Monday, June 15, 2020

Four Black Gallo Employees Talk About Racism and Progress in the Wine Industry

Last week I had a conversation with four black Gallo employees. It's remarkable that it happened.

First, as I say during the conversation, Gallo is extremely media-shy. I have been not working with them on stories for years. It usually goes like this: I send them questions, and their PR staff very politely declines to answer. They have lightened up some in the last decade, but I have asked for certain interviews for years (Hi, Gina Gallo, my phone line is always open) and always been rebuffed.

Second, the way that it happened. Gallo put out a statement about Black Lives Matter. I thought it was just another feel-good statement like other big companies were making, so I wrote this on Twitter:

I  followed up with an email to an unnamed Gallo PR rep so that he knew I was serious. It was a public call-out, but I was serious, and the rep -- I have to refer to him in the transcript, and he wouldn't let me give him a nickname even though I offered Mr. Big, Tiger Shark and SeƱor Sensational, so let's just use the acronym UGPR -- also took it seriously. He asked for volunteers within the company, and he came up with four. He sent me their CVs so I knew who I would be talking to.

UGPR sat in on and recorded the 5-way conversation, which I am grateful for because I learned I don't type fast enough. I promised not to publish the video, and I don't regret this because people speak differently when they know they might be seen later. I wanted something more casual, where everyone could express whatever they wanted to.

We spoke for 54 minutes. I debated on how to edit the transcript and then just decided to run the whole thing. There's a fair amount of pro-Gallo PR, but maybe Gallo deserves it. I talk to a lot of people in the wine industry and I hear a lot of things I never dream of publishing. What I don't hear is people who worked for Gallo, complaining about Gallo. People at wineries that Gallo has bought generally seem happy with how they have been treated. And specifically in the case of creating the Gallo African American Network (GAAN), which you will read a lot about in the transcript, Gallo does deserve praise.

One thing that occurred to me when we talked about Gallo's marketing outreach is this: Maybe Gallo is taking these marketing initiatives simply because it's a good way to sell more wine. Because reaching out to black consumers is simply good practice to make money.

And then I thought, well, if it's simply good marketing practice, why don't all companies do more of it? Businesses can learn a lot from Gallo.

That, in fact, has probably been a factor behind Gallo's decades-long avoidance of the press. They don't want to share their secrets for success. And Gallo has always been successful: it's the world's largest wine company, and has successfully moved from the bottom shelf to the top, with purchases such as Stagecoach Vineyard in Napa and Talbott Vineyards on the Central Coast. Gallo dominates the U.S. Prosecco market with La Marca. They turned Barefoot into the biggest brand in the world. It's a big company and they're doing a lot of things right that they don't want to tell you about.

But they decided they do want to tell you about GAAN and their other diversity programs, and moreover they decided to let four of their employees (not Modesto-based executives) and myself -- wild cards all, really -- tell the story rather than telling it themselves. I tip my hat to Gallo for this.

Rather than write a story about our conversation, thus putting my voice foremost, I'm just going to run the transcript, very lightly edited. Let me introduce the speakers with a select portion of their CVs.