Savvy Marketing & The Whisky-Drunk Media

This weekend, the media stories are flowing about the “World Whisky of the Year” being announced. It was strategically released at the beginning of a weekend when PR people know newsrooms are understaffed and looking for that much-coveted “kicker” story to end a newscast.

And, for the second year, there was some shock and controversy in the whisky world as the award went to a little-known Canadian rye that costs only $32. That generated some extra momentum in the media….

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It’s not the first time there has been controversy with the award.

Last year, it went to a Japanese distillery….which made headlines around the world and certainly created its share of debate.

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And, as we know in PR — controversy sells….especially when everyone has an opinion — and you can pit a country’s pride against another’s. In fact, sometimes in PR, controversies happen intentionally because the earned media coverage can save a lot in advertising.

This whisky award is given out by Jim Murray — a former journalist. And, he is a man who arguably has the best job on Earth.

Mr. Murray tastes whisky/whiskey for a living — and then writes a book about it every year.

It’s a personal ratings system given a numeric score….best scotch, best Irish whisky, best bourbon, best Canadian whisky, etc, etc.

In all, he reviews about 4,000 brands of whisky/whiskey each year…and provides tasting notes for about 1,000 of those.

His personal brand has grown quite a bit — to the point where I often go into the liquor store and see a professional-produced label beneath a whisky that states “Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible rates this a 93.5”. Those rows are often near empty given the prominence of the review, even though most people have no idea who Mr. Murray is and how the score is tabulated.

I enjoy his book. I bought it last year. I often don’t agree with his grading – but his assessments are worthy of reading.

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However, let’s be clear….this is ONE man’s opinion — his personal taste. One man who — admittedly — knows his drink and is voicing his opinion. It is educated and rooted in experience. But, it’s hardly a “world” award, chosen by a panel of judges. It’s one man.

Personally, I think Oban is the best whisky in the world. That’s my opinion and how I feel — so it’s neither wrong nor right. You likely have your own favourite. That’s fine, too.

You see, it’s all about taste buds. Mine are different than yours. And, Jim Murray’s are different than all of ours.

So, ‘taste’ is fundamentally a very personal and individual experience…as is pointed out in this cheeky 3-minute video on the subject:

That being said, I respect what Mr. Murray says on whisky. So much so, I went down and picked up a bottle of the Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye.

In fact, I got the LAST bottle in the liquor store because it was selling so well on that particular day.File 2015-11-21, 8 56 00 AMSo, I got home…sat down with a good friend and poured a couple of glasses. And, you know what? It was good. Very good. You couldn’t ask for any better for $32. I recommend you buy a bottle.

But — is it the best whisky in the world?

No.

Not even close — in my opinion.

The same opinion from my friend. We agreed it was excellent, smooth and worthy of buying. But, it wasn’t the best.

In fact, after we had a glass of the delicious Crown Royal, we poured a dram of Glenmorangie Nectar D’or. Both of us smelled it then took a drink. And both of us simultaneously said “Now, THAT’S a whisky”.

The next night, I tried the “World Whisky of the Year” Crown Royal again just to make sure I wasn’t “off” in my comparisons.

Again, it was very good. But, not the best in the world, in my opinion.

Then I had the Koval bourbon and — again — it was much better.

I was tasting with my adult son and his friend and they agreed with my assessment fully.

The reality is I have 10 other bottles in my whisky cabinet that are better than the Crown Royal Northern Harvest (actually, probably closer to 15 better bottles).

But, that’s my opinion…just like Jim Murray has an opinion.

Alcoholic Whiskey Bourbon in a Glass with IceSo, what’s your point, Fraser? Aren’t you taking this too seriously?

It’s this: As much as the media likes this story — it’s fun and comes out on a slow weekend — perhaps more due diligence is in order — the same due diligence you apply to any of your political or business stories.

I know it seems harmless but people are paying good money for these whisky selections — and they depend on the media as an authority.

So, Mr. Murray can write his book and make his selections — however, I believe the media needs to add context to the stories and, at minimum, stop calling it the “World Whisky of the Year” just because one person says that’s what it is. It doesn’t work like that in journalism. The bar should be higher than it is in social media and blogs.

You are being successfully spun by corporate marketing — to the point where the publisher really has no need to pay for advertising with your newspaper or media outlet because you’re giving the coverage away for free in the heart of your newscasts.

I can only imagine how some of the other distilleries feel about this…but don’t want to say anything because they know it may affect their rating in the future.

So, my point is this: take this “World Whisky of the Year” declaration with a huge grain of salt….and know great marketing when you see it.

Whisky….and taste of any kind….is a uniquely personal experience. There’s no wrong and there’s no right. Just enjoy it.

And yes….that also relates to whether you put ice in your scotch. But, that’s another topic for another time.


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