Secrets of a Seven-Year PR Campaign Uncorked

By Alice Chapman


When Tennessee voters overwhelmingly approved the sale of wine in retail food stores in 78 municipalities last month, they ended a seven-year quest to change outdated liquor laws, and made our state the 37th in the nation to give consumers an opportunity to buy wine where they shop for food.

MP&F was fortunate to work with the Tennessee Grocers & Convenience Store Association (TGCSA) and retailers across the state for the entire effort, and helped bring to life the 30,000-plus-member Red White and Food coalition. The campaign, which began in 2007, spanned the tenures of two Tennessee governors and three House speakers, and saw the makeup of the Tennessee General Assembly change from blue to red.

A number of factors go into making a public relations campaign successful. At MP&F, we’re all about capturing best practices, so here’s a glimpse at what made this once-in-a-lifetime project a winner.

• Research – Numerous public opinion polls over seven years, including three conducted by MP&F, showed that a solid majority of Tennesseans supported the sale of wine in retail food stores. Based on our final poll just before the referendum, we knew that, if we could get those people to the polls in November, we would win. The research also gave us information about messaging, confirming that we could focus our PR efforts this fall on getting out the vote, not making the case for wine sales.

• We knew our audience – Overwhelmingly, it is women who drink wine; and women do the grocery shopping. Much of our campaign played out in the grocery stores and through
advertising targeted to women.

 Our client owned the issue – The TGCSA was not afraid to talk about a controversial issue – alcohol sales. Grocers are in the business of meeting
customer needs, and grocery customers want to buy wine. Having a client who was willing to be the voice of the campaign and to hit hard issues head-on was beneficial in planning our media and community relations strategy.

• Our allies were empowered – By sharing up-to-date information on Facebook and Twitter, we gave our very engaged Red White and Food supporters on these platforms the tools they needed to respond to inaccurate comments and negative views. Over the course of the multiyear campaign, they consistently engaged with legislators on the issue. Our fans stuck with us in good times and bad, and we would not have won without their support.

Want to know more? We’ll be sharing additional details about the campaign at in the months to come. Stay tuned.