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Wine Critics/Influencers/PR et al


#1

A previous thread (Best Kept Secret v Loud and Proud) began by commenting on the potential pitfalls of the WS growing/changing too quickly but has developed into a discussion of issues as in the title of this new thread. I thought it required its own thread so I start by asking some questions. Feel free to add more and/or answers.

My question is, should there be more transparency/regulation in the world of the critic/influencer.

For example, should an influencer have to state the provenance (if any) of samples sent to them for review?

Should they have to list them all even if they do not review them publicly?

Should samples that are sent to them be classified as perks or are they just the tools of their trade?

Should there be a there a tax implication, a bit like receiving a Christmas gift from a supplier etc?


#2

I think the answer to all your questions should probably be yes, but the questions all use the word ‘should’ and whilst all those should’s are probably valid, in this modern world things that should be the case frequently no longer are the case. In this world of social media where anyone and everyone can instantly become a public and published critics I think such regulation has become nigh on impossible or, at least, the enforcement of any such regulation.


#3

Yes, they should.

The last post on the other thread is about restaurant reviews which is a good point - I have a lot of respect for Jay Rayner as he always pays the bill and refuses any freebies they try and give him. It’s hard to be honest if the item is comp’d.

I’m ‘not afraid of change’ and am a social media user (although I deleted FB and Twitter last year and have no regrets) but the whole ‘infleuncer’ model is something I inherently dislike. I have nothing against respected critics using it as a means to post reviews but more and more you find people with little to no understanding or interest in the products just trying to get freebies and coast along. I’ve heard far too many horror stories of “give us a discount or you’re getting a bad tripadvisor review” too.

Not all of these tactics are being employed by the wine society of course but it’s a wider problem. I believe under current legislation ‘influencers’ are required to disclose free gifts and paid promotions and I 100% feel the laws need to be tighter and more strictly enforced. Whilst some people can read between the lines many can not and blindly go along with things.


#4

Interesting questions;

You’ll need to asked the critics / influencers that one. I think in the current world we live in the day could be coming that they need to declare something. On reviewing our Bin #001 Bobal, Joanna SImon felt the need to make the point she wasn’t getting paid

And this is an interesting Twitter thread begun by Jamie Goode:

I think generally provenance of samples is implicit. If they are being paid to play, then it should be disclosed - it should be up to the business that is paying them to try to ensure this is disclosed, and in fact the government agrees.

For me they are just tools of the trade. Our samples get into the hands of critics/influencers in several ways. Examples include:

  1. Our tri-annual press tastings, where around 40 people get to taste around 75 of our wines. We invite the people we would like to come in the hope that, if they like the wine, they will write about it somewhere.

  2. Our press releases. We send information about (a) particular wine(s) or a future offer and offer to send them samples should they wish to receive them. Different people respond to different wines according to their specialities / forthcoming articles / etc. Important to point out here that The Society, unlike some other merchants, never ever send out an unsolicited sample. We always ask first, which means we send fewer samples than other merchants, but well targeted, which is why our hit rate is very high.

  3. Through trade bodies: The Bordeaux / Rhône/ Alsace / etc. generic bodies, whose sole purpose is to promote the wines from their regions, take samples from us and send them out to targeted writers / critics in the hope that they will write about them

  4. Through the Association of Wine Educators / Local Wine Schools network: We offer these people (if members) a small educational discount to encourage them to use our wines in their courses. Some are writers too, and so review the wines they have used in class. It could be said that THEY have paid US to review our wines :wink:

  5. Via competitors who also stock a wine we stock.

  6. Sometimes they buy wine themselves and review it in context of an occasion. Victoria Moore, Jamie Goode and Jancis Robinson, for example, have all done this.

Not for us to say, but as tools of the trade, I suspect not. The tax implication should come if they are paid to play.

Hope that helps - these are the views of this particular PR Manager.


Pre-AGM Ask Me Anything with three of our Executive Team, 1-2pm
#5

I think tools of the trade still have to shown on one’s tax return surely and then used to offset it. I think measures like this would sort out the wheat from the chaff and separate the mere bloggers who talk about what they’ve bought and drunk from the people who make a living out of the job.


#6

Tax reporting/obligation will depend upon the operating style - but as most of these professional will be either self-employed or companies that are in business for the purpose of reviewing wine then the sample will have been sent in the manner of undertaking their business so there is no reason for them (as individuals) to declare it to the authorities. From what I remember the biggest issues would be for TWS in reclaiming the VAT (but I guess the accounts team have that in hand!)…having sent sample around the globe, VAT and Duty can be nightmarish !


#7

I think the problem is that in this modern era, for better or worse (I tend to think worse), the boundary between professional and amateur is getting extremely vague. The classic current example of this is published authors. Once upon a time an author being published was generally an indication that some level of, if you like, peer reviewing of the author’s work has been done by the publisher’s editors but now, in this age of self-publishing, that level of quality check is no longer guaranteed and self-published books can vary from the most appalling examples of wannabe authors self-publishing because no one else would dream of touching them to professional authors who want to take control of the entire publication process (and rewards). Much the same is happening with critics of anything from wine to books to films to art etc. and apart from a few who manage to achieve some level of fame the only way to distinguish is to look at their qualifications. However many people today, in particular the younger generations, tend to scorn such qualifications with a strong element of inverse snobbery (just look at the success of Naked Wines and their attitude to the wine ‘establishment’).

So anyone can start blogging/twittering/facebooking their wine criticisms and it becomes almost impossible to determine who is professional who is amateur, who knows what they are talking about and who doesn’t. The ones that seem to rise to the surface are not necessarily more knowledgeable, they are typically just more witty or endowed with more ‘street cred.’

In this sort of environment enforcing transparency is almost impossible. And, to be fair, this has been going on for years. If you go skiing and ask your instructor why they chose their particular skis they will happily tell you how wonderful said skis are but tend to be a little more reticent about the fact that the manufacturer gives them a free new set every year. Every industry has it’s ‘influencers’ and they already occupy a grey area that is only going to get greyer still.

We used to rely on editors to screen all the information put in front of us (books, newspapers, tv). It was difficult and expensive to self publish your views to the world so most views went through some kind of quality filter. That kind of filter is now almost completely gone. We must try and do the filtering ourselves. And that is difficult and is only going to get harder and we will regularly get it wrong and be sold a lemon.


#8

Another way of looking at young people, rather than inverse snobs, is that they value choice, and agency. Rather than people who look like thier parents telling them what wine they should drink with what food, they have multiple people who look like them sharing what wines they think are cool, or delicious, or whatever else. And they get to choose who to follow, and whether they want to take their recommendations or ignore them. It’s information overload for many of us, but many others are growing up with all this as normal and navigating it quite naturally.


#9

I totally agree about the inverse snobbery bit - I am often amazed by my daughter’s free/independent thinking, and it inspires me with hope.

I don’t necessarily agree about issues of agency and choice, however. It amazes me that anyone can see the wood from the trees in our modern world, the cacophony of said ‘choice’ is so loud. And if the choice is between Pepsi and Cola - then what sort of choice is it? I thinks we’re far too enamoured with the concept of freedom of choice in the West. It’s almost a religious creed.

Young people today may have the illusion of choice, but often what they get is similar crap dressed up differently. There is no doubt many of them can navigate through this well and keep their head screwed on in the process, but many actually feel overwhelmed and exhausted by the constant flow of information. It complicates, rather than simplifies life - and for many the end result is actually feeling powerless, not empowered.


#10

Great topic. Thanks for starting it.


#11

I am not sure who the wheat and chaff are in this case.

People who write for a living often get free samples, and offers of press trips etc. Unless they are very well-known writers, the economics of wine writing these days often dictates that they need the free samples and press trips to do their job. So you might ask how likely they are to give bad reviews if their livelihood depends on free stuff.

“The mere Bloggers”, though probably a better term might be amateurs, as a blog is just a publishing medium, are more likely to fork out money for what they review, and as such are not beholden to anyone.

I am not saying all professionals are unethical, or that all amateurs are saints, and of course some pros do pay for what they review, and some amateurs do get freebies, and there are all sorts of grey areas. But I see no particular reason to trust professionals more than amateurs.

Of course how knowledgeable the various writers are is another matter.


#12

On the main issue of this thread… yes I think all freebies should be declared. Personally I do that, and in the vast majority of case where I pay for what I review I try to make that known too, usually by mentioning where I bought it from.

On the other hand it does not particularly bother me if writers do not mention where they get their wine and trips - I will just assume they were free


#13

Excellent points @SteveSlatcher. I thought I would post this about an insta vlogger,
This is Rosie Ramsey who is married to the comedian Chris Ramsey. She is really funny like her husband and her Instagram account has grown massively in the last couple of years. She is now working with a couple of brands but is open and honest about promotions etc…
So yesterday on her “stories” (These are photos or videos which disappear within 24 hours), she talked about a wine her sister gave her from Aldi… she didn’t just talk about it… she went into ecstasy about it. A provence rosé to be specific.
Anyway, she took herself off to Aldi and bought her self some and this is her actual post


She has not been paid by Aldi to do this… but I can imagine after 14.7K likes and with a following of 156K they will be dropping cases on her like its going out of fashion.
So this is a really interesting take on the influencer/vlogger in that she literally knows very little about wine but I’ll bet South Shields, Sunderland and Newcastle will be selling out of that particular rosé this weekend :smirk:


#14

Going to try and sneak “this is the absolute tits” into my notes on the 10th.


#15

If you manage to achieve that “it would be the absolute tits”!


#16


#17

Agree with all of this. Why are professional wine critics so averse to transparency? Tell us who paid for the flight, the hotel, the meals and the wine. And if you paid your own way, that must be worth mentioning.


#18

I’m still trying to work out if it is good or bad