Where are all the people?

Events are always a tricky one. And I say this as a convener of wine events, and having been the host of one which failed miserably, disappointing all involved.

There’s always quite a lot going on in any city, and Adelaide is no exception. Sport, music, comedy, food festivals, beverage festivals of EVERY kind.

But the question has always been attendance – spruiking, marketing, reminders, selling actual tickets. And how to achieve the numbers to make it viable the next time. And these days? Where to actually promote its a key point of contention.

Wine event this last few days. Some great names, wines and people involved. An awesome space.

Friday? Attendees barely outnumbered exhibitors. Saturday was better, but still not exactly life changing.

So many of the actual attendees were opportunistic – walking past, saw the sign, wandered in. A few were the die-hard wine event attendees. A handful had planned the whole day with a group.

Most? Asked me where it was advertised. They had been invited by a friend but had seen nothing in the media about the event at all.

So I asked them where they might see such advertising now, using my own world as an example.

  • Get up.
  • Gym – read stuff that I’ve bookmarked over the last day or so on my phone whilst en treadmill.
  • Home, work from my computer. Which I’ve got set to limit as much advertising as it’s humanly possible. Read across the Guardian, NYT, WaPo, The Fin and a couple of others.
  • Out on the road, kinda focused. Work until stupid o’clock.
  • Go home, stream something if I’m in a watching mood. Read books if not. Watch sbs and abc news if I’m home in time.
  • Regular social media across the day.

Where am I realistically going to see advertising for local events other than my bookface stream?

The punters to whom I posed this event enigma mostly thought about this and agreed that their lives were pretty similar. Many of them are not big social media users (a generational gap, for the most part), and often rely on a way-more-interesting friend to drag them along to things.

Which is a failing on their part. They cannot expect to be reliably entertained in their world unless they make an effort.

But perhaps it is also a disconnect between marketing tropes and well worn advertising techniques and where the world currently sits.

I would argue that we need at any time a dual stream marketing campaign. It’s well and good to advertise the loud, fun, slightly manic events, but these events also need those attendees who appreciate a chance to engage and develop a relationship with a brand. Both are valid. Both have cash burning a hole in their pockets. Both want to have a great day and try some awesome vino. And hopefully to buy some and come back next year. To join wine clubs and mailing lists. To get to know the person making this wine they have just discovered and now adore.

The last two events I’ve done have had music so loud that it actively disrupts and often stops the conversations we are there to conduct. After one, I was bleeding from my eardrum due to the insanely loud set up. The noise issue had many people leaving, or promising that they were done, and would never be attending such events again. Exhibitors trying to do battle with a DJ helps no one.

Vibe? Maybe. Ambience? Nope.

A certain appeal, and that age old music-and-wine hedonism? ABSOLUTELY. But we still need to be able to talk to people and hear what they have to say.

And yes. We definitely need a vibrancy to our wine and beverage events. We NEED it to be changed up and different and less serious and more interesting.

But if the event is not advertised where people are looking, they won’t even get there. If it is so LOUD in ethos and approach and sound, then a good proportion of the spending public are out. And will never be back.

So where’s the line? Is it a party for punters or an actual sales and marketing opportunity for exhibitors? Can it be both?

And how does the word get out? We as a group of exhibitors and event people need to up the game in terms of communications. Don’t not put the word out to your mailing list because you are scared that they may find another wine they like. Invite them to come and see you and the amazing wineries around you. Maybe offer them something special when they come and see YOU. It makes the room a stronger crowd, enhances your relationship with your group, and is simply more fun.

Social media is your friend. Use it wisely.

And for the organisers? Maybe talk to your exhibitors about how to enhance the promotion and marketing of your event and its brand.

But first? You probably need to work out what that brand you are advertising will be to the consumer. Wine event? Party with DJ? Insane degustation lunch with matched vino? Quiet, staid (but often effective) wine event? Ask people where they are online and in the lives? How do they want to find out about this stuff? Do you create a smart group on the socials that only contacts people when there is an event, with an offer for pre-purchased tickets, before going out to the public? An incentive to invite others to the group. An option to mute notifications for that event as people are getting squillions of alerts each day and we want to not pester them.

But first. What are we advertising? Who is the target? How do we get them in and eager to purchase?

Then maybe there will be a clearer message, and more targeted advertising campaign and more happy people through the door.

And everybody wins.

(And yes. I’m one of those who get grumpy about loud stuff. But in good part because I have clientele and family with minor hearing difficulties. Who want to spend and actively avoid events with a lack of understanding that loud, intrusive noise is often painful and always a difficulty for actual conversation.)

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Silly season

So, here’s the thing. I’m in pretty good shape. I’m fifty-odd kilos less than when I was disintegrating. My sugars are doing well. My diet is kinda reasonable. My doctors are – mostly – happy.

But I have the bonus fun bit. A nerve disorder. It has no treatment other than morphine and it occasionally breaks me. It is there every day. And probably while we’re talking. But I try very freaking hard to not let you know. 

And I’m at the supremely minor end of chronic pain. I can manage. But see someone struggling a little one day? Grab and reach what they are aiming to pull down from a shelf. Offer to help. It might well piss them off but you might also catch the person who really needs an ounce of help that takes barely a moment. Ask people what they need. I’m a diabetic. I don’t always need injections (honestly, we probs don’t if you don’t already know) and when I do, I will be pretty clear about what I need. Ask. Unless it is blatantly obvious that the need is way above the awareness, let them know you are available but not pressing.

Same for day to day stuff. Not the life threatening gear. But just being aware. Let those around you know that you are there. If needed. Or if not. It may be deeper and darker than we know. It may be WAY less. But there is nothing wrong with letting the people in our world know that we could be there if needed.

And on a purely superficial level? I told a bundle of women and men that they looked amazing the other day. Big event. Pretty young things. The PYTs got all the attention. I spent the day telling people they were looking great. Regardless of age, gender, dress code. Just because. Spreading a teensy bit of love. Made me feel amazing as a bonus.

Offer help. Tell people they look awesome. Confide in someone as to why they make you a better human. Accord respect. 

Build the world from our esteem up. It can only get better.

There you go. A christmas-ish message from this confirmed grinch. Be better. It’s not hard. 

Carelessness

Restaurants are treated like a disposable convenience for a lot of people. They – for some reason – book multiple venues for a single meal and don’t bother to cancel the ones not making the final cut. They seem to expect that restaurants, their stock and their staff can just magically appear when required or equally disappear into the mist when a different option is selected. But restaurants have bills to pay. They hire staff and procure adequate supplies to be able to feed and water their booked people.

And then the dreaded no-show. It’s rude, essentially. But there are reasons, obviously. Medical or family emergencies. Unforeseen… something. It happens.

The deliberate no-show, however, merits blacklisting. It damages business.

One would think these businesses might be equally as aware of how their actions might translate… Should the shoe be on the other foot.

Sales reps get a rough trot sometimes. They are pushy by nature. They bug venues for appointments, take notes, and inexplicably remind venues of wines over which they’d enthused. But this is the job. Bugging for appointments. Being on time. Knowing what might work and what is on special in a nearby venue. Information is the core of what they do. And occasionally it goes skewiff, but generally? A LOT of work goes into planning a day, a week, a month.

And money, obviously. Because time allocated in one place is time not used elsewhere. Time WASTED in one place  is lost business. Reps drive to venues. They pay for parking. They allocate time and outlay to the work, the appointment. They generally open wine in advance, check that it is looking as it should. Selling wine is a job. It costs money to accomplish. It costs wine. And many people only get paid a commission or a minimal retainer which covers nothing much at all. They make their income when sales come through.

Venues not ACTUALLY cancelling appointments but kinda not rocking up are no better than the no-shows they despise. They are screwing with someone’s job and income for no real reason other than their own disorganisation or unwillingness to be professional.

We get it, you know. We understand that you are busy and that things crop up. It happens to the best of us.

And dealing with wholesalers CAN be a chore. But we are also your suppliers.

We work to YOUR requirements. Show you viable wines. Negotiate the pouring discount you need. We train your staff, and eat in your venues to better understand your needs. We send people to your venues. We host events with you.

So please. Understand that when we make an appointment with you, and schedule to have certain wines open that we are conducting OUR business. Show up. Pay attention. Take notes. Or, honestly? Don’t make a time. Tell us you will never list our wines and we will take our business, our wines and our time elsewhere.

Have a little respect for the time and effort that planning our weeks in order to be the best business for our producers might take.

Those bottles we open? HAVE A COST. Our time? Has value.

Ignoring our emails or just refusing to make a time? Also not helpful. Do you know what I might have to show you or are you going to dismiss me out of hand? If you have zero interest, just TELL US. We’ll go see someone who wants to see the wines.

For a start, getting a reputation as being that buyer who is difficult? That WILL follow you. We talk to each other. Word gets out when professionalism goes AWOL.

Sure. Sometimes we just want to stamp our feet and demand that people pay us a degree of respect. But we don’t.  We call, we email. We bring in wines. Don’t treat our business like a free tasting. Don’t condescend to give us an appointment when you have zero intention of buying anything but personally just want to try the wine. Or whatever the excuse might be.

We respect your role, your experience, your voice. It does go both ways, though. We get that stuff happens. We’re not incompetent.

A teensy bit of respect goes a long way. Those venues? Those buyers? Get first dibs.  Get allocations of limited stuff. Get the time with amazing winemakers when in town. Get the deals.

Some venues may think they get the best of their reps. Despite treating them appallingly. Or ignoring them. Because the venue (or worse, the buyer) is too important.

Nope. Play nice. Be honest. And don’t waste our time. Easy.

Sorry, Qantas…

…but I think I am done now.

I am fairly sure that you will miss my paltry spend not at all, but just in case you would like to know why, I thought I might spell it out. And this begins with a caveat: your staff are awesome. Lovely, helpful, awesome people who are more and more embarrassed by the shortcomings of their brand.

I fly Qantas in general because it is a local business, it has a good history of taking an ethical stand, and it has been, in general, pretty reasonable. For the extra we pay for tickets, I *do* expect a better offering. And this is where it is getting iffy.

The special meals are generally pretty terrible – even if they do actually adhere to the needed dietary proscriptions. So, I book ‘Asian Vego’ because as a gluten intolerant, lactose intolerant, vego diabetc (I KNOW – I am hopeless, but in my defence, I did not specifically request any of those restrictions other than the vego bit; I just have a screwy body.) that is the best option. I know. I have tried them ALL. And the diabetic offering is horrifying in general. Although I only tried it twice, there was more refined sugar and fructose in that box than I consume in a month. And it may have changed. I am simply not willing to take my life into my hands to check it out.

So – Asian Vego. No probs. Breakfast? Yoghurt (sweetened) and some kind of muffin bar? With chocolate bits? And an apple. That’s not even close. On a flight over 2 hours, trapped with no food and having to manage insulin levels. Seems fun, no? And if I were Asian? This would NOT have been close. Dinner on the flight back was… ok. The curry was…. kinda curry-esque? But loads of sweetness, and somehow simultaneously had undercooked noodles and overcooked, mushy veg. That is a particular achievement.

And the booze. In general, the suppliers and the panel selecting the wines for Qantas have been reasonable. They have to fit a price point, and deliver in an atmosphere which actively dulls the senses. Pretty much, a decent job has been done by all and sundry – especially in terms of securing vino from many smaller wineries. Go Qantas.

Not yesterday. Yesterday I appeared to be on a flight sponsored by one of the global behemoths. The wine was terrible. Like, quite obviously created in a lab – added concentrate, tannin AND acid. It was disjointed and generically bad. And no identifying region to be seen. Which is fine – they can probably supply at a price point which makes those deals very attractive for buyers who fully understand that those drinking wine on the flights probably, for the most part, do not care so long as it is wet and alcoholic.

Except being charged $6 for the privilege. If you are going to charge that kinda money, when your tickets are already WAY more pricey than the competition, we expect the bonuses: edible food, as ordered; drinks that are free (or, actually, you know: INCLUDED), within reason. And at LEAST make the wine actually drinkable. No tea or coffee was offered. I am not even sure there was any on the trolley. Water, however, was plentiful. So gold star for keeping the peeps hydrated.

No screens in seats. Just download the app plus a handy strap to hold your tablet (What? We didn’t tell you you should bring your own screen? Ooops. Our bad.) or the dinky tiny little screen way up ahead with some generic news+US sitcom+cartoon jumble. Reupholstered seats, so it does not LOOK like the older model it is, though. So it looked reasonable.

So, my question to you, Qantas, is this: what does the extra spend buy me? Meals? You either can’t feed me or the edible versions have deteriorated significantly in quality. And yes – I get that my dietary reqs make me a difficult proposition. But I spent much of the flight to Syd making notes on options (at a reasonable pricepoint) fitting in to a standard offering. Gluten free wraps. Rice paper rolls (PLEASE MAKE THIS HAPPEN). Roti. Breakfast quiche/frittata/tortilla. All of these can be done as vego or meat-lover versions, in order to keep costs down. Miso soup cups – filled from the urn, sorted. I do not know where to even start with the curry noodles – maybe look at a better protein/carb match so they are actually warm and not disintegrating? And chill on the sugars. If I can taste that much sugar in an environment wherein the senses are dulled? I would kinda like to know how much is actually in there. Because my blood sugars upon return to my house had skyrocketed.

It does not buy me the pretty screens on other routes – presumably more popular and/or longer. The food is clearly an issue – and one which had an ongoing effect on my health management for the ensuing day after each flight. So how is your offering better than that of, say, Virgin? I KNOW when I cannot eat their food, so I schedule a meal around it. I know that no food or beverages are supplied without a cost, so I can expect it. I expect basic entertainment, so I bring my own. The planes are newer, cleaner and the staff are just as sparky and helpful. And the flights are WAY cheaper.

Most people have a degree of loyalty with airlines. If the price is not significantly out, they will happily pay a little extra to fly on the recognised home-town brand. You know why? Because, in general, they have flown that airline domestically and have an expectation. Domestic is kinda the trial size of the long-haul-international. Dear Qantas: if your trial-size is failing this badly, why would I ever fly with you to, say, Rome? When being on a flight for that long without suitable sustenance could become a health issue, rapidly? When the comforts I used to expect are stripped away and the costs remain static, or go up? When you charge more, and deliver less?

Sorry Qantas. I wish it were not this way, but I am kinda done.

Synaesth-what?

I just read an article about someone ‘losing’ their synaesthesia. That it had evaporated with age.

Mine arrived as a part of an indefinable pain disorder. At first I thought it was a side effect of the morphine. And it may well have been but it hung around. It coloured my dreams and my memory. My sense of smell is vivid – as in, actually highlighted with colour. Cassis? That identifier often used with cabernet? Not purple. Not even red.  For me it is violet – and more to the blue end of violet. Eucalypt is clearly a dull gold. It just is. I don’t know why.

This alignment of colour and character makes judging and the writing of wine notes an interesting process. I need to dull my colours and revert to more “standard” terminology. A venue buyer asked me about a wine last year. I told him it tasted blue. Without thinking. It did. To me.  It really did. Luckily said buyer saw a blue fruit synchronicity and agreed.

Synaesthesia is a weird concept. My memory and my ideas are coloured. This helps me to arrange them and to recall them more easily. It is also utterly random and outside of my control. Wanting bright, new linear rieslings to taste a green/gold colour will not make it happen. They taste like a mandarin colour. Mostly. Except when they aren’t. I can’t dictate to the weird bit of the brain that does this.

It does occasionally force me to think differently though. To assess the flavour initially without an edit feature. Then to impose some of the more conventional terminology over the top.

Applied to the less conventional end of the scale, it is almost exacerbated. I refuse to use the term *natural*. Whilst I understand the original intent, there is no rule to define this magical term. Natural how? Or why? Is there a scale? And if so, who creates and monitors these definitions?

Not that I object to the styles. Or even to making the wines to whatever style a maker may choose. I would prefer MY wines to skew to a vibrancy defined by careful vineyard management and minimal screwing around in the winery. Preserve the fruit. Make a gorgeous glass of wine.

But the beauty of the wine game is that we ALL have different palates. Different preferences. A differing degree of malleability regarding our preferences. If a wine finds a market, it has marketability.

To a degree. I find – for me – the fetishisation of (what I consider to be) fault to be a complicated issue which will render an ongoing miasma in terms of marketing and saleability of our wines.

I adore the variety and complexity of our world. But it casts issues on occasion.

I would not dictate on style. Each to their own. And if it can be sold, go nuts.

It’s a small world, after all

Once a winery or brand hits a certain size, distribution becomes a necessity. Whether that is by travelling and hand-selling, or by appointing an agent, or by appointing a distribution business to handle the sales, warehousing, invoicing and so on.

Whatever happens, these producers, agents and distributors all need to pay for the expenses incurred by their businesses, and make a little moolah. Simple, no?

And for many, distribution is the holy grail. A channel to market. With people out spreading the word and pouring the booze. Five days a week (mostly; well, sometimes.; well, generally.).

From a winery point of view, there is a decent amount of negotiation involved in settling on a suitable distribution option and securing the agreement. Just finding the right people who you trust with your brand is a massive deal. Let alone the teensy bit of legal acrobatics that goes with securing a mutually beneficial agreement and ongoing business. Reading distribution agreements is:
a. BORING;
b. Detailed;
c. Dedicated to the notion that these documents are prone to favouring one party or the other at certain points, and this must be acknowledged, and often negotiated; and
d. BORING. And absolutely necessary.

Back in the day (pre-interwebs-on-phones), this distribution management involved a mountain of faith on the part of the winery. Winemakers would only get out on the road once or twice a year, and would rely on phone calls with brief details, and sales figures. There was not a lot of wriggle room.

Now? Now I can ask my mate in Melbs via the twitters whether Rep X had been in yet for the contact I had set up. I can double check the wholesale prices they have been given. I can ask my restaurateur buddies in Sydney how the rep went with the spiel and sales bit. If they were on the ball. And the venues and the stores can check the RRP in SECONDS by jumping online. They can check in a heartbeat whether a rep is fibbing with the old “independent/on-prem only” line. Pop the deets in a search engine and Robert is your father’s brother.

Distribution is fundamentally a business of trust. A business of relationships. An agent or distributor trusts the brand to make a consistent wine and to support sales. And to not go outside the lines by selling to a venue within a sales territory managed by that agent or team. The winery trusts the agents or distribs to be smart. To sell into good venues or outlets which respect the wines and pay their bills. To make the margin they need, and to build business. To work hard and to bring in new business all the time. The restaurants and retailers trust reps to bring them the wines which will fit, at the right price and to not waste their time. They trust them to not bring a wine in with an RRP of $22 and a Woollie/Coles/Clearance Channel advertised price of $12. The punters trust the venues to not put truly shit wines on their lists, and to know what they have on hand and how it suits their venue, locale and palates. They trust retailers to recommend with a degree of sense and a broader database of knowledge than the punter might own.

And sure. Sometimes it does not work. Some staff (distrib/agent/retail/on-trade/winery) take a while to best identify their approach, their method, their spiel. Some take time and don’t necessarily hit the ground running. Some do. This timing bit? PART OF THE TRUST FACTOR.

I ran into a sales rep a couple of months ago. He had had a big day, and was fairly smashed. Lovely. Not rude. Not incoherent. Just talkative and drunk. With no filter. He told me his business LOVED me because I build up a winery’s sales in hard accounts and on wine lists and get them to a point where they are a good takeover option. They hit up the winery, offer a distribution option with a team of reps and BAM. Done.

Cheers dude. Yeah. I know. That’s ok. Getting a brand to that point? For me? Is a job well done. Move on. But my agreements now have a sunset clause covering existing sales for three months after the termination of an agreement. I find that fosters a little more trust on both sides…

Someone else on the west coast? Agreed to take on a brand. Promote it. Talked the talk. Was so engaged in it all. A true believer. A new venture, but with some runs on the board. Eight months later they have changed the wholesale price by 45%, which effectively made the cellar door/website rrp an AWESOME deal. They said it was because they couldn’t make money on the agreed price. But they did not call. They did not advise what they were doing. They were just cranky that they were not selling anything. Except: they NEVER told the brand. They adversely impacted the brand reputation without a care by monumentally manipulating the brand price-point. And then issued a borderline threat to the brand – decrease your prices or we stop selling it. DUDE. You were not selling it ANYWAY. And apparently have NO plan in place to do so even if the prices were lowered. I have seen the portfolio. EVERY brand has a manipulated price-point. Scarcely a brand in there has a wine at a price that would reflect their rrp. Trust – DESTROYED. (Besides – seriously: if your business plan is to increase sales by increasing the price that much on a product with a clearly identifiable rrp? You’ve got bigger problems…)

A restaurant. Orders a wine. It fails to show up. That happens. And yes, the warehouse should have been on the ball, and the venue should have put their hand up before 8pm on a Friday night, but still. No sauv for the weekend. Their rep? Begged, borrowed and stole enough stock to get them through til Monday. Trust – on the way to being destroyed, but saved, and because that rep moved hell and high water to fix it.

A winery. Sends a wine of a different vintage/style/quality with no heads up? They just expect a follow on and are possibly trying to conceal something. Do I even need to say it? Trust – DESTROYED.

Different winery – threatens to penalise the agent financially for a customer business failing to pay bills. Which is in contravention of pretty much everything, but is also a fairly solid way to decimate any remaining trust and goodwill within someone working in the industry. It takes very little to undermine a business and doing it to yourself seems a teensy bit silly.

Seriously people. Faith must be earned on BOTH sides. A teensy fracturing of that can have an incremental effect. Be good. Earn the trust. Put your hand up when things go wrong. Be forgiving when you have the chance. And learn to walk away when you should. Is a distributor who breaks your trust better than none at all? Is a restaurant with a great reputation who does not pay bills worth the debt? Is any winery irreplaceable to a distributor or agent? To any restaurant or retailer?

Why would you trust your business there when you do not trust the people? It is a small world. Know thy neighbour. And don’t screw them over.

Be ready

Opening a new business means being ready to go from the day before you start. 

In restaurants, that goes double. The moment you open you are up for assessment. And in the social media world, that means immediately.

Train the staff. As in, not just table numbers and how to carry three plates without going arse-up, but in hospitality. When people walk in – greet them. They’ll have questions. Listen closely and reply clearly. If you don’t know, admit as much, let them know you’ll find out and do so quickly.

Know the terminology on the menu. Know how to recognise it when enunciated. Know the restaurant layout and how it best works. If one bit of the room is too hot/cold/noisy, know where to guide people to be most comfortable. Don’t send them to an empty space in another room that is not set up. Be helpful. Wait upon them. They are here for a service, a meal, a drink. They might be scoping the next venue to host ongoing corporate events. Or the best place to dine solo regularly and be content. They might be a one off. They might just be wanting another glass of wine…

But you don’t know what they are. Being precise in your offering is knowing that every minute of their time with you counts. 

Forgetting someone after their main has been cleared. Not offering coffee, tea, dessert, a digestif? Is money lost. In no small part due to the fact that they will feel ignored. And people who feel ignored don’t come back. 

Most people have a budget to spend out in the world. Enabling them to spend more of it with you – and to be happy about that – is the gold standard.

Restaurants are a tricky business. Being prepared, and training your people, knowing where queries might arise and having answers ready? KEY. 

Kinda like knowing what the fish of the day actually is some time before 1pm…