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Setting Your Brand Up To Land Holiday Gift Guide Placements

August 11, 2022
August 11, 2022
Ekaterina Shevchenko via Unsplash

Q4 can be make-or-break for beauty brands—the busy holiday season, including gift shopping and Black Friday sales, can often give companies a much-needed sales boost at the end of the year.

Summer is the time to ensure your Q4 media outreach strategy is in place. While July and August have most of us relaxing on the beach and soaking in the summer sun, those in the PR and media space are preparing for the key holiday gift guide season. I am the founder of the boutique PR and communications agency VLIV Communications, and my team and I start preparing our fashion, beauty, wellness, and lifestyle clients for holiday gift guide outreach during the summer months.

Prior to launching VLIV in 2021, I ran a small PR consultancy for emerging beauty, lifestyle, and wellness brands. Many were the perfect fit for the coveted holiday gift guides. While earlier days saw print placements reigning supreme (with placements in now-defunct print outlets like Shape, InStyle, and O, The Oprah Magazine driving mega awareness and traffic), today’s digital landscape also provides ample opportunity for brands to boost sales and market share in highly trafficked holiday gift guide features.

Brands see incredible success from digital placements in outlets like Bustle, Refinery29, and BuzzFeed, which can help drive traffic and sales, and also provide that coveted “As Seen In” stamp for possible retail accounts and investors.

June and July are key months for print coverage preparation and outreach, as those outlets have a longer lead time. As we’re already mid-July and a bit late in the game for print, brands should prioritize equally impactful digital outlets for holiday coverage. That said, there are some last-minute tricks brands can use to optimize chances of securing print coverage that I’ll discuss below.

If brands spend the rest of the summer finalizing holiday offerings and assets, their PR team will be far better equipped to meet deadlines and land holiday coverage in key online outlets. 

Below, I’ve detailed some of the key timelines, assets, and offerings beauty and personal care brands need to keep in mind if holiday gift guide coverage is important to their overall media strategy, with input from trusted beauty and personal care publicists.

Ensure Assets Are Solidified in Time

Many PR agencies encourage their clients to focus primarily on digital and short-lead media, as opposed to monthly print long-lead media. But for brands that do go after those coveted print publications? PR professionals recommend having all assets finalized, including imagery, samples, and pricing, by early July. 

“We work with a number of beauty and lifestyle brands on holiday gift guide preparation. As a rule of thumb, we ask for all assets, content, and promotions no later than the first week of July,” says Brittanie Price, founder of BCENE PR, an award-winning bicoastal communications agency dedicated to growing national beauty, health, and wellness brands. “If we secure samples, photos, and pricing by June/July then we have a much better chance of coverage. In our experience, a long-lead story is pitched 6-9 months in advance (although I had one Hearst editor tell me she was planning content for 2023 right now) and short lead is usually pitched 2-3 months out. However, we tend to pitch sooner rather than later to guarantee the most success.”

Aimee Majoros, founder of Aimee Is Beauty, a full-service branding and public relations agency, agrees with that timeline. “Long-lead print media outlets are few and far between these days, but they are sought after by clients,” says Majoros. “You must have all digital assets and product samples ready by July 1 at the absolute latest.”

We’re already in mid-July, so brands who don’t have assets solidified right now may have missed some long-lead deadlines or, at best, are cutting it close. That said, there are still workarounds for brands who are keen on going after print holiday coverage. Some outlets haven’t closed their gift guides just yet, but will have a hard close by mid-August.

Brands should prioritize getting samples, photographs, and pricing imagery to their PR agencies ASAP to enhance chances for success. Be prepared that samples may need to be overnighted, hi-res imagery may have to be sent immediately, and fact checks completed within hours. Requests at this point are time-sensitive—meeting editors’ deadlines needs to be a priority.

Some other ways to land November/December print coverage at this point?

  • Target regional outlets: Many regional print glossies tend to have later deadlines than national outlets. Regional publications in larger markets can be ideal for brands who want to boost traffic to a specific regional retailer or who have a strong tie to that city.
  • Go after stories outside of gift guides: While getting that coveted gift guide placement can be a major brand builder, getting any type of coverage in a December issue can still provide a great benefit to brands. Gift guides have earlier deadlines than other stories, meaning that August and September are a great time to pitch those “getting holiday ready” stories—makeup, skincare, fragrance, personal care products, etc., to get through the holidays with ease.
  • Be nimble: If you’re able to tweak your pricing for certain items, be sure to let your PR team know. We often get urgent requests from editors—if you can change your $27 product to $24.99, your PR team might be able to land a last-minute placement for a “Gifts Under $25” story. Timing is of the essence, so be clear with your PR team upfront on the lengths you’re willing to go to secure placements.

As for the digital outlets with a shorter lead time? Brands still need to be prepared in the summer to ensure their PR agency is prepared.

“For short lead / digital, we typically start prepping in August and pitching in September and October,” says Samantha Slaven, founder of samantha slaven publicity.  “Before we pitch, we ensure we have great images, links to purchase, and sufficient samples on hand to immediately fulfill any requests.”

That said, even if brands are running behind schedule, they can still be considered for opportunities. “We pitch short-lead holiday stories from September all the way through November,” says Majoros.

The rule of thumb is the earlier the better, but keep your PR agency in the loop as we can be flexible and make adjustments to our pitching timeline as needed.

“We're hearing from industry insiders that this year is critical for affiliate marketing. According to the latest reports, consumer spending is down, and big-box retailers are overflowing with inventory."
By Brittanie Price, founder, BCENE PR

The Necessary Assets

As for what assets brands need to keep in mind when developing their holiday offerings? Stunning imagery, samples for seeding, affiliate programs, and editorial-friendly pricing.

“Product roundups and gift guides now take shape as listicles and swipe-through photo galleries. The best investment is a solid studio session and a well-thought-out shot list,” says Price. Brands should invest in both product shots on a flat white background and lifestyle imagery of your product in use, she advises.

Price notes, and I’ve also seen, that for print publications, a flat product shot on a white background is absolutely crucial. I’ve encountered many publications that have cut their photography budgets, and prefer that brands send their own photography that can seamlessly fit into the rest of the editorial. This means no shadowing, no color cast, but just the product itself on a white background.

Lifestyle shots can be vital for digital outlets. While many do also prefer flat shots, some outlets prefer photography that aligns with their aesthetic, which can include shots of the product in use. Holiday-themed imagery can sometimes do well, though it’s important that it not be too kitschy. Even if the outlet doesn’t publish the lifestyle photography, publicists find it useful for pitching purposes, as it can give more life and interest to the product.

While planning out gift guide offerings, pricing matters—but keep in mind that both high-end and inexpensive products can do well depending on the publication. Luxury outlets will gravitate towards an ultra-luxe and exclusive offering, while more service-oriented outlets will prefer products under select price ranges. Price notes that “stocking stuffers under $25” is always a great hook, while high-end/luxury home goods and fragrances are ideal for the opposite end of the spectrum.

“Holiday gift guides are usually organized by price point (under $25, under $50, under $100). We find it helpful to include the pricing category within the subject line or the first few sentences of the email,” says Price. “I can't tell you how many times we've been included in last-minute roundups because an editor needs a couple more options and searches their email for ‘gifts under $50.’”

Price also likes to give editors an idea of who would appreciate the gift. “Fan favorites include the sister who has absolutely everything, the MIL who is impossible to shop for, the awkward white elephant gift exchange, etc.,” she says.

Samples are also crucial according to both Slaven and Price, with both advising that not having press samples on hand can lead to missed opportunities.  “While most editors only call in samples if they are considering a product, it's best to prepare early rather than miss an opportunity,” says Price.

Slaven also recommends that brands have live links to their e-commerce page established. “Even if the product/collection hasn’t launched yet, some sort of ‘coming soon’ landing page is essential,” she says.

Affiliate Marketing Is Crucial for Gift Guide Success

If the e-commerce site isn’t on an affiliate platform, or the brand isn’t carried at a larger retailer (Amazon, Target, Nordstrom, etc.) their chances of coverage in holiday gift guide stories are sadly slim to none. “True story: some publications won’t touch your product unless there’s a chance of commission,” says Price. “So get in on the game and sign up for a few affiliate networks.”

With revenue from advertising down, most outlets make money by monetizing product sales through brands they feature. Well-known affiliate platforms include Rakuten, ShareASale, and Impact—while the setup can be a bit tricky, once brands are established it’s usually smooth sailing.

At VLIV, we strongly recommend that all product-based clients, whether they’re seeking gift guide coverage or not, set themselves up on an affiliate before undergoing any media outreach. Brands that are not on an affiliate see far less success in the product-based and commerce stories.

Slaven agrees, saying, “An affiliate platform is always key! We won’t sign product-based brands that have e-commerce but aren’t on one.”

Price also highly advises all brands seeking editorial coverage to integrate an affiliate marketing strategy.

“If your PR agency is not encouraging and advising your brand on affiliate marketing, run, don't walk, away,” says Price. “We're hearing from industry insiders that this year is critical for affiliate marketing. According to the latest reports, consumer spending is down, and big-box retailers are overflowing with inventory. If you're a DTC CPG or luxury beauty product, it's time to raise your affiliate commissions and be willing to negotiate publication commissions.”

“I haven't seen supplements, personal care, or wellness-focused beauty really shine during holiday unless the SKUs are uber customizable/personalized and truly special.”
By Brittanie Price, founder, BCENE PR

Not Every Beauty Product Makes a Good Gift

An anti-aging skincare product is not a gift. Deodorant is not a gift. And a tube of toothpaste is not a gift!  In my years of experience pitching brands for holiday gift guides, we’ve seen what has and has not garnered traction with editors. Skincare rarely does well, unless it’s packaged in a gift set and has a broad appeal (think hydrating face masks and beautiful bar soaps), but it’s rare that publications will include it. One-off makeup products (e.g., one tube of lip gloss, a mascara, etc.) don’t tend to perform well either.

“No matter how much clients want shampoo and eye cream to be in gift guides, it won't happen,” says Majoros. “Shampoo is not a gift! And certainly acne products or a hair loss product kit are not gifts anyone would want to receive, so no one should expect these to be attractive to editors planning gift guides.”

And supplements? Wait until after the new year, says Price. “I haven't seen supplements, personal care, or wellness-focused beauty really shine during holiday unless the SKUs are uber customizable/personalized and truly special,” she says. “Wellness, health, and personal care are typically saved for coverage after the new year.”

For gift guide coverage, editors want items that are special, unique, and beautiful. They need to have an element of desirability and boldness to pop off the screen or page, and have readers be enticed to buy it. We’ve seen clients garner traction with uniquely packaged solid perfumes, useful yet aesthetically pleasing devices, and holiday-themed home products.

Majoros has seen similar success. “Items that have been ultra successful at being featured in gift guides include beautiful boxed candles, luxury French soaps with graphic packaging, and gift sets that feature a variety of options,” she says. “If you have a gift set or kit, it must be packaged beautifully and purposefully to look like a gift—it should be something that doesn't need to be wrapped. A ‘bundle’ of products that doesn't come in special gift packaging is not going to be featured in a gift guide.”

Slaven also sees personalized products seeing success, and notes that anything being pitched for holiday should be interesting and something the recipient actually wants to receive. “Anything personalized seems to do well, as well as the usual self-care and personal care gift sets with broad appeal,” says Slaven. “We don’t pitch treatment-oriented skincare, apparel, or footwear as gifts but will pitch select fashion accessories if they’re super giftable and fun.”

Price notes that special holiday collections, customizable gifts, and uber-cute white elephant gifts also do well with editors. “I encourage brands to think collectible rather than kitschy for holiday,” she advises. “For example, one of the brands we work with has dedicated holiday fragrances that are released every year, which fares well with beauty teams.”

Price also says that a well-done limited-edition advent calendar or dedicated holiday collection can work wonders with editorial teams, but brands need to be mindful of the long production lead time (usually 9-12 months). “Some of the best limited-edition products leverage exclusive partnerships,” she says. “Fenty Beauty, for example, is notorious for launching stellar partnerships right before the holidays, i.e., Riot Games or the GlossyBox Limited Edition.”

If brands are unable to launch something completely new for holiday, all hope is not lost. Price says that it’s understandable if it’s not always feasible, and there are workarounds. “Launching holiday collections requires quite a bit of planning, product innovation, and managing the supply chain issues—so if that's not always possible, we work with brands on repackaging and bundling up bestsellers and creating holiday gift packages,” she says.

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