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By Jennifer Lewis

‘Tis the season for gingerbread lattes, the jingling of holiday bells, the happy sounds from cash registers ringing, and, of course, stressed parents finalizing gift ideas. The holidays are here! It’s a time of year for families to gather and for retailers’ hopes to end Q4 on a high note. While brands hope to sell through inventory and reach new audiences, many do not fully tap PR effectively, failing to recognize the crucial role of a strong PR strategy in driving festive marketing during the holiday season. PR efforts help build and maintain a brand’s image and reputation and can significantly impact a company’s sales successes during this critical time of year.

Let’s review the key ways PR contributes to a company’s marketing and sales plan during the holidays:

Storytelling: What better time of the year to pull at a consumer’s heartstrings than during the holiday season? Apple did just that during a 2013 commercial campaign featuring a teenage boy engrossed in his smartphone and seemingly ignoring the family festivities. Yet, as the story unfolds, it turns out that he was using his iPhone to capture photos and thus build memories of the family’s celebrations. This PR campaign successfully leveraged emotional storytelling to connect with consumers, encouraging viewers to find technology’s positive benefits and understand how it can bring people together during the holidays. Another example is the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, an event our agency worked on when representing the Louisiana Office of Tourism. We built our messaging around travel for post-pandemic times and welcomed Jon Batiste, a Louisiana native who rode the parade float, to join in celebrating the diverse culture of New Orleans. Both campaigns proved that any emotion, whether celebratory or moving, can resonate with audiences.

Earned Media Coverage: During the holiday season, when many Americans experience darker and colder climates, most are inclined to stay home, watch TV, and browse on smartphones and tablets. As such, businesses often have a vast captive audience that can be reached through dedicated earned media coverage. Whether reached through holiday broadcast segments, through casually browsing holiday gift guides, or scrolling through mobile device offerings, it is an excellent time for PR and marketing teams to take advantage of the holiday marketing season and work hand-in-hand with journalists to review new services or offerings, boosting brand visibility and awareness. The exposure can significantly boost sales, giving brands an advantage over competitors. In the agency’s time representing Bob Evans Farms (BEF), we sent their delicious range of dinner sides to various food reporters for holiday coverage, especially during the Thanksgiving season. This tactic was vital to getting the BEF name in front of consumers and getting extra media coverage during a pivotal season.

Crisis Management: Unsurprisingly, consumer expectations are exceptionally high during the holiday season. Businesses need to be on high alert about potential crises and have a PR team to seamlessly navigate and mitigate any such potential. Examples of crises can be as small as customer complaints about poor service or experiences, an over-promise of products, or as large as product recalls. In 2013, Target experienced a business’ worst nightmare – a data breach during the holiday season. The security hack compromised sensitive customer and financial data that impacted millions. The breach was massive in scale and resulted in panic and anger among consumers, as well as a potential lawsuit for Target, which added to the complexity of the crisis. However, Target’s PR team acted quickly, immediately acknowledging the breach and promptly issued an apology. They had their customer support team ensure that customers were assisted and provided regular updates on the situation and, over time, focused on rebuilding trust with its loyal customer base. The Target data breach serves as a stark reminder of how a crisis can unfold during the holiday season, and it underscores the importance of a swift, well-executed crisis PR response to mitigate damage to a brand’s reputation.

In the festive chaos of the holiday season, public relations can be an essential means for businesses to make an impact. Beyond the glittering decorations, PR can weave the thread of emotional storytelling and brand reputation into the tapestry of marketing. It reminds us that the holidays are not just about transactions; they’re about connections.