End-of-year period provides hassles for some, downtime for others

As the end of the year approaches, many agencies? most daunting task is getting all those holiday cards to clients and media out the door.

As the end of the year approaches, many agencies? most daunting task is getting all those holiday cards to clients and media out the door.

Because more often than not, the end of December offers a welcome respite from the rest of the year's hectic pace. Many agencies close down between Christmas and New Year's, giving their staff a well-deserved opportunity to recharge their batteries.

Of course, not every agency gets a twinkle in its eye as the end of the year rolls around. In particular, tech firms are frantically preparing for all the trade shows waiting at the start of the year, with the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in early January. So for them, the thought of a slow December is a futile Christmas wish at best.

But many firms look to that slower period as a time to focus on many of the housekeeping tasks that seem to sit on the back burner more often than they should.

"This time of year is a blessing, because the rest of the year is manic," says Jody Miller, president and CEO of New York-based JLM PR. "It gives us the chance to close out the year neatly. We get to certain reports and other things we just haven't had time to do."

That includes reassessing the year, and planning for the upcoming first quarter with staff and clients. The slower time allows such planning to be prioritized, instead of trying to squeeze it in between servicing clients and business development.

For Miller, some of those year-end house-cleaning projects include putting together final client project books that recap campaigns, cleaning up the office, and sorting out the year-end tax requirements.

The William Mills Agency uses this time for feature article writing, 2006 trend press release projections, and follow-up with media contacts, notes Meredith Boyd, director of communications for the Atlanta-based firm.

"It's a time to really make sure your plans for 2006 are in place, because when you walk in after the holidays and have 350 e-mails waiting, it's hard to start thinking about planning for the new year," explains Rod Caborn, an EVP with Orlando, FL-based YPB&R.

As a travel-focused agency, YPB&R makes sure to send out an updated fact sheet on the clients and destinations the firm represents. But the firm also takes time to promote not just its clients, but also itself. Most agencies admit they aren't always good at practicing what they preach. But during the slower holiday period, many agencies make good on their promise to market themselves better.

"It's a time to really focus on our own PR," says Lisa Bachman, VP at Colorado Springs, CO-based PRACO. "We develop our own list of PR goals, and the media we want to get to know better. We develop case studies, update the website, and develop our PR plan, and look at opportunities such as speaking engagements."

Bachman says it's also a time to build more "personal" relationships, and getting to know staff, clients, and media better, beyond the confines of the work environment.

"Everyone is still busy, but it's a good time to just take a deep breath," Bachman says, adding that it's also an opportunity to take stock of where you are, and where you want to go. "It's a time to appreciate your staff, your clients, and your job."

And while many firms slow down ? and even shut down during that last week ? they are also fully aware that a crisis can strike at any moment.

"We have Blackberries and cell phones, so even when we're off that last week of the month, everyone is in touch," says Miller.

At YPB&R, the agency notifies all clients about the agency's holiday schedule not just by phone and e-mail, but also in a PDF with the schedule and emergency contacts. And those teams in the office, while other teams are taking their holiday break, also have a comprehensive contact list on hand. And there is always someone of account executive rank or higher on hand to address any unforeseen problems or necessities for clients, says Caborn.

While YPB&R recognizes the staff needs the holidays to unwind, all staff must be reachable during business hours via phone, he adds.

But as the year comes to a close, those quiet periods are best to make sure everything is in place, and to tie up any loose ends before putting the New Year's plan into action.

"We're not trying to reinvent the wheel during that quiet time," says Caborn. "We're just looking to refreshen it."

Ways to best spend that slow time during the holidays:

Finalize plans for first quarter of New Year

Put together books for clients recapping the year

Sort out year-end tax issues

Update media contact info

Send updated client info to media

Develop agency's own marketing plan


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