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Q&A: Felipe Gonzalez-Gordon, chief operating officer, Colangelo & Partners

Felipe Gonzalez Gordon, chief operating officer at leading fine wine and spirit PR agency, Colangelo & Partners, talks to db about the agency and what the firm has learnt in the last 18 months.

Felipe, you joined Colangelo & Partners with years of experience managing exports. How has your perspective changed from your previous role as supplier to your current agency role?

“There are two things I understand much better as a result of seeing the business from different perspectives: One is that developing brands, particularly in export markets, is a process, and takes time, investment and the right partnerships. When brand owners come to us for help, they benefit because we have the experience, and thus an understanding of what needs to be done. Second, there are no magic formulas that catapult brands overnight, but consistent work adds up. We help brands achieve incremental growth and not to lose out to competitors. Our work and services are an important part of the marketing puzzle, but there aren’t any silver bullets that resolve all the challenges a brand may face as they grow their business in the US.”

What services does Colangelo & Partners provide?

“At Colangelo, we have five core practices. Media relations is the core of our business and to be efficient and effective you need to know your buyers – in our case, the media – and your wines and their stories. It’s about placing the stories in the appropriate media outlets, which takes an understanding of the media landscape and perseverance. The important thing is to ensure the brand has visibility.

“Our second, trade relations is a conduit to the consumer, particularly in the US, where sales of wines and spirits are governed by the three tier system, and more so for imported brands, where DTC is virtually impossible. Our team conceptualizes and implements in store activations to capture consumers attention and move brands at the point of sale — both digital and brick and mortar. We also provide education and training on behalf of our brands, we work collaboratively with importers distributors, retailers, and restaurants creating incentives that help pull through.

“Digital marketing has evolved significantly to become an essential part of the consumers’ purchase journey and e-commerce in the beverage alcohol space is moving in leaps and bounds. Our dedicated team manages social media programs, influencer relations, e-commerce integrations, with the goal of engaging with consumers in the digital space to drive awareness and purchases.

“Events are another strand and now that Covid restrictions have been lifted, we have started carrying out events again – the energy we see is enormous.

“Finally, we offer a consulting service, working with producers to analyse their route to market strategies. While we cannot promise to find an importer for all brands, we are confident that it will give them a better understanding of the US market and what is required to compete. We can help them be better equipped to make decisions and negotiate with possible partners by looking at the business holistically and determining the constraints holding them back.”

The pandemic had a huge impact on the market, but what key learnings have you taken from the whole experience?

“We have learned there are other ways of promoting brands, and to adapt when challenged. Many of the programmes we have developed, executed, and fine-tuned over the past 18 months will continue. We have increasingly worked collaboratively within teams and with clients, and demonstrated that a virtual tasting, if executed correctly, can be as gratifying as one in-person.

“We have also learned that when one cannot browse in store or get in-person recommendations at the point of sale that digital communications are evermore important.”

The pandemic accelerated a number of trends last year, from ecommerce to DTC, facilitating digital comms and the emergence of data analytics from media companies – do you think the market has permanently changed?

“Data analytics continue to inform every aspect of our lives and our industry is no different; from what stories are published to want brands get promoted. It’s not so much that the market has changed, it is more that we now understand it better as we have access to more sophisticated tools to understand what consumers are interested in.”

What are the key opportunities in the US market at the moment?

“I believe the US is a market of opportunity. Despite the challenges we are facing, the economy is good, the purchasing power is high, and consumers are open minded and curious about new things. Per capita consumption grew in 2020. Even if wine sales were down in terms of value, they were up in terms of volume – by 2%, with imports growing at an even faster pace in 2020.

“And flavoured malt beverages, which include hard seltzers are now 9.4% of the market. But it’s not an easy market to crack – opportunities are there for brands that commit to the market in the long run, pay close attention to their competition, and listen to their partners.”

What can wineries do to compete in the current market?

“Wineries need to keep in mind that there is a path to purchase that starts with awareness. If no one knows your brand exists no one will buy it, no matter how good it is.

“For potential customers to know your brand, brand owners must employ communications, whether it is one on one direct communication with an importer, or reaching the masses with social media marketing, it is essential that brands foster a dialogue with their customers.

“But ultimately, it’s the battle for the consumers that must be won – in the end that is what makes everything else move. If there are no customers for the brand even the best distributor will drop it. When we present integrated marketing programs to our clients we keep in mind these interrelations to reduce friction in the sales process.”

About Colangelo & Partners 

Colangelo & Partners is the leading fine wine and spirits-focused PR agency in the US offering five basic services: press relations, social media/ influencer marketing, event marketing, trade relations and content marketing. With main offices in New York and San Francisco, Colangelo & Partners has an international team of PR professionals who are technically trained and certified in wine and spirits as well as the disciplines of communications.


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