For retailers and brands the holiday shopping season is the most important time of year with more than 40 per cent of annual profits made during Q4. Thousands of products will launch before the end of the year and publications are already compiling their Top Products of the Year lists and product gift guides.
Whether you represent a brand with a mature product or are launching something new, the pitches you share with editors throughout the year can carry products into holiday editions. Here are insights from two editors of leading Canadian publications with tips for how PR representatives should pitch their stories to get included in holiday editorial.
Meet Your Gift Guide Experts
Assistant Managing Editor, Zoomer
Losinski has worked with Zoomer, a monthly print lifestyle magazine for the 45 and older demographic, since 2012 focusing on the home and lifestyle gift guides. She reviews thousands of pitches through press tours, product launches and press releases and finds that efficient communicators often beat out elaborate presentations. Losinski will begin working on Zoomer’s holiday guides in September.
Digital & Special Projects Editor, The Kit
Bilodeau has helped create award-winning editorial for the last 15 years at Canadian publications like Fashion Magazine, Flare and now The Kit. As Digital & Special Projects Editor for The Kit, she manages the fashion and beauty publication’s online editorial and works closely with brands and publicists to find the most interesting products to share with readers. The Kit is printed for distribution and included weekly in the Toronto Star, Vancouver Sun, Ottawa Citizen, Edmonton Journal and Montreal Gazette as well as updated daily online.
How To Pitch Perfect
Magazine editors don’t need a gift bag or an elaborately-designed PDF of your product pitch, says Losinksi; they need images, product details and a unique story.
Throughout the year Losinski refers back to Winners’ Homesense online showroom, which mirrors the majority of the brand’s in-store product line, because of the seamless the user experience and regularly updated content. She can check the site when it fits her schedule best and knows the most recent products are always there.
The takeaway here is this: the easier you make it for editors to find your products, the more likely it will be included in their magazines.
Editors love facts and figures. When you get an editor’s attention, you don’t want to waste time building anticipation. Simply include the facts—dates available, prices, store locations, etc.—up-front and in a straightforward manner. Be sure to always answer the five Ws: who, what, why, when, and where. Even small omissions can prevent your product from being included in a guide, so read through your pitch from the consumer’s perspective and ask yourself if you have all the info you need to buy it.
“If I have to Google something about your product [because it is unclear in the pitch] that’s frustrating,” said Losinski.
Utilize USB thumb drives for press materials.
Press tours and product launches are a great way to showcase a new line. Send your attendees home with a USB drive of all the press materials including high resolution images, biographies on the speakers, press releases and company background information. This way the writers and editors have everything they need before leaving your event, reducing the need for follow-up emails and phone calls—both of which can impact a deadline.
Include interview opportunities with experts or brand affiliates.
Internal experts or brand affiliated influencers can add context and an engaging voice to a product. For Losinski, experts are a value add to a story and make that product stand out from the pack of pitches.
“We write about health products a lot and experts help bolster a product’s claims,” she says.
They can also often bring their network of followers to the table, providing an expanded network for the publication thereby showcasing an added value your company brings to the table beyond a new product for its pages.
A personal touch goes a long way.
Editors have less than time and have to do more work but personal touches, like a small sample of your product or sweet treat, shows an additional effort from the PR professional that resonates.
“When we get food delivered to the office, we are very happy people,” said Losinski, recalling personalized baked good she received from a department retailer. “It doesn’t have to be elaborate but even small touches like a cute tag on cookie can grab our attention.”
Get the basic details right first and add value with personalization.
3 Keys to Social Product Promotion
Today’s gift guides sprawl between printed pages and online formats in order to include more products than ever.
A great product can generate its own share of voice on social media by being presented attractively for digital consumption. Editors like The Kit’s Michelle Bilodeau are looking to fill their corporate Instagram feeds as well as publication pages. Follow these three steps and help your products land on both.
1. Plan around the online and social hit
Cater your pitches to include elements that readers will want to share on social media. Think about a creative way consumers can engage with your product along with a campaign hashtag. Just like when you include a storyline in a pitch, including decorations on your product’s theme can help editors imagine how to photograph them. This reduces one step of the design process for the publication and gives you additional influence on how your product is presented to the world. Bilodeau relies on her art department to turn attractive products into social collateral.
“We always welcome brands who are open to us sharing the products on social,” said Bilodeau who will feature some materials in the magazine and others only on social.
When you give editors more to work with they are more likely to find a medium to talk about your product. Benefit Cosmetics has this down to a science. When the brand shares products with influencers and magazine they do it as part of an integrated message — between package design, social media and top of the line marketing — that defines a specific product. Ruth Goudie, Senior Marketing Manager, Benefit Cosmetics Canada says that by the time she sends a product to a magazine she knows it is a hit.
“We really focus on finding that ‘one-thing’ that makes the product unique and focus our marketing on that one-thing,” said Goudie.”With influencers and magazines we try to create and play up the experience – we sell an experience that happens to be through makeup.”
Benefit uses social hashtags to build niches on social media. An example is #WowYourBrows where the brand on Wednesdays shares photos of their followers and holds product giveaways on Instagram. In Canada this has resulted in more than 1,500 posts on Instagram.
Bilodeau recently received a pinwheel from CoverGirl in promotion of the brand’s Butterfly Mascara. The pinwheel featured The Kit’s branding, which caught Bilodeau’s attention.
“You can tell they took some time to think it all through and customize it for us,” said Bilodeau.
2. Be aware of industry themes.
Help editors categorize your product into their lists by watching your competition and identifying which themes they have in commons.
“It might be in how the product is priced, the botanicals that are included or a particular look that can be achieved with it,” said Bilodeau.
Digital editors often work in 30-minute intervals getting items online as soon as news crosses their inbox. A product that makes it into a gift guide might have been pitched for as a news item months ago and recalled for a guide.
“I probably have 30-products on my desk right now to review and test,” said Bilodeau, “I want pitches that are creative, well thought out and include all of the information I need.”
3. Provide unique access
Bilodeau’s favourite pitch came from Smashbox cosmetics, which had partnered with Canadian illustrator Donald Robertson to design a lipstick collection. To promote the line, Smashbox gave The Kit access to the renowned artist who has been dubbed the “Andy Warhol of Instagram” by Vogue and the Globe and Mail. The magazine ran a Q&A with Robertson and photographed him as he sketched Beyonce with a Sharpie and a Smashbox lipstick from his line.
The benefits of the pitch were twofold: Smashbox got its new lipstick in the pages of The Kit and Bilodeau got direct access to a big name for content that ran Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.
Help editors help you.
There are four key elements that editors want in a pitch: information, access, expediency and great photography. When you make the experience of working with a brand positive, you increase the chance that it will be featured in the highly-coveted holiday editorial.
Give them the content in the format that works for their medium and deadline and you will help your brand gain the exposure desired this holiday season.
The Gift Guide Pitch Checklist
Let’s review the 9 items to address in your pitch:
1. Is this beneficial to the outlet’s audience?
2. When is the product available?
3. What the price point?
4. Where can readers buy the product?
5. Product descriptions and unique features
6. High resolution images
7. Photography credits
8. Designer information
9. Expert or influencer interview availability
Make it easier for your editors to find and use your content and they will work with your materials more often. Thank you to Michelle Bilodeau and Tara Losinski for sharing their insights – be on the lookout for their gift guides coming out this holiday season.
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 Retail Council of Canada – http://www.bnn.ca/News/2013/12/24/Retailers-fight-to-snag-holiday-stragglers.aspx