It seems like every PR pro we asked about placing products in gift guides around the holidays employed the same quip.
Reporter: ‘What’s the most important thing about pitching a product for a holiday season gift guide?'
PR pro: ‘Do it in the summer.’
While timing plays a role, it’s just one of many steps. A campaign begins well before the PR pro sends a pitch or completes an online form for product placement in a holiday gift guide.
The first consideration is deciding that putting a product(s) in a gift guide meets a company objective.
Once that’s done, the campaign is just beginning, says Brian Lowe, president & CEO, BML PR, Florham Park, N.J.
Lowe’s next step should sound familiar: do your homework. “You want to talk to media friendlies, even un-friendlies, and find out about their gift guides’ hooks. Otherwise, you could be pitching a $100 product to a guide featuring $20 items,” he says.
Jennifer Magaña, PR division lead at Beyond Fifteen Communications of Orange County, Calif., agrees. “You want to match a highly 'gift-able' product to a hyper-targeted list of media outlets.”
She adds, “you have to do your research and truly understand who you are pitching and why.”
Similarly, Lowe advocates conducting searches and media audits as parts of the homework assignment. With so much turnover in media, odds are good that audits will ensure your media contacts are correct. On top of that, they can assess possible new gift guide deadlines.
“Use key relevant search terms based on clients’ [objectives] and knowing [which gift guide features] what,” he says. “Making phone calls, even just to general editorial desks, even people you don’t know, and trying to glean as much feedback as you can is huge.”
Phoning is particularly useful since “it feels like we have fewer conversations today,” he argues.
Moreover, homework and research have benefits beyond information gathering, Lowe says. They help build and maintain relationships with media. “You don’t want to be just one of 1,000 other people rushing [editors] with a pitch that isn't really going to be relevant for what they're working on…you want to hit the outlet’s sweet spot” for its gift guide.
Adds Magaña, “The last thing you want to do is throw a kitchen sink of products at journalists indiscriminately.”
Another benefit: “Media members will be quite appreciative” you did advance work and that you know what guide editors are looking for, Lowe says.
On top of that, while advance work requires time and resources, it’s a net time-saver for PR pros. Ultimately, you’re using resources efficiently when pitching editors you know are interested.
Experience and Timing
As the joke in our lead indicates, timing is important. Pitching about two months ahead of a guide’s deadline should get your product noticed “well ahead of the competition,” Magaña says.
In addition, it allows time for “gentle follow-ups” with your gift guide contact, “ensuring your product remains top of mind.”
For Lowe, timing also is a strategic part of his approach. It’s important that the journalist “really understand what the benefit of the product is…so you want them to have plenty of time to feel and touch it.”
As a result, “providing samples and fulfilling sample requests as early as possible can be a differentiator,” he says.
Timing also carries a practical aspect. “People send things unsolicited. So, the piles of products get pretty big,” he says. Assuming you research in June, pitching and sample-shipping can occur during the summer months. “Showing up early will usually yield the best results.”
Yet Magaña concedes pitch timing is more art than science. “You don’t want to be late to the game,” she says, “but you also don’t want to be too early and get buried in journalist inboxes.”
With certain gift guides, and during particular times of the year, competition is fierce. Magaña advises zeroing in on “one key aspect” of a gift that is “most important to the journalist/guide you’re pitching and tailoring your gift guide letter to suit that particular hook.”
As in all media pitching, calculation and creativity are important, she adds. However, for the holidays, “unique angles are imperative.”
Lowe adds that research helps “you pitch creatively…and make a product come to life.” However, it’s important you pitch “in a delicate way, not seeming like you're overstepping your bounds. But just try and inspire [journalists] a little bit, try and try and give them a little bit of suggestion on why this would be a great product… specifically for the target readership of that guide.”
It’s a relatively easy ask for PR to secure placement in a guide that’s included your products previously. Obviously, getting the attention of guides that have rejected your previous pitches is tougher, and managing expectations is an important consideration.
Pitching a guide that’s ignored your previous attempts, Magaña recommends pitching 3 to 5 products, “ideally each with a unique slant, which may encourage the journalist to re-think and reevaluate” the pitches “through an entirely different lens.”
In addition, pitching several products gives the PR pro room for approaching local, regional and mass media, Magaña says.
Homework and research again come into play when approaching an editor who doesn’t know you or your company’s products, Magaña and Lowe agree.
For example, “since you did your homework,” you know you’re approaching a guide whose audience has a demonstrated interest in the products you’re pitching, she says. As such, “you’re making a meaningful connection” for the editor and the company you represent.
“As a public relations pro, you are a supporter of both a journalist and the brands you represent equally.”
Luxury Items and Tight Budgets
Lowe shares he’s had success offering guide editors luxury and high-priced items on a return basis. “So, this is where you also have to really plan far ahead,” he says. “You want to send those out early and give an editor a chance to experience the product.”
Lowe recommends sending the product with a letter acknowledging “they have to sign, specifying they have the product for X amount of time and it needs to be returned in time so it can be lent to the next outlet.”
These returnable samples “are a great way to let editors experience expensive products without having to crush your budget.”