You don’t have to be the best: you just have to be famous

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You don’t have to be the best: you just have to be famous

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In a field like athletics, the recipe to success is clear: be the best. Being the best is quantifiable. If you run faster, throw harder or jump higher, no one can dispute that you deserve your position at the top.

When it comes to other fields, often it is trickier to quantify performance.

Take wine writing, as an example. How do you assess who is best? The quality of the writing? The accuracy of the reviews? The prowess of the palate?

[On that latter point, it would be possible to test the consistency of a palate. This is done in the Australian Wine Research Institute’s Advanced Wine Assessment Course, for example. But very few wine writers are anxious to have their palates assessed in this way. There’s too much to lose for most.]

Judging wine writing is quite subjective. Judging the ability of wine communicators or personalities who do gigs is also quite subjective.

If you are embarking on a career as a wine writer/communicator, then I’d suggest that you shouldn’t just focus on being the best. Clearly, we all want to be as good as we can be. We aspire to be the best. But if you aren’t the best, don’t let that deter you, as long as you are good enough.

Because what really counts is being famous. Become well known. Build your brand. There are lots of very talented wine writers without enough work. Don’t join their ranks.

Instead, be good enough, and then focus on becoming famous. When people with budgets hire freelancers, they aren’t necessarily thinking of the quality of the work that will ensue. They want it to be good enough, certainly, whether it is writing, or a talk, or a tasting, of hosting an event. They want it to be really good, ideally, but they have limited ways of assessing this in advance. So they go by reputation and fame.

The people who hire you will often also have clients who they want to satisfy. So, if there’s a choice between a good presenter who is famous, and an excellent yet unknown presenter, they’ll go for the former.

Of course, in an ideal world, you get famous by being excellent. This is still true, to an extent, but not everyone who is excellent becomes well known. The unfortunate truth: if you become famous, you will get gigs. I’ve been at conferences where people got the gig because they were well known, and then they stood up and bored the audience stupid. And people accept this, because the speaker is famous.

With social media, there are inconsequential, non-smart people who have managed to get large followings and then jump the queue to get gigs that others deserved more. Rather than resenting this, if you are really good, then become more famous, build your brand, and get on the radar of the people who are commissioning these gigs.

So in many fields of media, the spoils aren’t shared evenly. It’s the one or two names who take in most, leaving the scraps for the rest. Within the ranks of the rest there will be some with more ability and gifting, but they didn’t become famous. Being the best is great, but being good enough and famous wins.

9 Comments on You don’t have to be the best: you just have to be famous
wine journalist and flavour obsessive

9 thoughts on “You don’t have to be the best: you just have to be famous

  1. I would add that achieving fame / recognition is also reliant on two things: time and luck. Time, because people rarely succeed quickly in wine writing, and have to stick around in order to build up a reputation. Luck, because even if you are talented / ambitious / persistent it often comes down to having a break: being in the right time at the right place, essentially. And the likelihood of that happening is increased if you can give yourself more time.

    All of which is at least as important than raw talent, if not more so – as you say. Furthermore, all this is as true for wine brands as it is for wine writers!

  2. Yes there are one or two “famous ” wine writers who, in my opinion ,have a dodgy palate but have concentrated on developing their brand,and are now quoted as experts on a particular countries wine
    Of course I could not possibly name them

  3. Given the money wine itself attracts, I remain somewhat surprised that a $$-challenge event has not been organised by some entrepreneur to test “famous” palates against unknowns. I’m sure a prize fund of $10ks-$100ks would attract at least some famous writers/personalities and could, if marketed correctly, become the gold-standard source of wine-review talent/all sorts of kudos for the organiser.

    As it is, not many wine critic followers really have a clue about the actual talent of the critic in question.

  4. At the risk of sounding overly cynical, don’t forget that writers with large social media followings will generate more clicks/revenue for publishers than writers of equal (or greater) talent without said followings.

    And this is true in all fields, not just wine.

  5. Hosemaster is already spread too thin 🙂 and it’s showing.
    And the image is a one-of-a-kind basalt and cast iron sculpture by Icelandic artist Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir, one of several permanently installed at Mission Hill Family Estate, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada. An attribution would have been nice!

  6. Spot on Alfonso. Sometimes reality is stranger than fiction….

    Just a few reminders why wine commentators might hesitate to have their palates tested blind – and also why they should be careful about claiming an ability to taste ‘minerality’, or discern between terroirs etc.

    http://www.realclearscience.com/blog/2014/08/the_most_infamous_study_on_wine_tasting.html
    http://www.skeptical-science.com/bullshit/winetasting-supposed-experts-fooled/
    https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/jun/23/wine-tasting-junk-science-analysis
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/rahimkanani/2012/06/22/consider-yourself-an-expert-think-again/#27a11aa55b47

    And this, just because it’s funny and kind of to the point where subjects like ‘minerality’ are concerned: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMvMb90hem8https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMvMb90hem8

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