Once restricted to specialist media, liquor brands are now seen as
key components of desirable living, and consequently soak the pages of
lifestyle publications. David Ward looks at some big PR
Even in this economic downturn, alcoholic beverage companies continue to
be major advertisers, and consequently, coverage of liquor brands has
been on a steady rise in recent years. Much of this growth has come in
the lifestyle, entertainment, and women's media outlets.
"We used to be limited to pitching the food and spirits writers," says
Matthew Grahn, account executive with Nike Communications, which
represents Dewar's whiskey. "Now there are a lot more opportunities for
Arguably, the liquor business is one of the most image-conscious
industries around, with alcohol brands all battling to position their
products as key components of a desirable lifestyle. And lately, it's
been the media, especially with the arrival of publications like Maxim,
that has become the arbiter of what constitutes the "good life" for an
"The lifestyle magazines have become huge targets," notes John Liporace,
SVP with New York-based Alan Taylor Communications, which represents the
Jose Cuervo tequila and Malibu rum brands. "And that's because they've
become so specialized. When you pitch them, you know you're reaching a
very specific target of consumers. For example, if you want to reach
20-something males, you better find a way to get into Maxim, Gear, or
The journalists who work at these magazines aren't necessarily
connoisseurs of wine, beer, and spirits. Instead, they cover alcohol in
the same way they may write about the latest car or hot nightspot.
"Particularly the men's magazines are devoting a section to talking
about liquor brands," says Brian Gordon, who as director of Bragman,
Nyman Carafe's New York office, handles Smirnoff Ice as well as
Guinness. "It's now a major part of a man's life - what drink he is
drinking, and what it says about him."
Interestingly, women's media outlets are adopting this same
After years of shying away from alcohol coverage, magazines such as
Cosmopolitan, Vogue, and others are now covering liquor brands with the
same focus they devote to fashion accessories.
Women and booze
Aaron Brost, PR manager for Jim Beam Brands' DeKuyper Cordials division,
says he has been targeting outlets aimed at 21- to 30-year-old women for
the company's Pucker line of vibrantly colored sweet-and-sour
Brost says some reporters and editors end up evaluating the drinks made
from these products as much for their looks as for their tastes, adding,
"A lot of these magazines are focused on fashion and style, and the
editor is looking for a drink to match a particular outfit."
DeKuyper has had great success getting lifestyle and food editors to
write about the appletini, a bright green drink made with the company's
Pucker Sour Apple Schnapps. Last spring, a Chicago Sun-Times article
touted the appletini as the new drink for St. Patrick's Day, while a
summer Entertainment Weekly feature on the TV show Sex and the City
cited the appletini as the new drink of choice for actress Sarah Jessica
Parker's character Carrie.
Brost recommends a flexible approach when pitching a liquor brand to an
entertainment or women's magazine journalist, stressing the need to
raise general awareness about the product rather than push a particular
story. "We work with these editors to educate them about the products,"
he says. "And while we're not always sure when the products will be
mentioned, we try to find out in what type of stories they'll be
If there's any problem with pitching liquor brands to lifestyle
reporters, it's that the stories end up competing with clothing lines
and electric gadgets for coverage. There is also the issue of whether a
lifestyle reporter who only dabbles in liquor coverage can speak with
any authority on the subject.
The veterans know their liquor
Indeed, the most influential writers covering liquor brands remain the
veteran spirits reporters who are far more interested in product quality
than image. They include Michael Lasky of Playboy.com, freelance writer
F. Paul Pacult, who contributes to The New York Times and runs The
Spirit Journal website, Terry Sullivan, who pens the mixology column for
GQ, and nationally syndicated radio host Gene Burns, who profiles
spirits in his Dining Around with Gene Burns show.
But James Curich, senior account manager with Lisa Lori Communications,
says there are several emerging younger spirits writers, especially
since the advent of the internet.
Curich, whose agency represents Cutty Sark, the vintage Scotch
Glenrothes, and single-malt brand The Glengoyne, says the liquor product
itself determines which media outlet should be targeted. While the
single-malt Scotch trend may have peaked a few years ago, "they're still
popular because they're high-quality, so the reviewers are still writing
about them," he says, citing Playboy.com as among the ideal outlets for
single-malt Scotch reviews.
Grahn says journalists have also become interested in reporting on
liquor brands as part of the new "nesting trend," as best exemplified by
magazines such as InStyle and even Architectural Digest. "There's been a
resurgence of the concept of cocktail parties at home, which a lot of
the media has picked up on," he says.
As for PR strategies, Deidre Maher, director of PR and corporate
communications for Sidney Frank Importing, which handles high-end Grey
Goose vodka, suggests that product samples can be a good way to entice a
lifestyle journalist to try a liquor product.
But Gordon suggests journalists often need more than a product and a
press release before they'll commit to coverage. "You have to have a
hook," he says. "You can't just go out and say, 'OK write about my
product,' or else you're going to run into a major problem. Get them out
to an event where they can see, taste, and touch the product."
While there have been some strides in getting television outlets to
cover spirits, most PR people say that broadcast still remains a much
tougher sell. "The industry agreed to a self-imposed ban on television
advertising in the 1930s," says Liporace, "and although that has been
broken by some brands, there is still the perception among a lot of
broadcast outlets that spirits don't belong on television.
Liporace says that one fairly good strategy for attracting television
interest is to use a celebrity spokesperson. But, he adds, "the
celebrity needs to have something else going on in their life outside of
what they are doing for your brand. If they are compelling enough, the
media will have to speak with them, and if they are properly
media-trained, they will be able to deliver branded messages."
WHERE TO GO
Newspapers: The New York Times; Los Angeles Times; Chicago Tribune;
Chicago Sun-Times; USA Today; food and lifestyle sections in mid-major
and smaller newspapers
Magazines: Maxim; Gear; FHM; Stuff; GQ; Playboy; Esquire; New York;
Men's Journal; Departures; Travel & Leisure; Cosmopolitan; Vogue; Worth;
Food & Wine; Saveur; Gourmet; Taste; Bon Appetit
Trade Titles: Food Arts; Impact; Nation's Restaurant News; Market Watch
TV & Radio: The Food Network; E! (especially with a celebrity
spokesperson); NPR; local and regional culinary radio programs
Internet: JustDrinks.com; alcoholreviews.com
Playboy.com; spiritJournal.com; Mixed-Drinks.com; Epicurious.com;