While everyone else is thinking about beaches, ice-cream, and what sunscreen to buy at the drugstore, many PR professionals are already eyeball deep in planning for 2017 holiday gift guides. This year, use those lazy days of summer to get ahead of the game so you can make the most of the gift giving season. Put on your best Christmas sweater (just kidding) and take a look at our holiday gift guide tipsheet.
The first step to winning at holiday gift guide PR is to huddle with your client to evaluate which of their products will make the best gift guide options. Ideally, you’ll want newer products that are unique and that fit certain gift guide categories such as stocking stuffers, eco-friendly gifts, gifts that give back, gifts under $50, etc. You may even want to suggest that your client create or source a “special” or “limited edition” gift just for the holidays, which is more likely to get picked up than a run-of-the-mill, everyday item.
Timing is Everything
Planning far, far ahead is probably the single most important thing you’ll need to do in order to get top-tier magazine coverage for your clients during the holiday season. Lead times for many top-tier national publications are typically 3-6 months, and a few are even longer. So if you’re even remotely thinking about pitching your client’s must-have product to national publications like Food & Wine, Martha Stewart Living, Allure, or the mother of all holiday gift guides, O, Oprah the Magazine, it’s time to hustle. Deadlines for pitching online publications and blogs are a little more flexible and will vary, but most of the more established outlets such as Refinery29 and SheKnows will have closed submissions for their gift guides by early fall. Of course, there are always last-minute opportunities for smaller outlets but be wary and do your homework to make sure that they’re legit.
Begin the planning phase by gathering editorial calendars for your top targets, which you should be able to find by Googling, Cision, through your existing editorial contacts or by calling up the publication and asking about deadlines and the correct editorial contact for gift guides. We recommend including a mix of long and shorter lead publications, online and print, niche and more general, and local and national outlets. We like to use a tracking sheet that includes the name of the outlet, editorial contact, focus areas, deadlines, pitch subject, pitch date, and notes on follow up and responses. And don’t forget, very few products make it into the top-tier publications so set expectations accordingly.
Know The Outlet Inside and Out
One of the keys to holiday gift guide success is good old fashioned research. Yes, it’s time-consuming but the payoff could potentially be huge (plus, what you research now can pay dividends for years). Start by looking at past gift guides from the outlets you’re targeting. How are they structured? What kinds of products do they include? Who are the recipients? Are there themes or categories like stocking stuffers, best gifts under $50, gifts for mom, etc. And of course, why should readers of this particular publication care about your brand new shiny widget?
Perfect Your Pitch
Magazine editors get inundated with pitches, especially around the holidays. To increase your chance of success, think like an editor. Is the product and pitch highly targeted, personalized, and relevant to both the publication and the specific editor whom you are pitching? What makes your product so perfect for this particular outlet and its readers? Is your subject line attention-grabbing? For your subject line, the more specific the better. An example: “Danish Viking Smoked Sea Salt for Saveur‘s Under $25 Holiday Gift Guide” shows that you’ve done your homework.
Consider pitching several items at once, always keeping in mind the outlet and what is most likely to appeal to a specific editor, and include a link to hi-res photos for each product. Unless you receive a flat-out “no,” plan on following up at least once or twice with the writer or editor at reasonable intervals (e.g. a week or two after the initial pitch), and pay special attention to editorial preferences, such a editors who ask not to be called.
Include Killer Photos
Invest in professional quality, hi-res photos. We cannot stress this enough. Very few publications have the budget to send their own photographers to do product shots so you’ll need your own. Get both horizontal and vertical shots on a white background. Upload them to Dropbox or Google Photos so they are easy to share. Avoid sending photos as attachments, or any attachments for that matter until you’ve sent the initial pitch. Otherwise, your email is likely to end up caught in a spam filter.
Expect to Send Samples
You or your client will most likely need to send a product sample in order to be considered for a gift guide. Most of the time, products or samples won’t be returned. The one exception is for one-of-a-kind or very expensive products (we’re talking diamond studs, not silver hoop earrings). This can be an expensive proposition and many small businesses simply don’t have the budget to send out tons and tons of free product, so chose your outlets (and samples) wisely.