One of the most frequent calls we get during late September and early October is panicked marketing directors or managers who have not yet put in place a Christmas focused public relations campaign. Whilst this is leaving it far too late in terms of some of the longer lead media titles, there is still loads of time left to get something concrete in place right up until the last day.
If you are a retail company, your only Christmas campaign limit is the last delivery date that you work to. We have worked with retail, service, app and online only brands so we are well versed in planning and deploying campaigns across every sector.
For instance, with an app based gift-card client we were able to make a PR angle out of the fact that consumers were able to gift via their service right through to Christmas day. Very handy if you turn up at your family’s house on the big day and an unexpected relative turns up that you have not bought a gift for.
Given our experience in launching Christmas PR campaigns I thought it could be a good thing to create a “How to plan and launch your Christmas PR campaign”. Of course, if you wanted to get rid of that headache, just ask us (shameless plug I know).
Here it is then; 7 handy tips to help your Christmas Public Relations campaign go with a bang.
1.What are you trying to sell? What are your goals?
Before you get started with any creative planning or campaign timelines it is important that you know exactly what you are trying to achieve. What is your USP, do you operate in a niche, do you have the exclusive rights to a product or service, and are you the first to market?These are all areas that you need to understand so that you know what cards you hold when talking to the media and planning a campaign.
It is also important to define what “success” would look like for your campaign and what are your goals. For a retail business it would be shifting products or maybe one particular item, for an online service it may be building a newsletter database or driving downloads.
It is important that you have your goals clearly defined and also the way in which you can record and measure the return on investment. There is more on tracking later on.
2. What are your timings?
In the media and PR industry there are a series of Christmas events held in July. We call this, “Christmas in July” – see what we did there. This is where journalists who are working on “long lead” titles, typically the big glossy magazines that plan their Christmas issues months in advance, attend events held by retailers who are showing off what they expect to be big this Christmas. If you are reading this, there is a good chance you have already missed this deadline, but it is worth knowing for the future and researching for next years campaign.
The main media push for Christmas (in terms of stories) starts from late November right through to a few days after the big day. As we know, many big retailers start their Christmas push softly in late September and then build it up over October and go for the big push in mid to late November. As I said, the media usually ignore the retail push until late November.
TIP: Last delivery dates for Christmas is a really easy PR win because many newspapers and online sites want to aggregate all the stores last dates. If you offer a late date, or even if you just want highlight your own date, then get in touch with the named journalist who is collating the list and send over your information.
As well as last delivery dates there are a few stories that always come out every year. People like Argos and Toys R Us predict what toys are going to be big each Christmas and if you can beat them on price or have a unique take on a product in the list, you may be able to get coverage for this.
Another story that seems to happen every year is the “Christmas ship”. This is the main cargo ship arriving from China that has container after container of retail products on board. Got a quirky take on this? Get your thoughts out to the media then.
If your Christmas campaign is also factoring in Search Engine Optimisation and you are looking for peak times to rank for your key terms, then the key dates to look at are Black Friday (24th November) and Cyber Monday (27th November).
3. How are you going to track the success of your Christmas public relations campaign?
Everything is trackable nowadays. Tools like Google Analytics and all the plug-ins for the various ecommerce platforms that are out there, right through to the real life checkout systems, all help business owners see what is delivering the best return on investment (ROI).
For those just starting out, I would say that the Goals element of Google Analytics is the must-have, starting point for tracking. Explaining Google Analytics is a blog post in its own right but in simple terms, you sign up to the Analytics platform, add a piece of code that it gives you, to your own site, and then you can track the number of people who have come to your site, what they have done and identify opportunities to optimise your site for more traffic and, ultimately, sales.
Goals is really easy to set up and can be done via the admin/settings section of Analytics. The “Goal” is triggered when a site visitor lands on a specific page (URL) that you have identified as one that would signal a Goal has been hit.
Here is a really basic example of Google Goals we have set up for one of our clients. They sell a range of products. We have set one “goal” as the “Shop” section of its website. E.g. www.MyBlueWidget.com/Shop. Whenever a visitor lands on that page, Analytics logs it as a Goal being hit.
We have a secondary “Goal” URL as the page that a consumer sees once they have made a purchase. E.g. www.MyBlueWidget.com/ThankYou. These are two very basic examples and once you are savvy to the way of the Google, then you can make them more complex in order to deliver greater business intelligence.
We also use the “campaigns” function in Analytics and this tracks who has visited your site on links that you have created with tracking information in. These are called UTM tracking links. This is really handy for seeing the most successful links that you have used in your marketing and public relations campaigns. A word of warning though, some apps and even some websites, remove the tracking information and this can be hugely frustrating. Always good to have them in place though.
4. Look for multiple bites of the public relations cherry
Before you get to the actual story planning side of a Christmas PR campaign, you need to keep a few things in mind. One of the most important “things” is trying to identify campaign angles that can give you multiple media opportunities. One of the best examples of this is the John Lewis Christmas Advert.
The main media story is always around when it will be launched, how much it cost and the overall plot of the ad. John Lewis then gets multiple follow-up media opportunities around the "behind the scenes" of the ad creation, the performance of the ad itself, if there are spin-off products available (usually toys) that are associated to the ad and the sales of the said associated toys.
Not everyone has the budget for such an extravagant advert or marketing campaign but you can give yourself the same opportunity for multiple media hits by planning a campaign that has stages. A good and 'oft-rinsed' media angle is the “perfect job” story. We have done this a few times now and it always works.
You think of a crazy-fun job that your company could employ someone to do. You announce this to the press (media hit one), announce a big wow-factor number of people who applied (media hit two) and then introduce the person who got the job (media hit three). This is just one example.
Another could be to launch a micro-site or web widget (media hit one) that keeps track of the results being generated by users and spits out the stats that you can then turn into a second story (media hit two). This is essentially giving you more bang-for-your-buck out of something that would traditionally be just one story.
5. How to make your press release shine bright like a diamond
There are millions of press release writing guides available on the internet, here are some of ours. Rather than going through the ins and outs of the perfect press release, here are my top line thoughts on making them shine.
Keep your release short and sweet, on some occasions a formal release is not needed and you can get all of your key points across in an email. If you have an exclusive product or are the first to market for something then make sure that you put this front and centre of your release or communications with journalists.
If you have an exclusive product, or a super cool story that is something totally new, think about sending it to one big news outlet as an exclusive story just for them (you then release it wider once they have ran the story). This happens less often nowadays but it is still effective in that the media outlet will run something slightly bigger than normal and it nearly always triggers copy-cat articles in other media titles and on big online news sites.
Going back to those reading this from a Search Engine Optimisation point of view, securing an exclusive with a high domain authority site is a great way to kick off your authority link-building campaign.
Finally, when it comes to press releases and getting the story out there, don’t forget to work closely with the freelance journalist community. Freelance journalists have great contacts in the wider media and they are well-versed in selling in their story ideas (your press release!) to online and offline news sites in a way that you may not have thought of. For example, one freelancer who we work closely with sells stories to over 10 news outlets every time they take a liking to a release that we send them. The big-ticket media outlets are so stretched nowadays that they take lots of freelance stories and this can really help spread the message of your Christmas campaign.
6. Embrace news-jacking and story piggybacking
The modern media is a hungry beast (wow that sounds good) and as such it needs to be constantly fed. News-jacking or piggybacking is where you add your own comment or insight to a breaking story that is nothing really to do with you or your brand.
This works in both B2B and B2C environments. There are two hard and fast rules for making this work though. The first rule is that you must be first to react, or at least get your reaction over to the media super-fast. The second rule is that you must have something interesting to say, or, if that is not the case, say whatever you plan to say in a really quirky or memorable way.
A good Christmas example of this could be around a Cyber Monday story of a big retailer’s website crashing under the strain. You could react to this and give your own opinion from a business owner point of view and, of course, plug your own brand.
We have helped brands build themselves up by using just this approach alone and it can be super effective. Don’t forget, if you want to stand a chance of being invited back to comment, make sure that what you say is memorable.
7. Tools that can help
Whilst I am not a believer that the public relations process can be fully automated, there are a number of tools that can make the job a little easier. Here are some of the ones that we use.
Set this up as a search on Twitter and keep checking in. Journalists from every sized media outlet put requests out for information or products using this hashtag. It is also a good way to keep an eye on who is working for what media outlet and, of course, engaging with your key target media.
This is a media database and also a media requests platform. There are lots of these kinds of services about but in our 12-year experience, Response Source is by far the best. The team is super friendly and helpful and the media database, in my mind, kept up to date far more frequently than their rivals.
This is an American based journalist request email system that also covers UK media. I have to be honest and say that, personally, I have never had much success with this one BUT, the wider Yeti team do use it lots and do occasionally get amazing hits from here. It stands for Help a Reporter Out.
If you are stuck for creative ideas for a press release angle, this site is the Daddy when it comes to seeing what types of content has performed well in the past. It has a research section where you can type in a sector or interest and it will show you what content has had the most social shares and alike. A great way to get ideas and inspiration.
So that’s it! This post turned out far longer than I anticipated but I think it covers off everything you need to know when it comes to planning a Christmas public relations campaign.
Don’t forget, you could just come to us and we would do it for you!