How to schedule holiday-centric marketing

Is three weeks enough lead time for St. Patrick’s Day? What’s the ideal timetable for your Mother’s Day gift guide? And is real-time marketing (a la Oreo) right for your brand?

Every year it seems like we start planning for an upcoming holiday earlier than the year before.

Walk into a grocery store today, and you’ll already see Cadbury Eggs lining the shelves despite its still being February. (Don’t get me wrong, I could eat Cadbury Eggs any day of the year.) How early is too early to start rolling out holiday PR and marketing strategies, and when is it too late?

Let’s start with a recent marketing-conducive holiday: Valentine’s Day. We turned to our friend Google Trends to do a search over the past four years (2011-2014) to see when there was a visible uptick in searches for Valentine’s Day. Let’s take a look:

You’ll see that the timing has been pretty steady since 2011; things start to pick up right around the last week of January—three weeks before the holiday itself. A quick Google news scan reflects that stories start popping up in January: CNET wrote about how the Zodiac might affect Valentine’s Day gifts; the “Today” show featured Valentine’s Day hotel packages and The Wall Street Journal wrote a story on how to avoid Valentine’s Day hordes at restaurants.

Let’s look at St. Patrick’s Day next:

Though some might argue St. Patrick’s Day is a less-popular holiday than Valentine’s Day—beer drinkers aside—people actually start to pay attention to St. Patty’s Day almost a month out, a few weeks earlier than others do for Valentine’s Day. We checked on the news side of the house; sites such as BuzzFeed were publishing St. Patrick’s Day content as early as Feb. 22 last year.

How about Mother’s Day?

This is slightly more interesting because you see an early bump around the late February/early March before really picking up speed about a month before Mother’s Day in early May. A quick search shows that publications like Real Simple begin running Mother’s Day gift ideas as early as the end of February. Mother’s Day is a big gift guide holiday, which is why you see those early bumps. Gift guides tend to be delivered sooner than the week of the holiday, in order to give people time to shop. Outside of that, people really start searching again about a month before Mother’s Day.

As you can see, if you’re not rolling out your PR and marketing holiday strategies prior to the actual holiday, you’re falling behind the pack (real-time marketing aside).

How can you plan and prepare for incorporating holidays into your plans? Here are three quick tips:

Plan far in advance

As PR and marketing professionals, we often break up our plans in 90-day segments to keep things fresh. We bake holiday strategies into those plans. The earlier you plan, the more time you’ll have to prepare the content you’ll need. It’s safe to say with any niche holiday like those listed above, you’ll want to be ready to roll out content and pitching efforts three to six weeks in advance.

If your strategy includes pitching bigger pieces like gift guides, this timeline increases significantly. You’ll want to reach out to magazines at least six months in advance in order to be included. Creating the content that goes behind this type of pitching will require a time investment to get it right, but the payoff could be a great hit in an important publication.

Dare to be different

Brands like to capitalize on holidays. It creates an opportunity to connect with audiences in fun, engaging ways. The way to stand out is to stray from the cliché.

It’s easy to create a Valentine from your company or tweet recipes for Memorial Day cookouts. What can you do to draw attention?

For example, this Valentine’s Day, PayPal offered a free poem service: You could chat live with a poet who would help create a poem for your special someone. (Think Joaquin Phoenix in the movie Her, but with poetry). Or how about Coca-Cola’s Valentine campaign? It went beyond the 2D campaigns and had Coke cans literally drop from the sky.

Don’t settle for easy wins. Offer something useful and clever that will draw people to your brand.

Don’t overdo real-time marketing

Ever since Oreo graced us with the ultimate real-time marketing moment during the 2013 Super Bowl, brands have aimed to be the next real-time champ.

Lately there has been a lot of eye-rolling as some feel this tactic has jumped the shark; however, done right, it can still be successful. We’ve shared a few ways to prepare for real-time marketing, and those points apply to a holiday planning strategy as well. It’s important to have appropriate content ready to go, but it’s equally as important to be monitoring continually to capitalize on real-time opportunities.

It’s also important not to overdo any one tactic and rely solely on real-time marketing as your exclusive holiday strategy. Though it can succeed, there is a chance an opportunity simply won’t present itself in a way you anticipate. Prepare, but use your best judgment.

Holidays offer new ways to connect with consumers on a personal level. It might not make sense for all brands to participate in holiday marketing, but for those that do, having everything prepped and ready to roll will help ensure success.

What advice do you have for holiday-specific marketing?

Amanda Grinavich is a marketing analyst. A version of this article originally appeared on the Shift Communications blog.

Topics: PR

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