Are you ready for Christmas?

Wanted: Santa Claus

Put on a Santa hat and brace yourself because Christmas is coming earlier this year. Preparation, product selection, campaigns and Black Friday are now the four watchwords for a successful Christmas period.

It seems that it is never too early to prepare for Christmas – UK retailer Selfridges recently raised a few eyebrows by launching its first Christmas PR stunt, beating all the other retailers to it.

They launched their first ‘Christmas shop’ in early August, complete with Santa Claus and fake snow. It was a simple and effective stunt that mixed experiential marketing and PR knowhow.

By being first mover they secured coverage in The Guardian, Metro, Daily Mail. The ‘first mover’ Christmas angle is usually occupied by John Lewis, which launches its Christmas advert in early October and is usually met with radio discussions about the commercialisation of Christmas. Meanwhile tills and online checkouts ring in the cash.

If the annual ‘Christmas comes early’ PR stunt is clearly just a creative way to attract attention for a brand, there is a serious message here because most of the retail sector has been obsessed with Christmas for many months now and Selfridges is no exception. The trade bible The Grocer recently had a sneak peak of the Christmas range at Selfridges. According to Retail Week, Harrods is not far behind and neither is the rest of the market.

We all know why they are obsessed with Christmas. Just take a look at Google Trends and you can see just how seasonal Selfridges’ business is. The annual spike you can see is branded search in December each year with another small spike each June, which I’d guess is the summer sale. Most retailers follow this pattern.

Selfridges at Christmas

If PR people complain about planning Christmas editorials in July then try working in ecommerce – some of the guys I know working in that sector will be really sick of Santa by now. They say that they are preparing in January for their golden quarter and Christmas.

Product selection and logistics are key….

A good retailer should have a robust understanding of what products will do well at Christmas. Sure, there are old staples that sell year in and year out but each Christmas there are new products that seem to capture the zeitgeist of the moment and attract the most attention. And ‘attention’ equals footfall and visitors.

Not only must these products be available but they must be in the UK and available for journalists to test, ideally from July onwards. This sounds simple but when some retailers are working with suppliers in the Far East, this can be a major headache.

Full product details, RRP and high quality images are needed, too. Without the details it is nigh on impossible to ensure maximum penetration in competitive Christmas gift guides.

To win the PR war Christmas does start in July for real

Some of the long lead print consumer media (which are mainly men and women’s monthly magazines) have already pulled together their Christmas stories and Christmas gift guides.

Making sure that products are in the right magazines and newspapers at the right time is critical to a PR and content marketing campaign.

The long lead media also give us a tantalising idea on what products are going to be popular generally and can help shape the medium and short lead, and national newspaper, sell ins.

With every media outlet writing about Christmas at different times, embargoed Christmas announcements can go horribly wrong if not planned meticulously, especially as we are now faced with long lead media which have online offerings. No one wants to see their Christmas campaign leaked too early, ruining all your planning and any negotiated exclusives with the national media in the process.

Campaigns over products

Product marketing is essential and a basic building block of PR but it can often be the hardest thing to get right. Yet, without a good overarching campaign, retailers can concede a lot of ground to their competitors.

Just look at the Christmas advertising wars where John Lewis spends millions on its festive TV adverts even building whole campaigns around the adverts’ heroes, such as #MontyThePenguin, and hiring popular music artists to do the soundtrack with one eye on a Christmas number one.

Of course you don’t need millions of pounds to run a great Christmas campaign. A well thought through creative PR and content marketing strategy will suffice for those with more modest budgets. Social trends linked to Christmas often give the most PR mileage – and I’ve got a great budget idea for Poundland if they are reading…

Plan for Black Friday

Last year saw many retailers and etailers declaring Black Friday as the biggest one-off sales day.

Ahead of Christmas I had many discussions with digital marketers and etailers who were wondering what Black Friday was going to bring, as some felt it seemed like an American idea being forced on the UK.

Some were worried it would be a damp squib, others that it would cannibalise Christmas sales. As it turned out, British consumers lapped up Black Friday as a pre-Christmas shopping event.

This year I know that retailers are taking Black Friday very seriously and I’m seeing huge amounts of marketing spend in this area, dwarfing last year’s activity.

My gut feel is that it will be the discount retailers that will again ‘win’ Black Friday this year, while the premium brands sit back and snipe from the sidelines.

Seasonal summary…

It is never too early to think about Christmas. Not least because first mover advantage gives retailers and brands a chance to secure press coverage and attention well ahead of the conventional national narrative.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday have certainly helped marketers out because these two constructs get consumers thinking about Christmas a lot earlier than before-hand. Far from cannibalising sales most brands with an active Black Friday and Cyber Monday strategy have reported good increases in sales.

So, if you hadn’t started planning for Christmas in July like most PR people then get on the bandwagon and quickly. The good thing about PR and content marketing is that a good idea or creative campaign can be very quick to turn around so you don’t miss the boat.  An award-winning campaign just needs a smart mind rather than a multimillion pound advertising budget.

 

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About James Crawford

James Crawford is an award winning B2B and consumer PR practitioner and has worked with at some of the biggest PR agencies in the UK. He focuses on using reputation and ecommerce metrics to track the ROI of PR.