What You Can Do Now for a Successful Gift Guide Season
July 1st, 2021
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Ah, holiday gift guides — it always seems to come at you fast, doesn’t it? Even though we’re still months away from the main event, there is so much work that can be done in the meantime. In fact, many editors are already starting to think about their strategies for this year’s gift guide season, and you should do the same.

Because of the increased push of SEO (search engine optimization), Sarah Gallagher, Media Director at Crowe PR, explains that brands are posting stories months ahead of the holiday season to increase the number of eyeballs (and therefore clicks) on any given story. For publicists, that means that you have to get your product links, hi-res images and information to editors sooner rather than later.

But that doesn’t mean you should jump right into pitch mode. Instead, follow these helpful PR strategies for gift guide season to prepare you for the madness to come. Here, several PR pros share their tips on what you should do today, tomorrow and in the months ahead to make for a very lucrative gift guide season.

Take stock of last year’s gift guides.

Before you start sending your pitches, take time to research all the gift guides published the year before. Keep all of your findings in one place: compile all of these links into an excel or Google Sheets, inclusive of the outlet and what editor wrote the piece. Once you've built out a good-sized list, search all of the editors by name to see if they still work at the outlet/input their email into the document,” Juliana Martins, founder of Eleven11 Media Relations, explains.

Then when you write your pitches, mention the editor’s specific gift guide where you think your products may be a fit, so they know it’s not just another mass email blast to every (and any) editor. “The great thing about this strategy is that you know these editors have already written this content before and are likely to write again, so they are warmer leads,” she continues.

Reach out to journalists ASAP.

Get ahead of the curve by reaching out to journalists now (like yesterday) to get a general idea about the timeline of their gift guide season and what kind of categories they’re pulling products for. “When reaching out in July, keep the pitch short and sweet — ask them if and when they’re working on holiday gift guides this year and mention the types of clients you represent,” Gallagher tells us. Then move ahead with targeted outreach, focused on the needs outlined in their initial email. “Based on their feedback, offer to send them additional information, as well as samples and images if you have them available.”

Have hi-res photos at the ready.

Pictures tell a thousand words, especially when it comes to gift guides. It’s simple, really: Readers are more apt to click on something or in the case of print, track down the item online if it looks as cool, life-changing and/or aesthetically pleasing as it claims to be. Early on, collect a mix of hi-res product and lifestyle shots from your client, so the editors can see the standalone product and what it looks like in action.

Adrienne Dorsey, the founder of Magnolia Public Relations, recommends that you include “300 dpi images featuring just the product (no random props or busy background) and a white or transparent background,” but throw in a mix of more designed images to please certain editors.

“Be sure to put these images into the cloud whether it be DropBox or Google Drive, allowing journalists to download what they need when they need it,” Jono Waks, founder of JonoPRO, says. When it comes time to craft your pitch, find a way to clearly state that you’ve included all the photos they need, linking out the photo-sharing platform of your choice.

Highlight the brand’s give-back initiatives (if applicable).

While the holiday gifting season is focused on money, money, money, there’s been an increased push to elevate brands that do some good. If your client donates a percentage of their annual profits to charity or uses a buy-one-give-one model (ya know, Toms donates a pair of shoes for each pair purchased), then make a point to include this in your gift guide pitches.

Dorsey suggests that you ask yourself: “Does the brand donate a portion of the gift item's proceeds to a worthy cause? Does the brand have a buy one, give one business model in place?” Not only will this help drive your brand’s values home, but it may also earn your client a spot in charity-focused gift guides or stories on brands giving back during the holiday season — a win all-around!

Figure out your product sample system.

Sending out products in a typical holiday year is difficult as it is. When you factor in the state of our world and the fact that many journalists are still working from home or moving to different locations, it becomes even more complicated for publicists to get their products in the right hands.

Before you reach peak gift guide season, have a conversation with your client about the realities of product samples. This should include what they’re willing to send out, if they intend to let editors keep the products, and how you’ll package the items (straight-forward brand packaging or something more curated).

Woks says brands can expect to send out a minimum of 30 items to various outlets throughout the season, so it’s crucial to have items put aside and ready to be shipped when the time comes. “Know that not everyone who receives a sample will run with the story but understand that touching, feeling, smelling, and tasting can be essential to whether the journalist falls in love with the product or not. While some journalists are not allowed to keep what's sent, most can and should be offered,” he says.

Also, a tip for publicists: Given the unpredictable nature of today’s times, always get permission from the editor before shipping out any products.

Encourage your clients to join an affiliate network.

There’s always a chance that brands can be an exception to the rule, but generally speaking, publishers prefer to highlight products that are part of an affiliate network. It may be a compromise for your brand, but the pay-off is huge: Even though your brand will make less money this way, it will up their chances of being included in gift guides, ultimately making up for any money lost. “If you're selling and making the outlet money, they're going to include you over and over again, giving the ongoing brand exposure possibly well beyond the holiday season,” Woks tells us.

This may be a hard reality for some clients, especially those who prefer to keep things in-house. Consider this, though: If your brand is focused on increasing awareness and inclusion, this may be the best way to introduce editors — and eventually, their readers — to your brand. While Amazon is by far the most popular affiliate site, “stores like Nordstrom, Etsy, Target and CVS have their own negotiated affiliate programs so you can piggyback on that existing relationship.”