have to work to find new angles to attract them to our client tastings and events,” says Wellings. Their client list includes major Champagne brands Krug, Dom Perignon and Moet & Chandon, in addition to Rioja producer Ramon Bilbao.
Founded in 2001, Cube Communications is a Wimbledon-based agency specialising in activation and amplification for drinks brands through Strategy, PR, Events and Digital. Their clients range from Tesco to Martini and from Bordeaux Wines to E&J Gallo Winery.
“We’ve run lots of successful campaigns over the past twenty years with highlights being Bondi-on-Thames, Moët Academy, McGuigan City Vineyard, Tesco Wine Fairs and the Tesco finest* Wine Bar,” says director Chris Mitchell.
“Our PR campaign for Montes Wine, exploring the link between music and wine, achieved global recognition. For the past 5 years, we have been working with Bordeaux Wines and Vins de Provence, leading all aspects of their marketing and communications campaigns in the UK.” A firm to take note of.
After working for different communication agencies in London, Clemence de Crecy founded Clementine Communications in 2006. In recent times, the company has adapted to the times, changed ways of working so the business is always head of the curve and in front of new trends. They have extensive experience of managing campaigns for Burgundy and Bordeaux producers, global spirit brands and luxury wine storage firms.
“We're a luxury lifestyle agency – which is an important distinction as we see the wider picture of where brands fit within the market and dictates how we tailor our campaigns and approach for clients,” explains owner Clemence de Crecy.
Phipps is the most awarded drinks communications agency in the UK, set up in the late 1980s. In 2017, the company refocused as it became a multi service communications agency providing social media and influencer marketing to almost all of its clients. In addition, for the company's larger wine generic clients it also organises large scale brand experiences for up to 12,000 consumers.
On top of that Phipps handles trade promotions both in the retail and hospitality sector. Their client list includes: Wines of Germany, Wines from Rioja, Koshu of Japan, Marks & Spencer, Adnams, Lay & Wheeler and Whitley Neil Gin.
Eviva began life in 2004; their first client was the Chianti Classico Consorzio. Since then the business has expanded to work with major European wineries, organising a series of very high profile events. But more importantly, Eviva has a strong track record in retaining client loyalty.
“Prosecco is a good example of the longevity of Eviva’s client relationships,” says director Emma Roberts. “I think the reason for this is twofold: firstly, the quality of the results that we always ensure we achieve for clients, and secondly, that we really like meeting and working with our clients from all different parts of the globe, which is why I went into wine PR in the first place.” They remain one of the most reliable and dynamic firms in the world of communication and PR.
Phillips-Hill Wine Marketing, PR & Events was established in 2008 – the owners have extensive experience in wine marketing roles in the UK and New Zealand, both on the agency and producer side. For over 14 years, Louise Hill visited wine producers, distributors and marketing partners around the world, giving her a thorough understanding of the wine business and the important role PR plays in achieving success.
“I have always considered PR to have a vital role and believe that everything we do as communications professionals must be aligned closely with our clients’ goals,” says Hill. “Working alongside our clients, we have created exciting and effective PR campaigns for large and small wine producers from many countries including South Africa, New Zealand, South America, Portugal and France.”
The firm is ideal for wine producers looking to work with a small, client-focused business. They work as a tight-knit and approachable team, comprising of Louise Hill, her husband and business partner Neil Phillips, experienced wine PR professional Jo Thompson and other independent drinks communications experts. Their clients include New Zealand brand Yealands and Champagne house Castelnau.
Sue Harris has more than 20 years experience of connecting wine producers with key members of the press and their audiences. After founding Westbury Communications in 1992, Harris has kept her individual and tailored approach to wine PR, maintaining a small team and only working with quality-focused clients. Their business relationships include artisan wineries, leading retailers and international brands.
Harris has a wealth of experience in organising tailored and targetted campaigns, something her clients will happily attest to.
R&R Teamwork is part of Think Drink Global, a network of three privately owned drinks specialist PR Agencies providing the resources and personnel to accomplish successful marketing and PR strategies globally. The UK firm was set up by Rosamund Barton and Rupert Ponsonby in 1995.
Rosamund’s background was in wine and spirit purchasing in South Africa, before moving to London to initially work with the satirical puppet TV show Spitting Image and then back to wine to be in-house PR for Majestic Wine Warehouse, and then her own PR Company. Rupert had run his own industrial and service companies before moving into PR for restaurants, high end drinks brands and generics, including Wines of South Africa. So, their combined experience of business means that R&R Teamwork is attuned to the commercial aspects of selling drinks just as much as to their publicity.
Their client list centres on wine, however, beer, spirits and mead all play a significant part. With over 25 years of experience of running campaigns for both individual wineries and generics, they're among the most trusted wine PR companies in the UK today.
A small firm with a significant outreach, Freerun PR was started by Ben Smith following stints heading up communications for Bibendum, Enotria and Concha y Toro UK. Freerun has grown to have a roster of wine, spirits and beer companies but retained its small feel and approach. Founder Ben Smith says: "I was extremely lucky at the beginning to pick up two clients who have stuck with us ever since.
Continuity is key to business success, and has enabled us to build on that with newer clients gradually being added. Variety is also very helpful, both in making sure you've got different things to offer, and in keeping each day challenging and interesting.”