How Retail Comms Can (Really) Engage Consumers This Holiday Season

Throw your tried-and-true holiday promotion and communications plans out the window. Successful programs that worked in past years won’t do in 2020. But don’t throw the baby out with the bath water: There remains ample opportunity to engage if done carefully and considerately. In fact, retailers might find a silver lining in data that suggests back-to-school consumer spending is up. Ketchum’s Retail experts have guidance as we think about how or if that trend could continue for one of the most significant retail periods of the year.

Consumers will shop, but how are you engaging with them? 

The term “Covid Holiday” is just one cue brands need to behave differently this season—just as consumers undoubtedly will. COVID-19 will touch every aspect of the 2020 holiday season—and as a communications consultancy with a dedicated team focused exclusively on the retail industry, we’re here to share some insights into just how much and what it might look like.

Bolstered by the results of Brand Reckoning 2020, Ketchum’s recent survey of nearly 4,000 American consumers, which found they are not yet completely comfortable returning to their pre-COVID lives and activities, here are the key considerations we believe retailers should consider when building their holiday-related communications plans:

  • It’s going to be a LONG season. Retailers—eager to avoid shoppers forming long lines and wall-to-wall crowds during the pandemic —are shying away from the traditional Black Friday/Cyber Monday focus. Merchandise will hit the shelves sooner, in hopes of spreading out the shopping period over a longer time period.
    Communications implications: Share more details on holiday deals, store hours, order and delivery options, and steps being taken to protect associates and consumers with both internal and external stakeholders—including the No.1 stakeholders, employees. Share more often and over a longer time frame. Be prepared to be nimble as the world continues to evolve.
  • Safety first. Consumers won’t shop where they don’t feel safe.
    Communications implications: To remove the “is it safe or not to shop?” barrier in your brick and mortar store, consider sharing how your brand is prioritizing employee safety. The more innovative your approach, and the more mindful it is of all stakeholders in the supply chain, the greater your chances of getting a reputational boost. That will be especially true when you authentically share the human stories behind your efforts. If your story is compelling or differentiating, journalists will be eager to hear it.
  • Prepare for a new Holiday season. In 2019, 40 percent of consumers began their holiday shopping before Halloween. Given COVID-19 concerns, the number is likely to jump much higher this year and start much earlier. Many national retailers have spoken publicly about their concerns for having too many shoppers and associates in one place on Black Friday, making the traditional kickoff of the holiday shopping season up in the air.
    Communications implications: Get ahead of the story. Be prepared to be the market mover, or at least respond quickly to the competition. The sooner your brand decides on a holiday strategy or capitalizes on unique story angles (e.g., improved curbside pickup, greater delivery options, etc.), let your stakeholders (and the media) know.

With the backdrop of the 2020 election, ongoing discussions regarding social injustice and an anticipated second wave of COVID-19, any predictions may prove as mercurial as the coronavirus itself. That’s why Ketchum provides constant, real-time media monitoring of trends tied to the 2020 holiday season—including issues tracking—and delivers reports designed to keep clients apprised of sudden changes that can instantly impact strategic decisions and tactical implications.

While Holiday 2020 will be unlike any we’ve ever experienced, consumers will shop. Spending and celebrations will occur. The gift that we as communications professionals can give our retail clients is to help them be informed and nimble. Reach out to Jamey or Abby if you’d like to continue the conversation.

Ketchum clients have trusted this communications leader for strategic and creative counsel since 2004 when he joined Ketchum. Today, as partner, managing director and portfolio leader, Peters leverages his 27 years of public relations experience in the ever-evolving retail sector by working with client teams to drive feet to store (brick and mortar) and clicks to sites (e-tail). Engagement ranging from product and brand launches, media relations, franchisee & employee engagement, store openings, corporate reputation & crisis management and path-to-purchase messaging.

Peters is a retail expert, having collaborated on projects in grocery, food service and dining, QSR, general merchandise stores, convenience and gas stations, home improvement, health and personal care, electronics and e-commerce.

Peters is a self-acclaimed barbeque connoisseur and chef. He and his wife do their best to raise their teens in Dallas, along with a wily five-year-old Catahoula hound dog.


As senior vice president, Ketchum Retail & CPG, Abby is responsible for setting the strategic communications vision—while delivering and managing data-driven results—among top clients across the CPG and Retail sectors. With nearly 20 years of public relations experience, from both in-house and agency roles, she leads Ketchum Chicago, multiple top-agency engagements and focuses on bringing best-in-class integrated marketing solutions to clients and internal stakeholders alike. During her time at Ketchum, she is one of the distinguished few to receive the David Drobis Award for client service excellence.