A PR Christmas Carol: Silent Night or Tidings of Comfort and Joy?

December 17, 2014

As you prepare to flee the office for the extended Christmas break, spare a thought for Britain’s newspapermen and women. It may help you secure some of your best exposure of the year.

Because Christmas is a rotten time of year to be a journalist (I know from 10 years’ experience). While the rest of the country is inebriated, replete, and indolently watching The Great Escape, newspapers are frantically battling to get their Boxing Day editions off stone.

Working over Christmas isn’t the end of the world but it is the dearth of news than usually makes it such an odious task. On a busy news day, a paper writes itself. But with most of your usual sources of news lying on the sofa swigging port to the soundtrack of Silent Night, what is a hack to do? Bring out ye olde Christmas story hamper.

Like the Fortnum & Mason equivalent laden with rainy day treats for the larder, a basketful of unperishable yarns is top of every news editor’s Christmas list. This bank of stories can be drawn upon whenever there are pages to fill and little to write about.

So, if you’re in the business of pitching stories to journalists, there could not be a better time to win friends and influence people, and earn some excellent coverage at the same time.

During December, reporters are expected to find a quota of stories for the Christmas basket, alongside their usual day to day responsibilities of sourcing top quality content.

This makes for a stressful month, especially as each story must be exclusive, or embargoed for a date during the quiet period from Christmas Day to New Year’s Day.

As a reporter, I would plunder my contacts list in search of suitable offerings, including any PRs who I felt owed me a favour. And I was not alone in this approach.

So do your inky-fingered friends in the media a favour and offer them a neatly wrapped Christmas gift at the optimum moment.

If touting an exclusive, pitch as early as you can. Reporters are required to submit story ideas in the first fortnight of December and file copy before Christmas Eve, so that subeditors can create pages in advance.

The downside of an exclusive is that it will most likely generate only one piece of coverage. The upside is that the story is likely to get more column inches than at any other time of year due to skewed space-to-news ratio.

When picking an embargo date, you are hostage to other events that may dominate the news agenda. But the best guess for maximum impact this year would be midnight on December 29 when the Christmas basket is likely to have been raided, compounded by the usual pressures of Sunday production.

Unless you’re only looking for online coverage, Christmas Eve is the worst time to offer up stories. December 25 is the only day of the year when there are no printed newspapers and when most journalists are guaranteed a day off work.

Finally, consider pitching to press agencies at Christmas to boost coverage.

News editors read the wires far more avidly than emails from PRs. And with only a skeleton crew of reporters working over Christmas, they are more reliant than ever on press agency copy to fill pages.

The snag is that the news wires are generally dead as press agencies take holidays too. So, if your story is one of those few gems on the wires, then it has far greater chance of getting traction.

Whatever your tactic, make the most of the festive period as a golden opportunity to build relationships with journalists through tidings of comfort and joy while all is calm and bright.

Murray Wardrop is an account director in the corporate & public affairs practice at Ketchum, London. As a former Fleet Street news editor and reporter with ten years of experience as a journalist, he provides media training and counsel to clients, helping them to build and shape stories to deliver maximum impact.