A Pitch for All Seasons: Using the Holidays to Spread Your Message

Know what makes me an angry elf? Seeing Christmas ads or hearing music before Santa Claus passes through Herald Square at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, let alone before Halloween, lending credibility to Lucy’s assertion in A Charlie Brown Christmas that: “…Christmas is a big commercial racket. It’s run by a big eastern syndicate, you know.”

Done with discretion and good taste however, you can piggyback on the holiday spirit of their target audience without being a sellout.

Safety Tricks Turned into Placement Treats

Early in my career, I took over the public relations function at the National Crime Prevention Council on October 30. For a quick win, I sent out a hasty press release about Halloween trick or treat safety tips. Despite being late, I received over thirty placements, even more the year after when I had more time to plan and execute an effort.

Timely pitches with relevant information for spring cleaning, tax time, summer vacations, back-to-school, Halloween, Thanksgiving travel and holiday shopping became trusty tool in my arsenal, and I was rewarded with placements all year long.

Hopping on the Easter Bandwagon

Eddie Izzard’s hypothesis for the link between chocolate and Easter is “because of the color of the chocolate, and the color of the wood on the cross”, but others say that it was 19th century confectioners that made the chocolate Easter bunny a mainstay of the holiday.

A small chocolate company was able to use a real story rabbit rescue to promote a cause marketing promotion selling chocolate bunnies to support the House Rabbit Society’s Make Mine Chocolate campaign.

The owner had a great story about how she adopted a rabbit who was left in a shelter after Easter. The Make Mine Chocolate campaign educates about the responsibility of adoption, and encourages people to buy chocolate bunnies unless they can make the commitment. The two were a perfect fit. It wasn’t just a sales pitch; it was a personal story (with a cute visual), provided information that produced a tangible benefit that helped animals, all while giving both the charity and the company viability.

A Tale of Two Turkeys: One Well Done, the Other Half Baked

State Farm produced a brilliant YouTube video this Thanksgiving about the dangers of turkey fryers starring William Shatner.

The video effectively conveyed the message that turkey fryers are dangerous while at the same time providing tips if someone does want to use one in a humorous and interesting way.

Compare it to this Underwriters Laboratories video tweeted by the Department of Homeland Security:

Completely opposite effect by lecturing their target audience with a stodgy old white guy in a hard hat.

The Bottom Line

Here are my holiday pitching tips whether you’re pitching a reporter or marketing to a customer:

  1. Make your list and check it twice. Research your target audience. Determine which media outlets they’re likely to hear see your message in. Then research the editorial calendar of those outlets. Long-lead magazines plan their holiday issues in late summer whereas a daily newspapers, radio and television shows may start thinking of it a week or two before Thanksgiving. A second pitch right before the holiday may work with outlets with a short news cycle. To cut through the cutter, make sure your pitch is going to people who will be interested. It’s okay to send pitches to general assignment editors and reporters who cover the topic you’re pitching, but sending a fashion reporter a pitch about a new electronic gadget will make you look bad.
  2. Be positive. The only preaching I want to hear around the holidays is at church. While the State Farm turkey fryer video went viral, the Underwriters Laboratories video and DHS were mocked by the media.
  3. Keep the “isms” to a minimum. As Alfred the janitor in Miracle on 34th Street bemoans: “Yeah, there’s a lot of bad ‘isms’ floatin’ around this world, but one of the worst is commercialism.” Remember that you are not the reason for the season. Make your pitch about your audience’s needs as they relate to the holiday without making it blatantly about you.
  4. Stay off the naughty list. The 12 Days of Christmas is fun to sing, few of us want to be bombarded with twelve days of pitches. I’ve unsubscribed from retailers’ email lists who started emailing me every day, even twice a day. Think about what reporters endure during the holidays. Thousands of people just like you pitching them every day, so judicious with your outreach. Contact them a reasonable amount of time before their probable deadline based on their news cycle. Follow up by phone if you don’t hear anything. Maybe send one last Hail Mary attempt towards the end of the cycle. Don’t alienate them with an email or leave a message every day though.

Other Opinions on Holiday Pitches:

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