The holidays are the most important time of year in terms of sales and product promotion for consumer brands. This year, more than ever, if you aren’t pitching for social and online media you will miss legions of holiday shoppers.

LightBulbA Think With Google analysis of last year’s gift-givers found that foot traffic in retail stores has declined by 57 per cent in the past five years, but the value of those visits have increased by nearly 300 per cent. People are buying more but shopping less often.

Google suggests that smartphones, not browsing in-store, are helping people inform themselves more effectively when they shop.  In a study of online shoppers conducted last year, Google found that 80 per cent used their phones during spare moments to read up on products.

What This Mean For Communicators

stockingIf you aren’t influencing decisions on mobile you are losing out.

The trick of public relations professionals is ensuring that products are featured during those key moments of the buyer’s journey. That’s why pitching products into holiday gift guides and in feature sections of magazines is so important.

Brands also need to think through how to support the myriad of social touch points. Today the path to purchase includes channels like Instagram and YouTube — are you featuring your clients in all of them?

In this 2016 Holiday Pitching Kit you will hear from both communication professionals and news media editors discuss how to approach publications for entry in holiday gift guides.

Turn Your Pitch Into An Experience

The sun is shining in mid-July, patios are full of summer revellers. What does Apex PR do to help Walmart Canada attract the attention of journalists to the brand’s holiday décor collection? Decorate an entire home with Walmart products, setup a snow-machine on its back porch, bake some gingerbread, and invite 35 journalists throughout three days to come experience it.

Snow Machine - Living RoomWant to know how you can land your client’s products in magazine pages? Here are three tips from Apex PR vice president Jennifer Stein, who works closely throughout the year with clients like Walmart to develop these plans.

1. Start early

Karl-1The holiday season for Apex starts in the spring. That may seem early to some, but when you consider the coordination required to engage with a brand like Walmart’s extensive product catalogue, it makes sense.

“We’ve been thinking about the holidays since before the summer, meeting with our clients to figure out what the trends are and what will be the hot products,” said Stein.

From Stein’s experience if you start in July you will be more reacting to a client’s need instead of advising toward a longer-term benefit. By starting your planning early you can contribute more to the discussion.

Get your media advisories out early as well so that journalists can schedule around your event.

“Multiple days [for an event] allows for more flexibility with journalists schedules,” said Stein.

Stein’s planning included coordinating with Toronto-based designer and home décor expert, Karl Lohnes. Apex used Lohnes’s three-story townhome for the experiential event, decorating it with holiday decor throughout the kitchen, dining room, den, bedroom and living room.

Each room in the home featured products specifically catered to that space, which can then be used by décor magazines in different niches. As an example, a Walmart dining set of plates and flatware set out on a dinner table, a Christmas theme toiletry set for a bathroom. This gives the widest assortment of features possible to magazine editors and journalists.

2. Do your research

bathroomLanding in a product spread requires the right product and the right art.

Stein reviews the previous year’s holiday product features and identifies different buckets that a client’s products could fit in.

“It goes beyond just the Top 20 Toys for 2016,” said Stein. “It can be even more niche specific and filling those specific niches is what drives success.”

A child’s bedroom featured everything from stuffed animals, toys and an advent calendar. By covering the living room with throw pillows and blankets you could imagine Walmart products being featured in articles about getting cozy for the holidays.

Utilizing a PR software solution with a media database can help you find contact information and editorial calendars, as well as deadlines, for leading publications throughout Canada.

3. Educate your client

Editors are careful to display only the most exciting and interesting products, so position what is most in the magazine’s interest.

Clients and magazines don’t always align on what each thinks is important — in the end the magazine will win.

bedroom“Sometimes you have to push back a bit (against the client), but in the end it is always in the client’s benefit,” said Stein.

This is a lesson echoed by Lohnes who appeared on various day-time television shows last year presenting design tips and product recommendations to Canadian viewers.

“I look to discuss products that are on-trend and that I think will fit in people’s home and lives,” said Lohnes. “A brand might say, ‘This is what we’d like you to promote’ based off of what they think will sell. When I find something I really like I tell them, ‘Yes, but after I go on TV and discuss this other item, you’ll have trouble keeping it on the shelves.’”

Lohnes is emblematic of the relationship editors would like to have with brands — helping provide readers the insights and ideas they believe will be of the strongest mutual benefit.

By bringing journalists and editors into a home over the better part of a work-week, Apex has provided deeper context than a traditional pitch — showcasing the beneficial message that Walmart Canada has a customer’s holiday décor needs covered. It also gives journalists the chance to create all of the social and video content they need and that a brand like Walmart craves.

Research Wins in Preparing For the Holidays

What if you could speak with hundreds or thousands of magazine and newspaper editors to learn what makes the perfect holiday product pitch?

Anna Marevska, manager of print media research with Cision, and her team have done just that. During the past few months they spoke with editors from across North American in advance of this year’s gift giving season to find out when they plan to publish their holiday gift guides and what sort of pitches each requires.

She shared her top three tips that will help land your products in print this year.

1. Always follow the deadlines

Calendar“Holiday gift guide deadlines are a little different [than regular editorial],” said Marevska. “A monthly magazine might have a three-month lead time usually, but for a holiday gift guide could want pitches and samples six months in advance.”

Editors need time to evaluate products that are included in their best of lists. With an entire industry to survey and hundreds of pitches processes are required to manage the products and maintain objectivity. For brands aligning with those processes is integral to holiday success.

“Gift guides are a goldmine for the PR industry,” said Marevska. ““For many publications these are the most viewed and most popular pages of the entire year.”

2. Pitch the right editor

As you have no doubt gathered by this point, gift guides are special and often have a specific editor who manages its production. Find out who that person is and pitch directly to them.

“It could be an assistant editor or even the managing editor, so put in the leg work and find the right eyeballs for your client’s products,” said Marevska.

3. Know your audience

Don’t spend your time pitching everything to everyone — it wastes resources in time and product.

“Don’t pitch a tool belt to Chatelaine or Vogue,” says Marevska. “Look back at what an editor produced the year before and cater your pitch to what you know they are looking for.”

If don’t have an idea of how a product could be featured in the magazine, don’t send your pitch!

Editors’ Advice For Holiday Pitching

In advance of the holiday season magazine and newspaper editors are inundated by product samples and pitches.

It is estimated that there are 4.1 public relations professionals for every journalist in Canada, so you can imagine how the ratio rolls up into editors. Get your pitches read and products featured by following tips from the Toronto Star’s Life editor Mary Vallis and Dan Donovan, publisher and managing editor of Ottawa Life Magazine.


Targeting local helps

National brands can be featured in local publications, Donovan says, but only if PR professionals avoid a Toronto-centric view of the world.

“Brands that make an impact approach us with some knowledge of the regional market of Ottawa and that makes a big difference,” said Donovan.

He suggests that pitches should include information about the brand’s local presence or how a product specifically caters to people from the region.

Multimedia options are a gift to editors

Mary Vallis subscribes to the practice that a good pitch should include multimedia. There is more to newspapers and magazines than what is inside their pages. Publications live online and in social media and multimedia offerings will find brand’s getting featured across mediums.

Life-elliote grWhat is included in “multimedia”? Vallis specifically looks for video and social experiences. Each medium has value and providing opportunities for the paper to feed each with your content is an effective way to garner attention.

“When you pitch us, actually watch the channel and know what we feature on it,” said Vallis.

The publication has a video series in the Life section where Chef Graham Elliot recently taught viewers how to cook chicken thighs from the magazine’s test kitchen.  Brands should pitch to be on that series specifically and they should know the format of the videos. When you understand how a feature is produced you can identify where your brand or product can be included seamlessly.

This is where researching a writer’s work in a database comes into valued use.

Photography holds great value when shared effectively

As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  That is, as long as an editor likes it and can find a way to use it their publication. However, don’t include all of your images in your pitch.

“My email inbox actually does get full with image files,” said Vallis. “Whether it is a Dropbox link or a media site, store your images there and we can navigate them more easily.”

This gives editors more options as well. You may have product photography from multiple shoots or even video assets that publications can use but large files are best kept in the cloud.

fat-emailWhen you do share an image with a pitch, make sure it is the best-of-the-best and valuable to the holiday story you are pitching.

“I really don’t want stock product photography,” said Vallis. “If it is creative and themed to the season, there is a much better chance that we’ll use it.”

Whether it is a local pitch or national product feature the message is clear — be specific with your pitch.

Samples are a must-have

For Donovan a brand that is serious about placement during the holidays will send product samples. This is required and the more the merrier. Extra samples can be later given to community organizations for raffles or auctions, which helps drive Ottawa Life’s community engagement.

If you aren’t sharing a sample of the product you will not be featured.

Product Sample Checklist

7CanadianComm_Graphics-19Use this checklist before shipping this season’s samples to ensure editors translate your products to media mentions.

CheckmarkSpeak with the editor

If at all possible learn what an editor’s sample preferences are in advance. This can include the format or volume of materials required to be shared or even to whom to address the packages. There may be a column planned for a specific type of product that you can capitalize on if you know about it advance.

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Notify the recipient

Emailing an editor, even when it is supposed to be a surprise serves two purposes. One, it is an effective touch point in which to provide product information and it opens a dialog with the editor or influencer. Secondly, if the magazine never receives the samples, you can track it down before it is too late and get it into the right hands.

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Personalize it

Show that you know and care about editors and influencers by sending products they can actually use. If this is a makeup sample, for instance, consider the skin tone of the editor you are sharing the products with. For clothing, the size and style shared can also be tailored to the recipient — if you aren’t sure of an editor’s size, politely ask.

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Provide product information in the package

Not everyone is going to read the email you send them but a self-addressed box is rarely left unopened. Include all product information and your pitch with your sample package and along with a thumb drive of digital assets.

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Use packaging that can serve as a background for instant social posts

This can be as simple as the colour of tissue paper that items are wrapped in or as complex as a customized set of ornaments to be used on a Christmas tree. If the goal is to get your products promoted by a publication, entice them to do it immediately by giving editors the backdrop for fun social content.

The holidays are a competitive time of year for both the publishing and public relations industries. We’re all vying for eyeballs and brand exposure. So, set yourself up for success by presenting relevant content to the right editors, in a format that they actually wish to consume it in. Research, plan, pitch and repeat.

Take advantage of our research and contacts — take a demo of Cison’s leading media database today!

Copyright © 2017 Cision Canada Inc.