they may not discover it, and the review will be weaker. Another way to make your review sample stand out is to give it a custom touch. “You don’t have to go allout and get a velvet-lined box with gold flakes,” says Rob Theakston, editor at large at Drinkhacker. “It can be a little thing, like a handwritten note that says, ‘Hope you dig! If not, we’re still cool.’ Something to let the reviewer know this isn’t just an assembly line of samples.” Burnett also says customization is key. “I never like to blind send people anything,” she says. And several reviewers I’ve spoken to report receiving small samples of not-yet-released or in-progress products, not to review, but to provide feedback—a gesture that goes a long way in building goodwill and solid relationships, a key to long-term success with media. Finally, know that not all media outlets that receive samples will publish a review. Some choose not to run negative reviews, so if they didn’t care for your product it may never see the light of publication. Others are simply grappling with an onslaught of review samples, and yours may not be at the top of the list. And still others may rarely publish reviews at all, and confine their reviews to major international brands that everybody can find at their local liquor store. Don’t take it personally.
TELL IT WITH Tact
No matter how great your website and press releases are, at some point, a journalist will want to actually talk to you. This is a great thing! It gives you an opportunity to tell your company’s story and put a human face on your business. Before the interview, think about what messages you most want to communicate, and how you want to communicate them. Then, during the interview, if you aren’t asked about those messages directly, volunteer them—the end of the interview is usually a good time to add any last thoughts. Even if a writer is working on a story related to one small part of your business,
you never know what they may write about in the future. Knowing that you’ve got a Jamaican-style rum in the works just might be that last push they need to pitch that high-ester rum story they’ve been thinking about for the past month. Remember that most spirits journalists are not out to “gotcha” you—they’re probably excited about your product, which is why they’re writing the story in the first place. However, part of journalism is a willingness to ask probing questions. Anticipate this, and think about what you’ll say if an interviewer asks you a question you aren’t excited—or able—to answer, like, “Do you source any of your products? From who?” The key to answering tough questions is to tell the truth; nothing rubs a writer the wrong way quite like outright falsehoods (“Yes, of course, we make our 95 percent rye/5 percent malted barley five-year-old rye whiskey in-house, in the brand-new distillery we finished constructing last month”). It’s OK to say you can’t disclose some proprietary component of your process, but don’t lie, because it could come back to bite you. Finally, remember this: Nobody becomes a spirits writer because they don’t like spirits. At the end of the day, the people behind the scenes of your favorite spirits blogs, magazines, and websites are excited to learn more about your company and your products, and they are rooting for you to make the best possible products you can. While working with the media can seem daunting at first, being accessible and transparent can go a long way in building strong, long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with writers and editors. Now, go forth and tell your company’s story!
Margarett Waterbury is the managing editor of The Whiskey Wash and Edible Portland, and regularly contributes to other publications about food, drink, and agriculture. She was named the 2017 Alan Lodge Young Drinks Writer of the Year by Spirits Business Magazine. www.margarettwaterbury.com
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