‘Tis the season to make your list, check it twice—and pitch as much as possible. The holidays are a joyous time, but also a stressful one. Getting into publications’ gift guides is a major feat this time of year and many brands (especially new and emerging ones) want to know just how they can go about making that happen. These features are coveted—and for a good reason, since many readers use these round-ups to guide their holiday shopping (no pun intended). If you keep sending out one pitch after another only to hear crickets, it may be time to rethink your marketing strategies. After all, there is limited time to make the cut, so now is the time to regroup, restructure, and get back to pitching. Here are some reasons why your product may be going unnoticed:
The product doesn’t feel like a gift.
While many brands wonder how to get into a gift guide, few take the time to really, truly think about the purpose behind the story in the first place. The goal, of course, is to help readers find the most perfect item for someone they love. Put on your shopper hat and consider if your product feels like a gift, Lindsey Smolan, the founder of VLIV Communications says.
“A really innovative product or one that has stunning packaging is likely to fare much better. Gift sets do often work here—but again, they must be special. A skincare set often can be tricky for editors since it’s so hard to shop by another person's skin type, but a bath and body/’spa at home’ set could be appropriate.”
In short, Smolan says if you're pitching something unremarkable or otherwise not very interesting, editors will be left wondering why their readers should care about this product and will give preference to a more exciting product.
Your products aren’t part of an affiliate program.
These days, many publications rely on affiliate marketing as an additional revenue stream. This means they will require all products listed in gift guides to be part of their affiliate program, with few to no exceptions. So if affiliate marketing isn’t part of your strategy, it’s time to adopt a new mantra: ‘Affiliate or die,’ Bill Byrne, the managing director of Remedy PR, says.
“For online publishers, affiliate links are critical when it's a shopping story. Right now, we're unfortunately turning down a lot of startups and entrenched brands that don't have these in place because it's almost mandatory for most features,” he notes.
Your imagery isn’t cutting it.
Often, as entrepreneurs or brand leaders, it’s easy to get caught up in the company. You know the product intimately, so you think (and, well, know) that it’s amazing. But convincing picky journalists who have seen the best-of-the-best is another story. To analyze your marketing strategies, put yourself in the customer's shoes and think about how you shop. Does text grab your attention? Or photographs? Likely, it’s the latter, so pay attention to your visuals. When you’re figuring out how to get into gift guides, having stellar imagery of your product is absolutely vital, stresses Smolan.
“While some outlets are still photographing items in-house for gift guide issues, many rely on brands to provide imagery,” she says. She recommends having a mix of both flat shots on white backgrounds and some lifestyle photos as well. “A shot of your product in use or displayed beautifully sometimes helps it make the cut,” she continues. “If you don't have this imagery, editors will need to pass up the product for something that they can actually feature.”
You’re pitching, but not selling.
We’ve said it before, but we’ll repeat it: pitching isn't advertising. And just because you send information to a journalist doesn't mean it'll be a fit, reminds Byrne. To up your chances of being featured, he says, it’s vital for brands to find the right angles and spell them out to journalists in a storytelling fashion. Just because you’re a new product or you’re offering a new color doesn’t mean you’re a top pick for a stocking stuffer. To improve marketing strategies, find the truly unique features of the product and include them in your email. “Your new widget is groundbreaking, but how does that fit into the broader industry? Does the lipstick last 20% longer than the leading brand? Does the tech product have more features and cost less than Apple's version?” he says, as an example.
You’re not following price guidelines.
It’s a lesson we all learned in elementary school, and it’s a key factor in getting into a gift guide: follow instructions. Journalists and editors are scrambling to piece together countless stories during the holiday season, so if you are pitching a $65 product for an ‘Under $50’ round-up, your email is going to be deleted STAT. “The pricing of a product dictates much of their gift guide coverage, and they cannot go even a penny over,” Smolan says. “If you can adjust the pricing to fit into a guide that is important to you, go ahead, otherwise pitch a more appropriately priced product or try it for another gift guide.”
The same is true for formatting pitches, sending imagery, and otherwise ensuring the journalist has everything they need to consider you for a story. As Byrne says, you need to make it easy for them. “Reporters don't get paid overtime on stories, so the easier you make it for them to turn it around, the better. It'll increase the chances your brand gets chosen over a competitor,” he adds.
You’re not pitching various categories.
Smolan says this is where it serves you well to really think like an editor. “While editors come up with their own gift guides and stories internally, providing a few recommendations on who the product is a fit for can help,” she says. But remember, this doesn’t mean saying your product is a fit for everything from a ‘foodie’ round-up to a ‘pet lovers’ guide. Think about if the product truly works for kids, best friends, or colleagues, and come up with a few pitching strategies for each. This will maximize your exposure—and hopefully, result in more features.