Q&A: Gino Colangelo, Colangelo & Partners
What is Colangelo & Partners and what do you do?
Colangelo & Partners (www.colangelopr.com) is a fine wine and spirits PR agency. We offer five basic services: 1) Press Relations, 2) Social Media / Influencer Relations, 3) Event Marketing, 4) Trade Relations and 5) Content Marketing. We have our main offices in New York and San Francisco, and we have key staff in the UK, France and Italy as well as other key cities in the US such as Miami. With a staff of 55 (representing 14 nationalities!), we’re relatively boutique-sized by US standards for a generalist agency. However, within the world of fine wine and spirts, we’re quite large. Our team is technically trained and certified in wine and spirits/cocktails as well as the disciplines of communications.
Who Does Colangelo & Partners work for?
We represent clients from all over the world as well as the US. Our clients are wine and spirits companies as well as trade marketing institutions. We’re very proud of our prestigious client list. On the institutional side, our clients include Wines from Spain, Wines of South Africa, the Prosecco DOC Consortium, the Chianti Classico Consortium, Trentodoc, Crus Bourgeois, Vinho Verde and many others. On the company side, we work for Charles Krug, Far Niente, Foley Estates, Frescobaldi, Jackson Family Wines, Larkmead, Louis Martini, Louis Roederer, Luce, Ornellaia and numerous others.
What are the chief challenges of the US market currently?
The Covid-19 pandemic has created challenges in the way our team works and communicates as well as the ways in which we support our clients’ efforts to build their brands and drive sales of their products. I’ve been incredibly impressed by the agility and adaptability of our team. Since March, when we went to (largely) remote working, we’ve hardly missed a beat in terms of the results we’ve been able to generate, thus keeping our clients in the news and helping to create direct selling opportunities.
Of course, tastings and events – which are fundamental to the world of fine wine and spirits marketing and are a big part of our business – are not possible now. But we’ve quickly pivoted to more retail-driven promotions and activations with key influencers (sommeliers, bartenders) on virtual tastings that often lead directly to sales. Our press relations, social media and content marketing is more important than ever in helping our clients compete during the pandemic.
What are some key trends you’re seeing?
I would point to three trends that are fundamental to the fine wine and spirits business:
The convergence of commerce and communications. Online retail and marketplace platforms, as well as brick & mortar retailers, are increasingly becoming a primary source of information and education for wine and spirits lovers. While a recommendation from a fine wine retailer has always been critical for brand development (and sales), digital communications are creating more opportunities for consistent communications to customers on a much larger, geographically diverse scale. Conversely, media companies are looking for new revenue streams in areas such as data analytics and events as well as selling stuff (wine, spirits and accessories).
Relaxation of interstate commerce rules and reduction of barriers to Direct to Consumer sales. Covid has accelerated ecommerce and DTC business. Americans can now order cocktails on demand for home delivery, for example, and buy wine from restaurants for take-out. Interstate shipping of wine is becoming easier for domestic as well as international wines. The 3-tier system, which regulates the US alcoholic beverage business state by state, is evolving quickly.
Hybrid strategies for digital and in-person events. Our clients are realizing that they can touch many more consumers much more efficiently and cost-effectively through digital channels than they could in-person. While nothing will replace the visceral experience of tasting with a winemaker at an intimate dinner or even better – at the winery – much more can be done virtually than we realized before Covid.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated/worsened these trends?
All three trends mentioned above were happening pre-Covid; they’ve simply been accelerated because of Covid. The one overwhelming challenge that Covid has created for estate wine producers and craft distillers is the lack of trial and experimentation. Wine lovers and craft spirits aficionados would often discover new favorite products through events, from Somm recommendations and at their favorite wine shops. Retail sales have been very resilient during the pandemic (obviously, restaurant sales have plummeted) but consumers are buying, not shopping. In a world without physical event and tastings, generating trial for new and boutique brands is the number one challenge our clients face.
Where, on the other hand, are the opportunities in this situation?
There are more opportunities to sell direct to consumer, more e-commerce opportunities, and more opportunities for brand owners to build relationships directly with target audiences, whether they be trade audiences or wine and spirits lovers. As for press, wine and spirits writers typically have spent much of their time on the road. It’s actually easier to engage press now than pre-Covid because they’re not traveling! With new sampling technologies, brand marketers can send tasting samples to writers, influencers and buyers efficiently and cost-effectively. Retailers are looking for promotional support in terms of education and content. This is a big opportunity for brand marketers as well as wine marketing institutions.
What can wineries do to compete?
Communicate and connect. Explore alternative channels for direct selling and brand building. Work closely with their importers to activate retail promotions and engage fans of the brand virtually. Speak directly to key customers, trade and consumer, through digital platforms – or by simply picking up the phone. Create vibrant, compelling content (video, animation, graphics) and disseminate the content across marketplace platforms like Vivino and online retailers like Wine.com. Allocate marketing dollars that were intended for travel & entertainment to digital promotions, hyper-targeted online advertising and other communications activities. There’s a lot that can be done! It just takes agility to shift course and work in new ways. Those who adapt the fastest and most strategically will come out ahead in the long-term.