For many consumer brands, the holiday season can make or break yearly revenue targets. One of the most cost-effective ways to boost sales is to drive awareness with editorial placements in holiday gift guides. For the average consumer, gift guides from trusted experts and tastemakers have always served as convenient sources of inspiration, making guide placement a no-brainer for brands hoping to cash in on the most lucrative season of the year.
Grabbing attention in such sought-after space, however, requires a strong pitch and product, and a thoughtful and proactive strategy to match. As Q4 quickly approaches, here’s where we have found success as PR professionals in securing holiday gift guides.
1. Early bird gets the round-up.
Depending on the opportunity and lead time, many journalists begin sourcing and reviewing products months in advance, and PR teams should start the pitching process as soon as July. In many cases, reporters want to test, review or audit products before suggesting them to readers. This applies to gift guides with thoughtfully curated recommendations that project a focus on quality over quantity. Even for reputable brands considered household names, getting a product in journalists’ hands significantly increases the chances of being included in gift guides and shopping round-ups.
2. Be a trend forecaster, not a trend follower.
Rather than relying on what’s “of the moment” to determine the products and themes within your pitch, pay attention to expert predictions on what will be trending by the time holiday coverage rolls in. The US Holiday 2022 Review and Holiday 2023 Preview from Insider Intelligence predicted value-oriented spending this year, which means mainstream media will likely prioritize value-first products when compiling their shopping guides and gift recommendations. This insight can help you determine which products to pitch, what specs and features to highlight, and the best language to use when describing them.
3. Don’t knock 'the other' shopping seasons.
While winter holiday gift guides are considered the Holy Grail of earned media, it’s important to remember other key seasonal opportunities. Even if Mother’s Day and graduation aren’t the most lucrative moments for a brand, they can act as vital touch points that help them stay top-of-mind with journalists. Relationship-building is a cardinal practice for PR pros, and consistently pitching editorial stakeholders can serve you well, assuming your pitches are relevant and add value. Sourcing products is a full-time job for market and commerce editors, and they’re looking for any timely opportunity that motivates readers to click, share and repeat.
4. Optimize marketing and retail strategies to support your efforts.
Beyond the obvious marketing essentials like high-quality photography and a robust digital presence, brands that join affiliate networks can widen the net of outlets willing to include their product in holiday gift guides. Affiliate programs offer a commission for each sale generated from a publisher’s article or round-up, and as a result, many major publishers have opted to feature affiliate products exclusively.
A brand’s retail strategy can also work to their advantage when vying for placements in top-tier gift guides. The biggest mainstream outlets often prioritize products available to purchase from Amazon, big-box retailers and major department stores. Diversifying retail strategy beyond direct-to-consumer can significantly increase earned media potential.
While their content may be inherently superficial compared to a feature story or analytical piece, holiday gift guides are a crucial piece of the puzzle for consumer brands looking to drive awareness, traffic and, ultimately, sales. As is the case for all areas of communications, a solid, specialized strategy is the only surefire path to success.
Tell us about yourself!
I’m a 22-year-old SoCal native raised in a city called Azusa. I recently graduated from USC with my bachelors degree in Journalism, but I am continuing my graduate studies in Public Relations and Advertising. A fun fact about me is that for a couple of my teen years I lived in Ensenada, Baja California. Because of those years, I became fluent in Spanish and it’s why I can get around L.A. without really needing to speak English!
Why did you want to intern at JSA?
I volunteered at the Center for Public Relations and met a few former JSA interns in that space. They all spoke highly of their experience, and the sorts of clients they gained experience working with. As someone who aspires to work in the worlds of gaming, tech, and the creator economy, working at JSA felt like the perfect place to gain experience and insights about those industries from a strategic communications standpoint, and do so with a tight knit team that values all their players.
What has been your favorite part so far?
I’ve really appreciated how welcome my arrival as an intern was. The team has made a great effort to help me learn, and they’ve helped me make the most out of my time with them to ask questions about the work we do. I thought I would be playing a lot of catch up, but when working at an agency like JSA you really do hit the ground running and catch up while you’re learning along the way. Some people aren’t a fan of “trial by fire,” but I actually don’t mind it!
What do you want to do post-grad?
Honestly, I am still figuring out what post-grad looks like, but I do know storytelling is at the crux of whatever work I will do. I’m very eager to learn more about agency work and the breadth of experiences one could have within strategic communications, but I still have a passion for production and would like to explore work within the news storytelling world. There is also the possibility that what I end up doing doesn’t have a role that quite exists yet, so I’m very open to see what shape my future takes.
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