It can be the best time of year - so here's how to avoid your Christmas PR nightmare

Sorry to mention the C word, but Christmas is coming! Whether or not that fills your heart with cheer or despair, at least you can be prepared. Here are some top tips for getting ahead of the festive season, and more importantly making sure those Christmas parties go with a swing.

Get pitches in early

Anastasia Smith, account executive at agency Cartwright Communications, says you need to be organised: “In the run up to Christmas it’s important to get in early with magazine gift guides, spending time to actively pitch to journalist requests and invite them to visit attractions for a review ahead of the festive season. It helps to build all-important relationships early on in the year to almost guarantee coverage, keeping key journalists up to date with new product and service launches.”

Send out those samples

Smith explains why it is important to get samples out: “For our retail clients, we’ll ask journalists if they’d like to receive product samples for their Christmas beauty pages around two to three months in advance. To ensure you are pitching to the correct journalists in time for Christmas, it helps to keep on top of current features/news by buying copies of magazines and newspapers and having a read.”

Organise family features

The media loves to show families having fun at this time of year, Smith adds: “Family days out are a big request during Christmas time, what works well is inviting journalists, especially broadcast, to come and visit adventure parks for filming/recording. Interviewing staff and customers in the run up to the festivities is really nice for family Christmas pieces.”

Keep calm (and organised)

Natalie Orringe, head of marketing at media database Vuelio, says don’t let the pressure get on top of you: “Ah, it’s the most wonderful time of year – if only you weren’t under intense pressure to deliver that campaign in half time while entertaining clients and managing a team who aren’t getting much sleep. If Christmas puts your home life under pressure, it has a way more intense effect on your work. The only way to cope is to remember it’s a marathon not a sprint. Use those planning tools to get ahead of deadlines – and even say ‘no’ sometimes – so you give yourself every chance of delivering great work and enjoying the festivities."

Make Christmas start in June

Tom Hills, story director at marketing agency Wire, says it’s a bit late now, Christmas planning should start in the summer: “It’s never fun having a Christmas jingle in your head at the start of summer, but some of the best Christmas PR activity lands as early as July. I’ve seen ‘alright’ ideas generate mass coverage despite the fact they’ve been sold in on the hottest day of the year.

“Perhaps it’s the unexpectedness of it all, or the chance for journalists to have a bit of headline fun, but it works. Why do you think Selfridges is always first out with a story about its decorations going up? 

“Sure, this might seem an obvious tip, but I bet there will still be some of us still trying to prize journalists away from the annual Christmas TV Ad hysteria to read press releases come 1 December.

“So make your life a bit easier; pop some mince pies in the office microwave, dust off the Michael Bublé playlist and start brainstorming in June.”

Go to specialist Christmas events

Another fan of starting early is Courtney Rogers, founder of retail event Christmas in July: “"We talk Christmas all year round, as organisers of the Christmas in July Festival which takes place in London and New York. PROs must capitalise on this all-important season and we provide a platform for in house and PR agencies to meet multiple journalists by collaborating with other brands. We've also created more intimate PR opportunities through our Power Pitching events and have launched Food and Drink, Home and Beauty events which have just taken place, helping PROs reach the short leads in the lead up to Christmas. It's jolly fun at Christmas in July HQ"  

Check and triple check

When it comes to arranging Christmas events Jodie Brazier, comms consultant at agency TopLine Comms, advises that you leave no stone unturned: “From my experience of working in a B2B PR agency, Christmas is a great opportunity for building relationships between clients and journalists. My top tip for organising Christmas events is to make sure that you’ve triple checked everything and make it feel personal. There is no such thing as being over-prepared for a PR event. From the big things like checking the venue set up, to making sure you have everyone’s contact details in case needed on the day, to making sure you know everyone’s dietary requirements – make sure to check it all. It’s also important to make an event feel personal, the easiest way to do this is by having a very carefully constructed seating plan. For example, if you have a journalist attending the event who is interested in electric vehicles, make sure to sit them next to an electric vehicle expert.”

Work more flexibly

Aliya Vigor-Robertson, co-founder of HR specialists JourneyHR, suggests that you watch your stress levels and look after yourself: “Working in PR means that your professional life and social life often collide in the run-up to Christmas, so you’ll need to make sure you don’t burn out. It’s important to balance any work commitments with other tasks that crop up at this time of year, whether it’s seeing friends or just wrapping gifts. Achieving this healthy work-life balance is not only essential for your wellbeing, but also makes you more focused and productive at work, so your employer benefits too.

“Given all the activity that the festive season brings, you may also want to ask about the opportunity to work more flexibly, so you can spend less time commuting and more time with family. More and more companies are recognising the importance of employee wellbeing, so Christmas is the perfect time to ensure that both your personal and professional needs are being met.”

Party, party, party!

Tips for being a party star rather than a party pooper

Eat fondue

Jane Austin, founder of agency Persuasion Communications, says it is hard to keep a balance at Christmas parties, so it is important to stay in control (and, if possible, eat fondue): “I love a Christmas party, but in an era coloured by Brexit anxiety and justifiable on-going MeToo concerns in which the old-style Mad Men approach of placing heavy drinking at the epicentre of employee engagement feels increasingly out of step with today’s wider business culture, Christmas party season can be a minefield. Last year, adland even merited its own Christmas party season sexual harassment awareness campaign, courtesy of campaign group TimeTo. Aside from saving myself to really let my hair down when I’m with family and friends, I say: do grasp the chance to reinforce relationships with clients and colleagues, but keep it short and sweet. Don’t talk work excessively, or get too serious. Get merry, not pissed. And whenever the opportunity arises, eat fondue.”

Make sure someone is in charge

Tracy Nolan, co-founder, of journalist request service PressPlugs, says someone needs to be in control: “Have one seasoned senior to keep a reign on what’s happening if you have a Christmas party. It doesn’t mean being a killjoy, but the truth is business and pleasure can be a tricky balance, so having a sensible head keeping people in line is no bad thing.  After all, you are still representing the business and a mix of alcohol, clients and office politics can mean some disasters, where the repercussions could be hideous. However, not for one minute do I suggest cancelling festivities, which too many businesses have done in recent times! Handled carefully a lot of fun can be had and morale built. It needs guidelines though.”

Be drink aware

Lastly, and very importantly, Holly Pither, MD and founder of agency Tribe PR offers advice that all PROs should follow if they want to make the right impression at a PR party: “Always be two drinks behind your client!”

To end on a festive note, all that remains for us to say is: “Cheers!”