14 Feb 2014

When Should You Roll Out Your Holiday PR and Marketing Strategy?

Every year it seems like we start planning for an upcoming holiday earlier than the last. Walk into a grocery store today, and you’ll already see Cadbury Eggs lining the shelves despite it being mid-February. (Don’t get me wrong, I could eat Cadbury Eggs any day of the year.) As public relations and marketing professionals, how early is too early to start rolling out holiday strategies and when is it not early enough?

Let’s start first with the holiday we’re celebrating today: Valentine’s Day. We turned to our friend Google Trends to do a search over the past four years (2011-2014) to see when there was a visible uptick in searches for Valentine’s Day. Let’s take a look:

Valentine's Day Searches

You’ll see that the timing has been pretty steady since 2011; things start to pick up right around the last week of January – three weeks before the actual holiday takes place. A quick Google news scan reflects that stories do indeed start popping up in January: CNET wrote about how the Zodiac might affect Valentine’s Day gifts; the Today Show featured Valentine’s Day hotel packages and the Wall Street Journal wrote a story on how to avoid Valentine’s Day hordes at restaurants.

Let’s look at St. Patrick’s Day next:

St. Patrick's Day Searches

Though some might argue St. Patrick’s Day is a lesser holiday than Valentine’s Day – beer drinkers aside – people actually start to pay attention to St. Patty’s Day almost a month out – a few weeks earlier than others do for Valentine’s Day. We checked on the news side of the house, and sure enough sites like BuzzFeed were publishing St. Patrick’s Day content as early as February 22 last year.

How about Mother’s Day?

Mother's Day Searches

This is slightly more interesting because you see an early bump around the end of February/early March before really picking up speed about a month before Mother’s Day in early May. A quick search shows that publications like Real Simple begin running Mother’s Day gift ideas as early as the end of February.  Mother’s Day is a big gift guide holiday, which is why you see those early bumps. Gift guides tend to be delivered sooner than, say, the week of the holiday to give people time to shop. Outside of that, people really start searching again about a month before Mother’s Day.

As you can see, if you’re not rolling out your PR and marketing holiday strategies prior to the actual holiday, you’re falling behind the pack (real-time marketing aside). How can you plan and prepare for incorporating holidays into your plans? Here are three quick tips.

Plan in Advance
After seeing the ramp-up to holidays, this first one should be a no-brainer. As PR and marketing professionals, we often break up our plans in 90-day segments to keep things fresh. We bake holiday strategies into those plans. The earlier you plan, the more time you’ll have to prepare the content you need to be ready to go when the time comes. It’s safe to say with any niche holiday like the ones listed above, you’ll want to be ready to roll out content and pitching efforts 3-6 weeks in advance.

If your strategy includes pitching bigger pieces like gift guides, this timeline increases significantly. You’ll want to reach out to magazines at least six months in advance in order to be included. Creating the content that goes behind this type of pitching will require a time investment to get it right, but the pay-off could be a great hit in an important publication.

Dare to Be Different
A lot of brands like to take advantage of the fact that it’s a holiday. It creates an opportunity to connect with your audiences in fun, engaging ways. The way to absolutely stand out is to stray from the cliché. It’s easy to create a Valentine from your company or tweet recipes for Memorial Day cookouts. What can you do to really draw attention? For example, this Valentine’s Day PayPal is offering a free poem service where you can chat live with a poet who will help create a poem for your special someone (think Joaquin Phoenix in the movie Her, but with poems). Or how about Coca-Cola’s Valentine campaign? They went beyond the 2D campaigns and had Coke cans literally drop from the sky.

Don’t settle for the easy wins. Challenge yourself to offer up something useful and clever that will draw people to your brand.

Don’t Forget About Real-Time Marketing, but Don’t Rely On Real-Time Marketing
Real-time marketing has been the talk of the town. Ever since Oreo graced us with the ultimate real-time marketing moment during last year’s Super Bowl, brands have aimed to be the next real-time champ. Lately there has been a lot of eye-rolling as some feel this tactic has jumped the shark; however, done right, it can still be successful. In the past, we’ve shared a few ways to prepare for real-time marketing, and those points apply to a holiday planning strategy as well. It’s important to have appropriate content ready to go, but it’s equally as important to be monitoring throughout the day to truly capitalize in the real-time aspects. It’s also important not to over-do any tactic and rely soley on real-time marketing as your holiday strategy. While it can be a success, there is a chance an opportunity simply won’t present itself in a way you anticipate. Prepare but use your best judgment.

Holidays offer new ways to connect with consumers on a personal level. It might not make sense for all brands to participate in holiday marketing, but for those that it does, having everything prepped and ready to roll will help ensure success.

What advice do you have for marketing around holidays?

Amanda Grinavich
Marketing Analyst

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  1. […] Amanda Grinavich is a marketing analyst. A version of this article originally appeared on the Shift Communications blog. […]