How the late Zsa Zsa Gabor boosted California wines’ PR efforts

The glamorous star’s spontaneous taste-test endorsement on ‘The Tonight Show’ helped put Golden State vintners on the map. A comms pro pays tribute to Gabor, who died Sunday.

Tributes are pouring in for Zsa Zsa Gabor.

The Hungarian actress, whose Kardashian-like self-parodying glamour and revolving-door marriages to millionaires made her a permanent tabloid fixture, died Sunday in Los Angeles at age 99.

A lesser-known fact about Gabor is that she was featured in a PR coup orchestrated by brand communications pioneer Daniel Edelman. The stunt is widely credited as saving a struggling California wine industry from being wiped out by competition from French imports.

When Edelman was starting out, the firm focused on brand communications. In the late 1960s, the fledgling agency represented the California Wine Institute, launching a program to educate consumers and journalists about California wines.

As part of the publicity campaign, Edelman retained movie star Vincent Price as a spokesman. It was one of the first uses of a celebrity in a public relations campaign.

Edelman booked Price on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, whose other guest that evening was Zsa Zsa Gabor. When asked if she would participate blindfolded in a wine taste test, Gabor responded, “Oh, it’s no problem. I was ‘weaned’ on vine,” in her thick accent.

Edelman figured that even by losing he would win because California wines were being compared to French wines on national television, as was recalled in a PRSA blog post.

“Shockingly, we won,” Edelman said. “She picked California wines! It was a great coup and a turning point for the California wine industry.” The result of the publicity was a 70 percent increase in consumption.

RIP Zsa Zsa Gabor and Daniel Edelman, who died in 2013 at age 92. Their creative efforts left a big mark on the rise of the California wine industry and the craft of public relations.

Cameron Craig is a communications professional with 20+ years’ experience working with Apple, Visa, PayPal, Polycom and Yahoo. Follow him on Twitter @Cam_CommsGuy and LinkedIn.

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Topics: PR

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