As every worthwhile PR person knows, holiday gift guides are highly valuable targets when pursuing earned media coverage for clients offering a consumer-facing product or service. The audiences you're trying to reach are ready to buy, and the editors and producers are looking for products and services to demonstrate, highlight, and recommend.
The end-of-year holiday gift guides are the most prominent and influential; however, worthwhile gift guide opportunities exist throughout the year. The big ones are Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, and Graduation Day.
We went ahead and spoke with some veteran journalists who conveyed some practical advice on the topic.
We learned the following tips:
- Don't send unsolicited products and samples, especially large items
- Do try to get your submission approved before sending as it's pretty much a waste of time, effort, and merchandise to send unsolicited samples.
- Don't fixate on the end-of-year lists.
For this post, I interviewed the following people:
- Steve Mazzucchi, managing editor at MadeMan.com
- David Moye, columnist at The Huffington Post
- April Neale, managing editor at Monsters and Critics
What are the top two or three items that you constantly get pitched every year… despite the fact that they're wildly off the mark for your audience?
Mazzucchi: I'll come at this a different way. The holidays are one of three times during the year, the others being Valentine's Day and Mother's Day, when I'll actually consider women's products. But being pitched them the entire year is pretty annoying. It's like people have never been to the website or looked at the name, which has the word "Man" in it.
Moye: I only do weird gift ideas. That being said, the lamest most consistently non-weird item I constantly get is some sort of themed T-shirt. I guess it's too easy to put some kind of pic or design that tries to be weird on a T-shirt. Ugly Christmas sweaters have been a "thing" for a while. These things also seem to come in trends. For example, last Father's Day, there was a lot of bacon and bacon-themed stuff coming in.
Neale: Hair extensions, plastic surgery/surgeons who invent hair loss potions, wigs, and plus-sized lingerie pitches. We don't really cover any of this... and they are flooding my inbox constantly.
What are your favorite samples/demo items to receive in the mail?
Mazzucchi: Much like George Thorogood, I love bourbon, Scotch, and beer. Also, I love headphones, sunglasses, shoes, clothes, and outdoor sports products.
Moye: By the time a PR rep sends me a product, I've pre-approved it via photo, and so I already know it's probably going to work for my column. That being said I, similar to Mr. Thorogood, play guitar. So I do enjoy it when I get unique guitars and guitar-related items.
Neale: Monsters and Critics always love to celebrate the made-in-USA, organic and smaller businesses, artisan distilleries, bakeries, cheese-makers, fashion, you name it... We love to receive any samples of items made from these kinds of businesses that are small but make a fantastic product and deserve to have a big spotlight on them.
Also, wines and spirits are always appreciated, as we make recipes in our kitchen and photograph drinks we make ourselves and always try to accompany every alcohol item post with paired recipes and backgrounder information on the who, what, and whys of the makers.
What are you and your office mates' least favorite samples/demo items to receive in the mail?
Mazzucchi: Anything incredibly cumbersome with little or no value. I don't want to name names, but I was once sent a giant artificial Christmas tree shaped like a cactus. It got my attention, sure, but not necessarily in a good way.
Moye: As mentioned, I pre-approve by email most of the items, which really winnows down the items that I can't use and don't want. One major letdown is when I get some sort of technology gift and it doesn't work. Or it works, but I have to spend hours of my time on tech support. It's also worth adding that I generally don't like when PR sends me any package containing anything that melts easily.
Neale: Anything useless. I was recently sent a foundation-application machine; a battery-powered make applier that touted it was the fasted best way to apply face make-up. Totally was not at ALL faster... and a useless expensive item. I was sent powdered hair color that had consumer complaints about burns on scalps... and the items that come thrown in bags loose and usually broken by the time they get to me. Anything for nail art. A small run or one week supply of vitamins, a bottle of magic juice or something claiming to make you lose weight.
When is the earliest you've ever received a pitch for a holiday gift guide?
Mazzucchi: Mid-summer, which when I worked for magazines was good timing. These days, I tell them to check back with me in November.
Moye: When I get pitched the right items, it's fine if it's really early. Sometimes, I'll consider a pitch for a Father's Day gift guide, but I'll decide that it works better for the Christmas gift guide, so that would be June time frame.
Neale: People begin usually by June. It's a competitive season, and everyone wants ink for their clients. We don't love everything, as you can tell by my previous answer.
Have you ever declined or ignored a pitch, then kicked yourself when a competitor covered? If yes, please give details.
Mazzucchi: Nope. I try to keep a really open mind, and at least look at everything I am pitched. Sometimes, six months or a year pass before I cover it, based on some sort of news hook that surfaces. That's a nice luxury I have with a website that you don't normally have in the print world.
Moye: I did regret not covering a product once, it was a toilet-seat related item, but the founder of the company wouldn't or couldn't send me a high-res photo; he just wanted me to run the URL for the company's website. But I've moved on. As you can probably discern from the previous sentence, what I do cover is pretty unique, so I'm not too concerned with what other journalists and writers cover.
Neale: That has never happened honestly. I don't have time to "see" and analyze the what and whys of my competitors, especially what they are doing for holiday coverage, I don't play follow the leader with our content, and it's worked well for us; our audience is very smart, a little older and worldly.