The Santa Cycle


The calendar is barely into Autumn. The stores are heading into December. The ever early launch of the BIG shopping season has become more than mission creep, it’s more like a policy of mutually assured deductions. The earlier the displays go up, the earlier the prices will begin to come down. The major retailers are defying traditions and older retail models to gain shoppers at any cost, on any platform. When it comes to holiday retail, there is no more Hold Your Santas.
That might be good advice for all of us in working with the media.
On the whole the pitch calendar has gone out the window.
That doesn’t mean that you should not pay attention to the production cycles of some media: magazines take weeks or months to gain placement, some television shows schedule weeks or months out in some cases, but the instant nature of the internet has changed the stable nature of story content.
When we pitch, what we’re essentially offering is content to the media. That is our commodity and we compete for space on media platforms, just like retailers compete for space on store shelves. The connection here, the store that launches and promotes early is more likely to sell to the shopper first. The store that follows, is stuck with a bunch of shelf Santas.
Don’t be a leftover shelf Santa.
On the whole there are few ‘exclusive’ pitches, stories so big, that by nature they dictate the news cycle whenever they choose to announce, ie., the iPhone 6. For all the rest, it’s a matter of trying to divine the best time to put our client out there, the retailer, the product, the initiative and hope it, like a ball on a roulette wheel, will find its slot. The challenge here is to take some of the randomness out of the process.
The best way is to increase your awareness and engagement in trends and reporting related to the space you’re pitching. It’s not a casual process anymore. To be effective it needs to be daily, if not more so.
Last year when Walmart launched early and often with products on shelf and an evolved omnichannel strategy they threw the traditional holiday shopping manual out the window. Other retailers scrambled to match. The scramble to follow also included the media coverage of retail’s critical fourth quarter. It meant that all of us with retail clients and a nice plan for placement had to rethink, and quickly.
Consider these tips on timing:
*Pay attention to your space. Watch for stories related to your subject or client and be prepared to move, if they are.
*Breaking News rules. If it relates to your story, it means you’re up. Tomorrow, it too late.
*Try to append to trending stories. They build like a tsunami. You want to ride that wave.
*When you see that trend, your moment, go aggressively. Use every channel and every connection to try to get to a point of placement.
*Drive with data. This is not so much a matter of timing, but content. Reporters on all platforms are more likely to use content pitches that contain real and researched information, especially if it’s original or self generated.
*Do not compete with a bigger story. Look at what the leading story of the day is. If the US and allies are bombing Syria, you are unlikely to get any attention. If Apple or any other 800 pound gorilla is already in the room, wait for another day.
*Turn off your scheduled releases. For success, 90% of the time you need to follow the news cycle, because it is not likely to follow you.

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