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What do Halloween, the winter holidays, and the Fourth of July have in common? For PR pros, these times of the year represent not only a festive season, but more importantly a competitive, short, and oversaturated pitching landscape.
There are few things in the PR world worse than going to pitch to a top-tier outlet and finding out that their editorial calendar is full or that similar content has been placed by the publisher before yours. At Fractl, we’ve executed Halloween, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s holiday campaigns on behalf of our clients for the past 6 years. What have we learned?
Read on and avoid these three mistakes to ensure that all your holiday campaigns will succeed.
Lesson 1: Prepare Your Campaign Well in Advance
We’ve heard this lesson loud and clear in one instance when promoting one of our clients’ holiday “gadget” gift guides. Even though the writer over at SimpleMost loved our pitch, she knew her editor wasn’t going to have time to read through the pitch and assign it out.
“Unfortunately, it takes a while—sometimes a month or more—for editors to go through story pitches, so I will not be able to write this in time. If you ever have any other less timely stories, however, please feel free to send them my way!”
Holiday campaigns with a minimum of three to four weeks in active outreach before the actual holiday are more likely to succeed. Most major online publications already have a full content calendar during the holidays. If by chance your pitch piques their interest and there is room for your story, journalists still need time to read the pitch, find their angle for it, pitch their own editor the idea, get approval, and then go through multiple drafts before actually publishing the article.
In addition, any extra time you spend beforehand creating the campaign and developing the pitch strategy will ensure the highest-quality content is delivered to potential publications while the holiday is still relevant. The time spent strategizing, list-building, pitch writing, and content writing is crucial to the success of holiday content.
If you’re still unsure when to begin pitching your holiday content, ask a writer or editor how much lead time they need when receiving a pitch. Amanda Cargill, food content director at The Latin Kitchen told mediabistro that “pitching online only requires about six weeks lead time. Four could work, but the writer has to be able to write it in that time, and promote it.”
You can also consult the publication’s editorial calendar directly. Most print and online publications include an editorial calendar in their media kit. For example, the Men’s Health’s media kit clearly states that the theme for their December coverage is tech and gear. Have a tech-themed holiday gift guide you’re hoping to get featured on Men’s Health? Late November would be the time to pitch it!
Content Marketers are aware of major holidays on the calendar, yet we’re usually pushing to produce a holiday campaign just weeks before the holiday. Others might miss out on links and coverage by getting a late start. With a clear plan in mind and a focus on preparedness, your content has the potential to be one of the first holiday content campaigns that a publisher sees.
Lesson 2: Appeal to the Masses By Including Regional Data
Regional data that is broken down by state or city is always a great way to help holiday campaigns succeed. Across the board, campaigns with some regional aspect earned more do-follows and total press mentions than campaigns lacking in a regional angle.
So, why did our campaigns perform better when they had some regional appeal to them? Having regional data allows you to send pitches at a highly efficient rate. Once the exclusive has been secured and published on a top-tier website, having a regional strategy in place is a quick and efficient way to blast your campaign to relevant audiences. In one instance, our team secured the exclusive to a Halloween campaign on Mashable at the last minute. Within 48 hours, we were able to send over 500 tailored and targeted pitches to regional publications across the U.S. This resulted in a total of 70 dofollow links and 126 total pickups—all on a time crunch.
We also heard this idea reflected back in some feedback from an editor at a regional newspaper:
“I took a quick look at the story and would be interested in doing a local story that uses some or all of your graphics and data. The more specific information you have, the better — particularly you have any data specific to the state of Tennessee or the west TN region, [and] the greater Memphis area.”
In situations like these, it pays to be able to comb your dataset for regional data that you can offer to smaller publications when the situation arises. Say the exclusive you placed didn’t earn as many engagements as you hoped. Being able to fall back on the regional aspect of a campaign can take performance to the next level.
Lesson 3: Highlight Unique and Newsworthy Stories
Content marketers need to realize that there are only so many viral holiday ideas you can produce—you can’t bank on being the first to produce an idea, especially when the success of your campaign is limited to a few weeks. We realized this at Fractl when we received this piece of feedback from a writer at SheKnows:
“We actually ran a very similar story in our food vertical last week, so we’re going to have to pass. But thanks for thinking of us!”
Focus on producing something with a truly unique and noteworthy methodology in future newsjacking or holiday campaigns. This will help it stand out as well as potentially add an evergreen variable.
In our case, miraculously, we were able to spin an over-covered topic to our benefit. A similar Halloween campaign to our client’s went viral about 2 days before our content was ready. Our topic was the same, but their methodology was different. We rewrote our outreach pitch to highlight what made ours unique and sent pitches to all the people who covered the other project. Once we explained that our methodology was different and highlighted our original findings, the performance of the campaign exceeded our client’s expectations. Phew!
How can I come up with unique holiday ideas? Everything has already been done.
Sure, it’s easy to say you will generate unique content, but what does that actually look like? How can a team come up with ideas that are both relevant to the holiday and haven’t been done before? It’s hard, but it’s not impossible.
Here’s an example. Say your client wants to come out with a holiday gift guide. Your team might be thinking, “oh no, not another gift guide. The internet is already saturated in gift guides! How can we stand out?”
A quick Google search for “best holiday gift guide” churns out 473,000,000 results. When you analyze the keyword in Buzzsumo from only the last two years, there are 42 pages of related articles. Everyone from the New York Times to Buzzfeed to Prevention to BroBible are covering the best holiday gifts.
But, is anyone covering the “worst”? What happens when you search in Google for “worst holiday gift guide”? There are far fewer results—about a tenth of the results—coming in at 43,800,000.
And results in Buzzsumo? Nonexistent.
See where I’m going here? Take a risk, and put a unique spin on topics that have been covered before, and reap the rewards. Hannah Agran, senior food editor of Midwest Living told mediabistro that for holiday content, the “challenge is to hit those key visual and topical notes without repeating the same stories we did two years ago.”
Build out a list of topics that have been covered by the publisher during last year’s coverage. Is there any way you can update a story they wrote with new data, or put a spin on a recurring topic (i.e. gift guides)? If you’re still struggling to come up with a unique hook for your holiday campaign, check out 98 Ways to Find Inspiration for Content Ideas.
During active outreach of your holiday campaign, it’s important to listen to how journalists and editors reply to your pitch. Not only is publisher feedback valuable for calculating open, click, and response rate, it’s also incredibly useful information to use to optimize to your content creation and promotion process. All three lessons we learned above were highlighted by publisher feedback we received with pitching a campaign. These conversations can also be a starting point to build a relationship, which is what media relations is all about.
When thinking about holiday content marketing strategies, it’s important to consider these three overarching factors. Calendar awareness, mass-appeal, and newsworthy content are all equally important when planning and promoting your holiday content. Without proper time, a unique angle, or regional data, your campaign your campaign may fail to have a healthy promotions report, if one at all.