Nicky Forrest‘s love for wine has brought her not only into the world of wine PR but into the vineyard as a grower too, as Amanda Barnes learns in this interview. As MD of Phipps, Nicky has worked on several landmark campaigns for wine brands and producers and she shares some of her experiences in the drinks business.
What are your earliest memories in wine?
My first memories are from the late 70s. My grandparents were strict non-drinking Baptists and whenever they came to visit, my parents would hide all the wine in the house, keeping up the charade that they too didn’t drink. When they weren’t around, Sunday lunch always a glass of Fitou and my brother and I would have a watered-down version. I can’t say I liked it much, though wouldn’t admit it!
What brought you into the wine industry?
I ended up in the wine industry slightly by default. I was in medical publishing and my heart wasn’t in it, so I started applying for jobs in the PR industry to see what that was like. I got two job offers: one from a B2B agency that specialised in freight and one from Phipps, with the caveat that I started taking my WSET exams as we’d just won a new client, The Sherry Institute of Spain. So faced with the choice of freight or wine, you can guess the outcome. Over the years I’ve taken more and more senior roles within the business and now for the last ten years I’ve been the MD and have become the majority shareholder. When people ask me what I do, I tell them I’m half in the drinks trade and half in the communications business.
What was your ‘a-ha’ moment in wine?
I think it would have been on my first visit to the Mosel and seeing the steep slopes, the slate and the stoic vines clinging to the slopes which give the wines an absolute sense of place. I remember thinking, how did I not know that this place existed.
You’ve worked for many years with Wines of Germany. What have been your key moments and what are you most proud of?
I’ve worked with the German Wine Institute now for over 20 years and during that time we’ve seen many changes. A major highlight of the last 20 years has been the creation of Generation Riesling, which has grown from a small group of 20 young wine growers at a tasting in London in 2006, to group of 520 young wine producers, working together globally to promote their wines in what is the most open and collaborative and joyous way I’ve ever witnessed.
Another key moment was bringing German Pinot Noir to the world stage in 2011 with a ‘judgement of Paris’ style tasting pitching the best German Pinot Noirs against the worlds’ best (a list curated by Tim Atkin and judged by 13 judges including Jancis Robinson, Matthew Jukes, Ronan Sayburn, Pete McCombie). This was our launch pad for German Pinot Noir and now these wines are available on every high street offering great quality and astonishing value.
More recently what I’m loving to see are the sheer variety of wines on offer now in the UK. When we first started working with German wines in the early 90’s there were 13 German wines that were widely available in the UK – all Riesling or blends. Now there are 166 and some of the range includes Riesling, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc. When Sainsbury’s launched a Taste the Difference German Pinot Blanc, that for me, was a sign of the progress that we are making. It’s a hugely popular wine still even five years after it first launched.
Phipps has worked with not only many wine brands and producers, but a range of clients from chocolate to mustard brands… What’s the greatest difference between working with wine media and consumers vs. other food and drinks industry media and consumers?
Over the last 20 years, Phipps has worked with some of the most iconic food brands from New Covent Garden Soup the first ever chilled fresh soup brand, to Green & Black’s where we ran a retained communications campaign for nearly 15 years to Eat Natural the snack bar that you see everywhere to Kettle Chips the UKs favourite crisp, to French’s mustard, the world’s number one mustard brand.
Many of our wine clients come to us specifically because of these campaigns; because it’s rare for an agency to offer the depth of wine expertise that we have with the breadth of consumer FMCG communications that our team also offers. The drinks industry is different to the food industry. The drinks industry is more complex, the routes to market are different and it takes a vast amount of experience and knowledge to understand your clients’ challenges. I think that’s sometimes why non specialist consumer agencies find it a challenge to navigate wine campaigns.
What’s coming up for Phipps in 2020?
We’ve got a busy year ahead with some new campaigns for Wines of Germany and a new programme for Wines from Rioja that we are super excited about. The business is set to grow and we are putting additional focus on our digital and brand activation teams as more clients are asking us to incorporate these into our campaigns for them. We’d love an English wine client so if you hear of anyone looking then feel free to send them our way!
Where would we find you on a weekend off work, and what are you normally drinking?
On the weekend, you’ll find me in my own micro vineyard that I planted five years ago at my home in Kent. I have 300 vines (Pinot Blanc) and am producing an English Sparkling wine, the first vintage should be ready to drink this year so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it turns out OK!
Members can reach out to Phipps and Nicky at Nicky.Forrest (@) thisisphipps.com