After an exciting time in the communication industry Tessa de Kock of De Dock Communications has decided to call it a day. Wanda Augustyn talked to her about her best and worst moments in the business – and future plans.
After nearly 14 successful years heading well-known PR consultancy De Kock Communications and servicing a portfolio of blue-chip South African and offshore clients, Tessa and husband Ben bid the business farewell in June.
Tessa says they decided to close shop after Ben’s recent heart surgery. They felt he’d been given a new lease of life and didn’t want to squander it. Instead they want to enjoy quality time with family and friends. And travel!
“When we established DKC in 2002 I was adamant we’d be in operation for no more than five years,” Tessa says. “The plan was to work hard and prepare for a future that included more time with family and friends and time to travel. But time flies when you love what you’re doing. We’ve been running the office for 14 years – nearly three times longer than we first envisaged.”
Ben’s health setback was a wake-up call to stick to their original plan, so they’ve passed on all their major clients to DKC senior consultants Linda Christensen and Marlise Potgieter, who are both top-level communications practitioners in their own right and have built excellent relationships with clients and the media.
Working in the wine industry teaches you a few lessons in communications, Tessa says, especially when your clients include heavyweights such as Distell, Shoprite, Nederburg, Durbanville Hills, Wines of South Africa (WOSA), Tradehold, MAS plc, University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB), Zonnebloem, Two Oceans Wines, Drostdy Hof, Bunnahabhain, Scottish Leader, Black Bottle, Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky, Three Ships and Sedgwick’s Old Brown, to name but a few.
“There are many gaps we need to fill in terms of communicating correctly in the wine industry. We need to better understand consumers, acknowledge the enormous lifestyle changes that are occurring and meet wine drinkers in the right way and in the right environment. There’s a tendency to demographically stratify wine drinkers in much the same way census takers categorise the national population. Yet these indicators don’t always define preferences or shopping habits. Not all purchasing behaviour is gender-, age- or income-specific.
“I recently came across some interesting research highlighting the extent to which dads are involved in the household shopping now there’s greater sharing of domestic tasks. Producers of baby diapers have cottoned onto the trend and are actively marketing to fathers of infants. Yet the common view is that if you want to sell wine in a supermarket environment it’s the women you should be talking to.”
Tessa says research increasingly shows parents and their adult children are important influencers of each other’s buying choices, yet often the tendency among wine marketers is to engage with them as if they belong to two different species.
“There are many more examples of what some trend analysts are describing as the post-demographic age. We need to be more mindful of these changes and identify opportunities that speak to consumers’ life interests and value systems. In the past you were either a wine, spirits or beer drinker. Now consumers show they’re interested in a range of drinks.”
WHAT WERE YOUR BEST MOMENTS IN THE INDUSTRY?
There’ve been so many. We’ve made some superb friends. It’s also been hugely exciting to see how South African wines have evolved and to see so many winemakers acknowledged for their excellence, originality and daring.
AND THE WORST?
I prefer not to dwell on them but my pet peeve is the widespread use of the term “black diamonds”. It’s lazy, patronising and distancing.
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST LESSONS YOU’VE LEARNT IN THE WINE INDUSTRY?
Always respect the stakeholders involved, whoever they are – from producers and their suppliers to consumers, people in the trade, employees, communities, industry bodies and legislators.
HOW CAN WE COMMUNICATE MORE EFFECTIVELY IN OUR INDUSTRY?
Making wine desirable and accessible is a conundrum faced not only by our industry. The problem seems to be much more widespread. Of course there’s a need to remove the intimidation, pretention and general snobbishness surrounding wine. Some local producers have been very successful by styling and presenting their wines in ways not normally associated with wine. Will the consumers of these wines become drinkers of more traditional wines as a result? It’s hard to say. Does it even matter?
At the higher end of the spectrum, a rising connoisseurship suggests there’s a demand for knowledge about the more arcane aspects of wine and winemaking in the same way as there is when it comes to music, coffee and fashion. The fact that so many young, dynamic, charismatic people are making interesting and delicious wine suggests that wine’s appeal will escalate.
WHAT ARE THE STRENGTHS OF THE SA WINE INDUSTRY?
These would have to be resilience, creative problem-solving, a growing confidence and willingness to express individuality, and sustainable winegrowing.
AND THE WEAKNESSES?
Ours is a far more open and connected industry than it was prior to democracy but we haven’t entirely rid ourselves of some aspects of insularity. An ideal wine industry is … Is there such a thing?
Our first priority is to catch up on sleeping, reading, cooking, spending more time with family and friends and travelling.
WHAT ARE YOUR GUILTY PLEASURES IN LIFE?
You mean apart from wine? Food and reading. I have this fantasy of being able to read uninterrupted for extended periods.
SOMETHING NOBODY KNOWS ABOUT YOU?
Why would I want to change that now!