As the holiday season kicks into high gear, companies are using multiple media channels to communicate their brand messages during the busiest shopping time on the calendar. Take United Parcel Service (UPS), which is adding up to 95,000 workers to deal with a surge in demand. Some of those workers will be in the customer service group to take care of consumers’ concerns via social media and online chats.
“We’re creating more platforms and more online channels to get customers information in the most simplified ways,” said Susan Rosenberg, UPS public relations director. “We’re using these platforms to improve customer service. That means we’re training our people who provide support as well as those who make the deliveries during the seasonal spike.”
Using social channels to communicate more directly with customers—and prevent any possible PR dust-ups—is just one way that brands and organizations can leverage the holidays to get their essential brand message out.
As UPS’ move indicates, companies that align their brand with the holidays have to be careful to keep the focus on their products and services.
This messaging approach also speaks to the growing role that social media is playing in helping brands leverage peak engagement times.
For example, Uniqlo, the apparel company catering to men, women and children, is launching an Instagram campaign later this month. The campaign, titled Give Color, which runs through late December, will ask fans to style their own #GiveColor color board images. Fans can pick their favorite color and create an Instagram image composed of items in just that one color, for a chance to win a $100 Uniqlo shopping spree.
“There are so many different types of people that make up your audience these days,” said Mae Karwowski, CEO of Obviously Social, which is working with Uniqlo on the Instagram campaign. “You’re walking a fine line between not wanting to alienate consumers and saying something of value about the holidays other than ‘Yeah!’ You want to make sure you have a message that reflects what the brand is all about while not getting too specific about any individual holiday.”
In an increasingly diverse culture, it behooves PR managers to align their brands with the universal elements of the holidays: reconnecting with family and friends or taking a break from the day-to-day travails.
On behalf of its client Traditional Medicinals Tea, the branding and design agency Sterling Becker created packaging for a series of holiday tea products, including Holly Jolly Ginger Aid, Nighty Night before Christmas and Peace on Earth Peppermint.
“You have to do something that’s bold, because the product is going to sit on the shelf for a month,” said Philippe Becker, chief creative officer of Sterling Becker. “It’s an opportunity to do something different, and create a ‘giftable’ story. It’s less about the brand and more about the holidays.”
CHRISTMAS IN JUNE
The onus is on PR managers to get a jumpstart on the holidays and anticipate consumer trends. In June, SHIFT Communications (NY) hosted an consumer technology showcase for reporters and editors looking for material to feature in their holiday gift guides.
Companies such as Lionel Trains, which is making a big push into digital gaming and online media, WeGo fitness trackers, which markets wearable technology, and Toyota, which wanted to tout several features of its Camry line, showed off their wares to reporters from Men’s Fitness, Men’s Health, Wired and other major media brands.
“It helped us maximize our clients’ visibility for the entire year,” said Alan Marcus, New York office lead at SHIFT, adding that the PR agency is planning on running a similar program in 2015.
“It’s about planning and figuring out which media to work with, and for many national publications they’re already thinking about the holiday season during the summer,” Marcus said. “So if you want your clients’ products in a holiday gift guide, you need at least four months to six months lead time.”
THE LONG TAIL
Hosting live events—well ahead of the designated time—is one way to align your brand or organization with the holidays.
Search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search can also stretch a seasonal message, not to mention your PR budget.
“If you’re going to create fun content for the holidays, then you have to think more holistically about the content because it doesn’t exist solely on your website or social channels,” said Kevin Lee, CEO of Didit, a digital marketing agency. “Of course you want those pages to be shared and you want to promote them. But if your SEO team knows how to take advantage of links, that can be useful to reuse and reactivate your investment. You won’t have to put out [as many dollars] the next year because you’ve already got an SEO component.”
This can only work, however, in an integrated fashion. “The time for siloed thinking is over,” Lee added. “Despite the fact that your CMO won’t be around in two years, you have to think long-term about how to leverage the holidays and reap the benefits of your investment. You don’t get any long-term benefits thinking in siloes.”
Sidebar: 3 PR Tips for How to Leverage the Holidays
▶ Seize the season. From eight nights of presents and seasonal songs to family feasts and long shopping lists, there are traditional aspects of the holidays that are synonymous with the season, no matter what you’re celebrating. Appearing year after year, they can seem unoriginal, but seizing the season doesn’t have to be “ho, ho, ho” hum, especially for those looking for new storytelling opportunities. Many brands have found seasonal success by taking a traditional aspect of the holidays down an untraditional path. Take Motorola (which is a client). As part of a new mobile phone launch, the company tapped into the excitement of Santa Claus to help connect families, giving them a unique chance to talk directly to the Mr. Kringle.
▶ Ignite influencers. It doesn’t take a formal media audit to reveal that gift guides, holiday recipes and entertaining ideas command a lot of this season’s coverage. If your client wants a slice of that holiday pie, the competition for even a sliver is steep. Using influencers to act as ambassadors can kick-start the conversation. And, they can do it in a deeper way, like personalizing gift recommendations to their own families and friends or giving a firsthand account of a shopping experience, all of which are ways to put your clients’ ideas into action. Their coverage can result in deeper, more personal storytelling opportunities than the typical media roundup seen in many publications this time of year.
▶ Let social conversation be your guide. When the National Pork Board (which is a client) sought to make news around Valentine’s Day for a campaign about sharing the love of pork, it took an audit of the social media space to see what people were talking about. The chatter? Bacon. The result? Bacon roses, the ultimate way to share pork love on a holiday all about love. And it didn’t just show people how to make them (though the video that did was funny and educational), but used its social listening results to identify bacon-loving editors and influencers and made personal “bacon rose” deliveries. It may be a different holiday, but the insights still apply. Pork cut through a very cluttered and competitive space because it was able to tap into what people were already talking about.
This sidebar was written by Sarah Yaffe, senior VP at Weber Shandwick. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the November 3, 2014 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.