How do you simultaneously help build a successful business in DC and become an internationally recognized authority on wine? That’s the biggest question I had going into an interview with David White, founder of Terroirist.com, a daily wine blog, and chief operating officer of Keybridge Communications.
Christopher Parente: Thanks for joining me today. You’ve turned Terroirist into a very influential news source on wine in just three years. How did you do it?
David White: Thanks for having me. The story starts in 2007, when I knew next to nothing about wine. Like so many others, a visit to Napa Valley in California kindled my love affair with wine.
I immediately began taking classes and immersing myself in wine, learning all I could. When it came to wine media, there was no publication that delivered everything I wanted. I was looking for a combination of breaking news, important trend pieces, industry news intelligently aggregated by a human, winemaker profiles, and the like – all put together by someone I could trust, and published regularly.
Since I couldn’t find such a publication, I launched Terroirist in the fall of 2010. I strive to offer more value to the reader than any other daily wine publication. I haven’t missed a day in four years, and people know they can depend on the publication.
Christopher Parente: Your columns are nationally syndicated and housed at the Grape Collective — tell us about that.
David White: About two and a half years ago, I simply decided I wanted to write a regular wine column. I was already quite busy with Terroirist and Keybridge, but I wanted a regular writing outlet – and I’ve always found that structure helps when you’re busy.
Newspapers are increasingly starved for content — with the rise of the Internet and social media, their margins are being squeezed. So it’s harder to pay for content, and lifestyle coverage has been really hard hit.
“I knew that if I could offer high quality wine content for free — geared toward the novice who is keen to learn more, and looking for a fellow enthusiast to guide them — newspapers would bite.”
I knew that if I could offer high quality wine content for free — geared toward the novice who is keen to learn more, and looking for a fellow enthusiast to guide them — newspapers would bite. It’s been extraordinarily successful. At last count, over 80 newspapers across the country were using my column regularly.
The column was originally housed at Wine.com, later Palate Press, and now it’s at a great new publication called Grape Collective.
Christopher Parente: Tell us a bit about your local communications company, Keybridge Communications.
David White: Keybridge was founded in 2003 by my friend and colleague, Sam Ryan. Sam had worked at the Wall Street Journal Europe, and when he left, he launched Keybridge as sort of a blue-chip ghostwriting firm. He knew public policy and public affairs inside and out, so think tanks and Fortune 500 companies started hiring Sam to help them engage in the public debate. I joined Sam in 2006 and we became business partners a few years later.
We’ve grown into a full-service PR firm with 16 employees. We help our clients shift the public debate by placing op-eds and letters, generating stories and editorials, booking spokespeople on radio and TV, and building websites. To my knowledge, Keybridge is the only PR firm that doesn’t require a retainer; we charge only for the services we actually deliver or for the amount of media we generate.
Christopher Parente: How does your wine publishing success inform the counsel you give to Keybridge clients?
David White: It strengthens it in more ways than I would have predicted.
I’m frequently asked how to build a successful profile – how to brand yourself as a thought leader. The answer is actually rather simple and translates into all today’s public relations efforts.
Gary Vaynerchuk, who has been called the “Hardest Working Man in Social Media,” once said that “content is the cost of entry to relevance in today’s society.”
“I’m frequently asked how to build a successful profile – how to brand yourself as a thought leader. The answer is actually rather simple and translates into all today’s public relations efforts.”
He’s correct. Regardless of whether you’re a politician, celebrity, policy expert, or local auto mechanic, you need to constantly engage with your target audience by generating content. That might mean daily blog posts. It might include videos and podcasts. It definitely means constant banter and interaction on Twitter and Facebook. At Keybridge, we’re big believers in the power of op-eds. And we see a tremendous value in regular conversations with reporters and editors.
One should always be looking for opportunities to promote his personal brand, because these days, you can’t fashion yourself a “thought leader” if you’re only chiming in every month or so.
My own experience at Terroirist helps demonstrate this for clients and prospects.
At the 2013 Wine Blog Awards, a global competition, Terroirist took home the prize for the “Best Overall Wine Blog.” I’ve been called “one of America’s nine most important wine bloggers.” Right now, I’m chatting with WashingtonExec.com. And I didn’t know anything about wine seven years ago!
There’s the proof. You can become successful very quickly if you work hard at engaging with your audience.
Christopher Parente: Speaking of content, “content marketing” is a red hot term in business today. What’s your definition of the term?
David White: You can’t just produce content — you also need to market it, to drive people to it. That’s how you build an audience and shift opinions.
That’s the top level definition, of course. But remember that how one markets content depends on where it appears. In other words, if your content appears on a popular media property, the promotion and audience is mostly taken care of. If the content is on your own property – like a blog – then you need to promote it and build your own audience.
Effective communication depends on figuring out who your audience is and then determining the best way to engage with them.
It’s not always a straight numbers game, either. Consider an esoteric topic like postal service reform –you’re probably better off reaching 30 influential congressional aides than 300,000 American citizens.
Christopher Parente: BusinessInsider recently hailed Washington DC as the number one area for wine consumption per capita in the U.S. What’s your take on the vitality of the wine scene in the DMV?
David White: I think we have one of the greatest wine scenes in the country. It’s passionate, young, and growing.
I’ve always been tired of dining comparisons between the DMV and New York or San Francisco – both those cities are much, much larger. Per capita, I’d put our food and wine scene up against any region.
“I think we have one of the greatest wine scenes in the country. It’s passionate, young, and growing.”
For example, I absolutely love the food and wine at Ripple in Cleveland Park. Danny Fisher has put together a fantastic wine list, and it’s very well priced. And the food there – from Marjorie Meek-Bradley – is stunning.
Red Hen in Bloomingdale is another favorite – sommelier Sebastian Zutant has a small, well-curated list, but it tells you exactly where his palate is and shows off how eager he is to share that palate with his guests and surprise them. Other favorite lists are at Rasika, Blue Duck Tavern, and Bourbon Steak. DC isn’t just a steak house town anymore, with wine lists written by distributors.
We also have a vibrant retail wine scene. Standouts for me are MacArthur Beverages, Schneider’s, Calvert Woodley, and Weygandt Wines.
Christopher Parente: Anything else you’d like to share with WashExec readers?
David White: Visit Terroirist.com and drink more Champagne!
Read Parente’s previous Wine & Dine Column: 2014 State of the Wine Industry Report on WashingtonExec.
Christopher Parente is the founder of StoryTechConsulting LLC, a content marketing firm based in Alexandria, Virginia. StoryTech Consulting helps B2B and B2G companies tell their own story and promote it directly to their target audiences. He also publishes Work, Wine and Wheels, a top 100K web site in the United States as measured by Alexa, an online measurement company. You can follow Chris on LinkedIn or Twitter.