Why is this the busiest time of the year in PR?

Chances are you have a lot on your to-do list right now. Christmas shopping, parties, New Year plans to sort out … oh, and of course there’s the small matter of work. You would think that business would wind down as the end of the year approaches, but often it gears up. Peter Jacob, new business and enterprise director, EMEA at PR firm Weber Shandwick, says this can be hard on agencies: “As December approaches brands start to look at next year’s planning and the inevitable wave of briefs are issued, often to be ticked off before a client contact goes away on holiday.”

“It makes for a busy and sometimes frustrating time. How do you manage the larger volume of opportunities, at a time when your own staff are mentally on holiday or about to go and spend time with Uncle Tony and the rest of the family?”

So what are Jacob’s solutions? He says there are no easy answers, but he does offer some tips: “You could borrow Marks and Spencer’s approach and employ a raft of temporary staff to man the fort. Sadly, that’s probably impossible. Instead, agencies need to take a rigorous approach to deciding which opportunities to go for. Which ones are genuinely winnable? Which ones are part of a standard review which happens every 12 or 24 months? Do we as an agency have the ability and resources to respond?”

“If deadlines are unrealistic (I once had an RFP response due on 2 January) say so. Clients are often very understanding when you speak with them and many a time I’ve had a deadline extended. It is the season of good will after all.”

Dee Gibbs, managing director of agency Liberty Communications, says it helps to be flexible when dealing with all the unexpected projects that land at this time of year: “The key to success lies simply in utilising the team and individual skills. In other words, divide and conquer, ensuring that everyone can take on a different part of the work while one person ‘owns’ the final product. Make sure that anything sent out is proofread, sanity checked and delivered in a timely manner while meeting the client’s needs. After all, being in PR is all about being flexible and showing that whatever time of year it is, your agency is willing to go the extra mile.”

With so much work on, it is important to keep the team motivated, and well rewarded. Justine Wright, managing director at creative marketing agency Cuckoo Design, describes how everyone knuckles down and spirits are lifted in her office: “Everyone gets stuck in, traffic is closely managed and the local chippy has often fuelled an all-nighter. The extra effort is then rewarded at the end of year staff party where we all breathe a sigh of relief and let our hair down.”

Client-side case study

It’s not just the agencies that have a lot on before Christmas. Visa Europe’s Eleanor Orebi Gann, head of technology and business PR, and Mark Hooper, head of corporate PR, discuss the challenges they face:

“We’re a small comms team, with six full-time PR folk looking after 25 agencies in 37 countries across Europe. The autumn period always brings an influx of news and new initiatives, driven by the energy and enthusiasm that people bring back from their summer holidays. October is also the start of our financial year, which means we’re busy finalising local comms plans with our agencies across Europe as well as working with in-house stakeholders to make sure we’re up to speed on the announcements the business expects to make over the next few months."

“We announce our annual results in January, so November and December involve a lot of pretty heavy-duty story development and strategy. At the same time, with more than £1 in every £3 spent in the UK being spent on a Visa card, we’ve got an incredible amount of insight into consumer spending trends. We put a considerable amount of effort into our Christmas spending announcements, particularly on Mega Monday (the biggest online Christmas shopping day)."

“So, one way or another, the festive period is always a frenetic one for us. Still, we always make time for our team Christmas drinks – by the time we reach mid-December we tend to feel like we deserve a glass of mulled wine!”

Written by Daney Parker

Creative Moment Awards 2020