“Christmas in July” means something entirely different to PR pros than it might to the average consumer. For us, it’s not just a classic 1940s movie or an excuse to shop mid-summer sales. Instead, it’s a time to get serious about annual holiday gift guides. With lead times for many publications six months out, it’s never too early to start thinking about the holidays.
Securing a coveted spot in a gift guide roundup often yields millions of impressions for your client, during a critical time when consumers are willing to spend money on the year’s best gifts. According to comScore research, Americans spent $46.5 billion on online holiday shopping between November and December 2013. Brands looking to capitalize on this economic trend need to embrace the power of the holiday gift guide.
Here at BIGfish, we recognize the significance of gift guides to our clients’ business, and thus have developed some helpful strategies for securing this meaningful coverage. From newspapers to online outlets to glossy magazine pages and national broadcast segments, we’ve got you covered when it comes to securing top-tier placements.
It’s Never Too Early to Get Organized
Nothing is more disheartening than going to pitch a top-tier outlet and finding out that their gift guide deadline has passed. Some editorial deadlines can be as early as mid-August. At BIGfish, we get started on compiling ed cals at the end of June or early July, and update with new contact information or specific notes as it becomes available so we’re ready to pitch when the deadline arrives. It’s crucial to get on top of these dates early so you’re sure not to miss out. A simple Excel spreadsheet is an easy way to sort contacts by deadline, so you know what publications to focus on first. Most outlets have an editorial calendar in the advertising section of their website that lists the closing and issue dates. Sites like Cision, MyMediaInfo and Vocus also serve as valuable resources for additional editorial information and deadlines. While digital outlets may not have as long of a lead time as print publications, it’s important to err on the side of too early, rather than too late.
If your brand already has a point of contact at a particular outlet, it’s not a bad idea to reach out to them to find out firsthand: 1) When the deadline is (if it couldn’t be located elsewhere), and 2) Who the appropriate contact is. With so many products from different companies being sent to editors, you want to make sure yours makes it to the correct person for consideration and doesn’t get left in a pile somewhere it’s never even seen.
If you’re not already using HARO (Help a Reporter Out), now is the perfect time to sign up. The free service sends you emails three times a day with queries from journalists looking for story information, expert advice and products. HAROs are a great way to stay on top of Holiday Gift Guides, especially since you’re able to reach out to a reporter who you know is already in search of gift items.
It can be hard to think about the holidays so far in advance, but it’s a crucial first step in securing coverage.
Do Your Research
There’s no denying that all PR pros know the ins and outs of their clients’ products like the back of their hands, but what’s more important is understanding the intricacies of a news organization and reporter’s beat. As with any pitch, journalists will know if you just send a generic note with no consideration of whom you’re writing to. Tailoring the product selection and pitch to fit the gift guide’s specifications is key. Becky Gaylord of PR Daily stresses the importance of personalization, and having a solid understanding of the journalist you’re pitching: “Know their beat, their topics, and what they’ve covered recently. This is what archives are for, if you need to get caught up in a hurry. If you pitch without doing this, it’s obvious to them and embarrassing for you.” If you work for a beauty brand, pitching a high-profile technical outlet may not be your best bet (unless your product is 3D printed makeup, then you might be an exception). Click here for more helpful pitching insight.
Reading gift guides from past years is a helpful way of discovering the types of products that an outlet and reporter typically cover. Who is the audience? Do they feature outdoor gear or home decorations? What’s the average price point? Seeing the big picture will enable you to most successfully angle your client’s product to fit the outlet’s needs. Pitching the person who wrote the publication’s gift guide in years prior is also a beneficial strategy.
Does your client have a new product coming out just in time for the holiday season? If so, don’t pitch last year’s gear, go with what’s new! Embargoed pitching is a helpful strategy to leverage in this situation. You can pitch a reporter a not-yet-announced product if you use an embargo so the reporter knows not to share any information until an agreed-upon date. Staying up to date on your client’s long term timeline is essential.
Whatever product you’re pitching, you need to be armed with samples and high-resolution images ready to be sent out at a moment’s notice. If a journalist shows interest in your product, don’t risk missing the window of opportunity waiting to get a product back in stock or seeking out professional photos. In addition to a product sample, send any other materials that might be needed to work the product. Have something that requires batteries? Send batteries. Busy reporters inundated with products don’t have the time to try and figure out how to use yours. Make sure everything is as easy as possible.
The overall aesthetic of the product is crucial for any outlet looking for photographs, but it’s especially important if you’re pitching broadcast outlets. If you have a visually pleasing product that’s brightly colored or really interesting, explain it in your pitch; tell them why it’d be great for their segment. If the product requires a demo, be sure the outlet has a fully functioning unit and detailed instructions before they plan on filming. It can also be helpful to send any existing videos you might have of the product to be used as b-roll.
Keep Your Spirits Up
And not just your holiday spirit. Like any PR campaign, it’s not always easy or guaranteed that every outlet you pitch will write about your product. Even the most exciting products and well-executed strategies cannot, with any certainty, guarantee a placement. If the holiday gift guide falls through, stay proactive, and be aware of other product roundups that the outlet may publish. Mother’s Day, Memorial Day and Fourth of July deadlines will be approaching right as the holidays are wrapping up!