Q & A With Colangelo & Partners President, Gino Colangelo

Colangelo & Partners is a 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. 

Here is a Q & A we conducted with Gino Colangelo, President of Colangelo & Partners recently.

What was the most important message that you wanted to communicate to both employees and clients when the shutdowns started occurring around the country?

The #1 message to both employees and clients was this: Look for opportunities in times of chaos. While other brand marketers and agencies might be hunkering down and waiting for the crisis to end, let’s take advantage of an open playing field, let’s communicate aggressively, let’s use all (mostly digital) tools at our disposal to engage audiences and move forward. For our employees, we also wanted to communicate stability and commitment. We told our team early on that we would not lay anybody off through the end of the year at least (though we did take very slight pay reductions).  Because we kept our team in place, we were able to make a commitment to clients to ‘over-service’ their accounts, demonstrating commitment and loyalty that most clients reciprocated.  Right now, I’m cautiously optimistic that 2021 will be stable if not an actual growth year. 

What have been your key learnings about how to manage an agency as teams moved to remote working?

Communicate, communicate and communicate again.  Make sure management is engaged with account leaders and account leaders are engaged with their teams.  Have regular ‘check-ins’ with all employees, particularly new and junior employees, to make sure they have clear direction and expectations for their deliverables, and that they’re getting the support they need to succeed.  Call people out quickly when they seem to be spinning out of the agency orbit.

What are some things that have improved for your agency’s business during the pandemic, and what are some things that have suffered?

Our agency is focused on the world of fine wine and super-premium spirits, businesses that have historically been driven by events where audiences have the opportunity to taste and to connect.  The event business is now gone and we don’t know when it’s coming back.  So we’ve definitely taken a hit there.  We are improving our ability to go ‘from PR to purchase’; i.e. connect our activities closer to the point of purchase. For example, we now do virtual tastings whereby consumers purchase wine in order to taste along with a Sommelier.   This makes our services more tangible and quantifiable to our clients.   In fact, we created a program called The Supper Share (www.thesuppershare.com), which is basically a concierge service for guided consumer tastings.  The Supper Share grew out of a desire to help recently unemployed Sommeliers get gigs. We quickly saw the opportunity to drive trial and sales for clients as well, and to connect to key online retail audiences. 

Is there anything that has surprised you about the last six months, either from a media or agency management perspective (other than the onset of a global pandemic)?

I’ve been surprised at the resiliency of the wine and spirits industry, our agency’s specialty.  Even though restaurant business has been impacted dramatically, retail, ecommerce and DTC business have more than made up for most of our clients’ business losses in restaurants and bars.  From a media perspective, there is ‘zoom fatigue’ and we have to continually refresh our approach to engaging trade, influencers and consumers in order to maintain audience attention and keep audiences engaged.  From a management perspective, I’ve been happily surprised by the adaptability of our team, the (relatively) smooth transition to remote working and the ability of our account teams to continually find new ways to create value for clients. 

Are there any new resources (services the agency is offering, specialized softwares that have helped workflow, etc) you’ve discovered during the pandemic that you will continue utilizing after we emerge from the COVID era? 

I think Zoom and other video conferencing technologies are here to stay. We’ve always used chat functions and other tools for staying in touch with staff and making sure everybody is engaged and ‘on the job.’  Well before Covid, we’ve had the experience of remote employees all over the US and in other parts of the world — the UK, France, Italy, etc. So our learning curve may have been a little less steep than other agencies and companies. 

How will you market your agency differently post-COVID when presenting new business opportunities?

We’ll focus more on content creation; everything starts with great content.  We’ve always believed that Speed is a strategy. We will focus on responsiveness to clients, taking advantage of opportunities, changing on the fly more than ever. 

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