The commercial success of any brand hinges on its flexibility and adaptability. For Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate brand, that issue is in the spotlight today. Yesterday, Tyler Coleman published an email exchange between Mark Squires and Slate’s Mike Steinberger over a deleted thread on the eRobertParker.com forum.
The post has prompted a deluge of criticism over the moderation policies on Parker’s forum – and to an extent on those of the Wine Spectator.
I don’ know Mark Squires, but have no points of contention over my very limited web interaction with him. I’ve never interacted with Parker but I understand him to be personable. So this post is not a case of me throwing rocks through their windows. However, the alleged heavy handedness in moderating the bulletin board and the alleged defamatory statements made (on the bulletin board) by Squires against Steinberger, along with Squires’ tone in the published email exchange and in the comments thread on DrVino are frankly damaging.
This juvenile, deflective demeanor resembling the ferocity of a cornered and wounded animal not only makes Rahm Emmanuel look like a pussycat, but it’s not exactly what I think of when I hear “Philadelphia Lawyer” (with a summa cum laude degree in journalism, no less).
I recently told Tom Wark and his readers that I believe that the Wine Advocate brand – along with the other leading print wine publications – is moving to adopt Web 2.0 concepts. And this is the core of my concern with this whole fiasco. I feel like I was wrong.
In acknowledgment of the comment by Jim Brennan below, I should explain Web 2.0 is the conceptualization of the Internet as an interactive forum where individuals contribute, share and collaborate on web site content and where visitors to on-line publications are welcome to interact with each other and the author with the content as the focus of, or springboard for the interaction. Bulletin boards, forums and blogs are such Web 2.0 platforms.
One could say that this latest controversy is something the Parker/Advocate brand can just brush off and move on unscathed. After all, it has an army of loyal followers (what is that other word that’s been used?….)
No doubt, Mark Squires has made tremendous contributions to the success of the Wine Advocate brand. However, in a Web 2.0 world, his bemoaned uncongeniality at the Parker bulletin board is really a liability. So, there needs to be a serious conversation at eRobertParker right now. Protecting the brand is understandable but it cannot come at the expense of alienating existing and potential customers.
The Parker and Wine Advocate brands are in flux because of the acutely changing demographics of the customer base. A brand which hopes to pass the legacy vested in it’s namesake founder to a cadre of successors, must also recognize the changing times and adapt to the marketplace. Adapting to the demands of the marketplace is at the heart of the Parker philosophy on wine quality. It should be a driving principle of how they interact with their readership as well.
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