Ducky Inspiration for Local Public Relations

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We’re always on the hunt for PR genius to serve clients. I found ‘ducky’ inspiration during a recent trip to South Africa. The entire country is breathtaking. So is its Cape Winelands region, located about a half hour northeast of Cape Town.

Near Stellenbosch, we visited the Vergenoegd Wine Estate, one of more than 500 ‘temples to the grape’ that dot the area.

A little piece of heaven near Stellenbosch.

In 1696, Dutch settler Pieter de Vos bought a fertile piece of land near the town. After looking it over, he declared his property vergenoegd: “I’m satisfied with this place. It’s good enough. It’s far enough.”

Pronouncing the word is a challenge. Understanding de Vos’ passion is not.

In 1984, Vergenoegd began cultivating a large flock of Indian Runner ducks and geese under Master Breeder John Faure. Faure is a descendant of Johhannes Gysbertus Faure, who purchased the estate in 1820.

Yep, they’re trained to do this.

Why ducks and geese? They beat pesticides for eating bugs and grubs that threaten the winery’s precious harvest. And as it turns out, the noisy, hungry birds are a powerful brand that differentiates Vergenoegd from its wine producing neighbors.

Here’s what Vergenoegd Wine Estate is doing right. What we can learn from their strategies?

Honor your heritage. Then bring it into to the here and now.

When Vergenoegd’s new owners —International Ventures and Investment Activities — bought the estate from Faure in 2015, they saw a marketing gem. The new owners continue to honor Vergnoegd’s Dutch, Lutheran and French Huguenot heritage on its web site and in its choice Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot, Rose and white wines.

Taking steps to right the injustices of South Africa’s apartheid era, the wine estate has recruited young, enthusiastic managers and employees of many races and cultures. Non-white customers who were, only 22 years ago, prohibited from enjoying the fruits of their labor, now enjoy premium wine in the company of their white peers.

Honor your core. Then broaden your appeal.

Who usually does vineyard tours? Wine enthusiasts, of course. Vergenoegd caters to ‘wine snobs’ with a members-only 1696 Wine Club, including priority access to top vintages and private tastings.

Not interested in wine? Vergenoegd’s got that covered. They have olive oil, coffee and tea-blending events and a fantastic farmer’s and artisan foods market every Saturday.

Be multi-generational.

Most vineyard tours discourage families with young children: there’s nothing for the kids to do while their elders sample vino. Vergenoegd breaks the mold. It books family-friendly breakfasts, lunches and dinners. It sponsors a family run through the vineyard every Saturday morning. And it actively cares about its employees and community (read on).

Play well in your community’s sandbox.

Vergenoegd supports South Africa’s top artists with its Live@Vergenoegd summer concert series between November and April. The vineyard takes special care to schedule these around events at neighboring vineyards.

Most members of the farming communities around Vergenoegd descended from slaves. Families struggle to overcome a legacy of alcoholism created through now-outlawed wine industry policies that paid vineyard workers in wine, not money, before and during apartheid.

Understanding the social and economic challenges their neighbors still face, Vergenoegd established the First River Fun Club, a donation-based community development program that exposes children to new aspects of life and helps them aspire to new possibilities within a nurturing environment that includes meals, arts, crafts, nature, sports, dance, outings, music and history.

Leverage sustainability.

Vergenoegd’s 1,000+ pest-chomping geese and Indian Runner ducks are its signature branding jewel. Every day at 9:45 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., the duck army’s handlers shepherd the flock out of the estate’s pond, where they parade around the vineyard, eating snails and bugs during every patrol.

Verenoegd’s 32-year use of waterfowl for pest control earned it a World Wildlife Fund biodiversity certification. It is also earning legions of local, regional and international visitors, including many families who stay for a meal and a bottle of wine (or three). According to the Wall Street Journal, The Duck Parade marketing campaign has doubled Vergenoegd’s sales over the past year.

Heritage, sustainability and community: Verengoegd Wine Estate fires at many levels. What elements will inspire your organization’s PR and marketing programs?

Drawing upon her 25+ years’ PR and marketing communications experience in health care, senior living and home care, education, manufacturing and not-for-profit sectors, Jenny Smith founded Acuity Public Relations LLC in 2012. PR strategy, content development and marketing, media relations and event promotion are what she loves best. When she’s not serving clients, Jenny can be found digging in her garden, in a spinning or weights class, trying a new recipe, devouring a book or planning her next travel adventure.

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2 Comments

Ira Yellen

Great story and lesson for companies looking to create a PR brand that creates loyal customers all for the right reasons.
PS Hope the wine was delicious!

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