If one wanted to predict what cigars will end up on the leading cigar industry end of the year lists, one may want to look at what companies have provided press releases to the media. On the two lists considered to be the most influential: 25 of the 25 entries of the 2018 Halfwheel Consensus had press releases associated with the entries; meanwhile 24 of 25 on Cigar Aficionado’s Top 25 for 2018 have seen a correlation between media relations and entries on the list.
We are defining a press release as an official statement distributed to the media to provide information on a product release. Some press releases have been offered in a widespread capacity, some more narrow. Other press releases are exclusive to one media source (which one can argue are not really press releases). Cigar Aficionado, arguably the most influential publication in the industry, has been able to secure many exclusives with cigar companies. In all cases, there is a specific release date. In some cases, the press release is sent early before it is released.
For this exercise, we are not calling social media posts press releases.
The sample data used for this exercise was collected in 2018 for the purpose of such an exercise. A similar exercise will be done for this year. The reason that this has not been done for lists prior to 2018 is because we weren’t confirming the distribution of press releases.
- Press Release to Online Media: This means a press release for the cigar was offered to a large group of online media. Exceptions are “Limited” where Cigar Coop research has shown this was sent to a smaller group.
- Exclusive Press Release to CA: This means a press release for the cigar was sent to Cigar Aficionado and not sent to online media.
- Early Release to CA: In some cases, Cigar Aficionado has received an early press release, and then it was offered to online or other media after a fixed exclusivity window.
An important point is that online media might not repost press releases or make news stories like Cigar Coop, but by osmosis they are being informed about the information. The numbers are strong – 19 of 25 releases of the Halfwheel Consensus had press releases sent to online media. Two of the companies, JRE Tobacco Company and Room101/Caldwell (for The T) did a very limited press release, so one can argue the number is actually 17 of 25. Of those press releases sent to online media, 7 of them were offered to Cigar Aficionado first for an exclusivity window.
To better interpet the Cigar Aficionado data, we analyzed it a little differently.
- Cigar Exclusive: This says the cigar ranked had an exclusive press release sent to Cigar Aficionado and not to online media.
- Brand Exclusive: This says the company for which the cigar is listed has at one point in its history offered Cigar Aficionado an exclusive story where it was not offered to online media.
- Genera Media Online Release: This says the press release was offered to online media.
Only five of the Top 25 Cigars on the 2018 Cigar Aficionado Top 2018 were cigars where Cigar Aficionado was exclusively given a press release. But at the same time, the Top 2 did have exclusives to Cigar Aficionado. While I expected the number to be higher, when I factored in the Brand Exclusive category and looked at where Cigar Aficionado was given exclusive stories by the brand behind a cigar in the past, the number became more dominant. Perhaps the most interesting statistic was how few of the cigars on the Cigar Aficionado list had a press release to online media – only five of the Top 25 were cigars that had press releases sent to online media. Communication and relationships were what mattered here.
We looked at the following data for Cigar Coop
- Press Release Sent to Cigar Coop: This says the cigar had what could be considered formal press release sent to online media.
- Press Release Exclusive to CA: This says the company for which the cigar is listed has at one point in its history offered Cigar Aficionado an exclusive story where it was not offered to online media.
- Other Release Mechanism: Press information was made available via social media, trade shows, etc.
Cigar Coop has a mandate that any cigar that gets listed on the Top 25 be reviewed. In order to do be reviewed, we require press information to be made available to us. Press information is different than press releases. This can be sourced from social media, trade shows, and we have a conduit made available from the company to answer questions. In other words a request for information was not denied and not ignored.
Of the Cigar Coop Top 30, 28 of the 30 provided press information to Cigar Coop, of which 23 of them were actual press releases. The 23 number may seem surprisingly low – considering the passionate stance this author has taken on cigar companies doing press releases. However the 28 number does reflect the importance of communication.
Cigar Coop gave a #3 Cigar of the Year to VegaFina, a brand owned by Altadis U.S.A. There wasn’t a formal press release for this product and for other products, however when it came to getting press information from Altadis, we had little problem getting it from the company.
We can debate whether press releases work or not until the cows come home, but that isn’t the purpose of this article. What is clear, the numbers show that media clearly leverages the power of the press release and leverages the power of relationships.
At the same time, I’m not saying a press release guarantees a Top 25 rating. General Cigar has long had a strong showing with the cigar media, and did not land on the Consensus. 2018 Companies like Warped Cigars and Mombacho gave several exclusive stories to Cigar Aficionado in 2018, and neither made the publication’s Top 25.
Charlie Minato, who curates the Halfwheel Consensus has also been on the record stating that project is “a fascinating window to see the relationships between cigar media and the companies they cover.” It was an eye-opening statement to this author. While the case can be made that relationships matter for the Consensus, our analysis of the Cigar Aficionado data shows that their relationships with cigar companies are leveraged.
In the end, cigar media relies on relationships and getting information. I’ll speak for Cigar Coop – when we get information, we’ll cover the product. Press releases represent the easiest way and least resource intensive way to get this information. Select products we cover get reviewed, and those cigars that get reviewed with a high enough score are eligible for the Cigar Coop Countdown. While to some extent Cigar Coop has formalized this process, it’s not unreasonable to assume other media outlets do this by osmosis.
Will the trend continue for 2019? Stay tuned.
Notes: Corrected some data and observation points.