Ending the year with a big bang

Making it on to an end-of-year roundup takes a lot of planning, but the payoff is a chance to showcase your product and predict trends all at the same time.

Making it on to an end-of-year roundup takes a lot of planning, but the payoff is a chance to showcase your product and predict trends all at the same time.

It's that time of year again. The time when marketers, publicists, and PR pros sit and wait after having mounted campaigns and wooed editors, hoping their clients will be featured in crucial end-of-year special issues.

From trade journals to consumer titles to local metro dailies, "Best of" features and annual rankings can drive a client's brand into the stratosphere.

For Becky Boyd, getting some of her clients into the VAR Business 500 annual ranking is an absolute annual priority.

VAR Business is a trade magazine that covers strategy and tech trends for the so-called solution providers and technology integrators, otherwise known as value-added resellers (VARs).

As VP at MediaFirst PR, Boyd knows some of her clients - such as Optimus Solutions (a VAR consultant) and Canvas Systems (VAR pre-owned hardware) - expect her to help them make the cut.

"The markets that those two are in are highly competitive and many companies join these markets, but go out of business quickly," Boyd says. "Canvas and Optimus need to prove to prospective customers that they are established businesses with successful track records. This is what annual rankings do for them."

The VAR Business 500 is based on revenue growth and compares the percent growth for a three-year period. Therefore, Boyd must manage the time-consuming process of developing the application, including trafficking sophisticated financials with the CFO.

"I also create a 'Top Picks' calendar and follow it meticulously to ensure I don't miss the award issues' deadlines," she says.

When the ranking appears, Boyd will not only issue press releases, but will also update the "about" statement to include the new distinction.

"We send the press release to local media for coverage," Boyd says. "And, Optimus has a list of clients and prospects they send releases to for added coverage."

End-of-year issues don't only help promote your client's corporate viability, it can also help sell its products and services.

The potential is such that the process has evolved into more of an integrated PR and marketing effort promoting the manufacturers as much as their products.

Lisa MacKenzie, president of MacKenzie Marketing Group, a Portland, OR-based marketing/ PR agency, is currently managing a campaign to get client Aperion Audio included in 2005 end-of-year issues, rankings, and product guides.

This process is particularly important for Aperion, as it is a direct-to-consumer home theater speaker company with no third-party distribution or retailer relationships.

"Making a holiday hot list can spell the difference between a good or great buying season," MacKenzie says. "Deadlines vary greatly, as do criteria. As such, we start on the holiday program in May, which is when many monthlies start to think about December issues. Look at GQ. Its deadline was July 8."

MacKenzie first needed to block out at least 30 days for research and planning.

"If you're a large agency and can throw a team of 15 account coordinators at this, you can get it done quickly," MacKenzie says. "I had an AE and one coordinator, so it took us 30 days."

This involved researching demographics and publications, creating custom pitches for each title, and mapping out deadlines.

MacKenzie suggests not only targeting publications, but also pulling the back issues and looking at what they covered last year and how they covered it.

With this data and these pitches in hand, then comes the call-down campaign to confirm who is doing what, request criteria, and build relationships.

And don't just focus on the product.

"The best pitches often tap into the bigger story of what will be hot this year," says MacKenzie. "So, you need the PR skills to communicate how your product will compete for mind share this holiday season."

This year, MacKenzie will pursue all magazines and section editors that cover electronics, but also general-interest sections at all metropolitan daily papers, GQ, FHM, Maxim, Blender, Playboy, and many more.

And Aperion also intends to buy inclusion in the gift guide specials for either PR Newswire or Business Wire.

This year, MacKenzie's team whittled a list of 300 titles down to 85 that they're pursuing. As the holidays near, they'll identify 50 to 75 additional opportunities, eventually developing a total of about 150 unique pitches.

"Of that, if we get on five lists, we're golden," MacKenzie says.

But even if you lack a product to place under the Christmas tree, year-ends can be crucial.

Joe Gimenez, account supervisor at GCI Group, uses end-of-year campaigns to get publicity for his energy/utility/chemical consultancies, such as Cap Gemini, RiskAdvisory, and Invensys.

"All year, the trade editors I deal with want case studies and hard factual evidence, or they won't talk to you," Gimenez says. "Unfortunately, the consultants I work with cover very sensitive areas and have their hands tied."

However, as year-end round-up style features are more trend- oriented, he has a better shot.
And, with the price of unleaded gas hitting a record of $3.057 on September 5, according to AAA (formerly the American Automobile Association), after having risen from the national average of $1.841 on September 8, there will be no shortage of interest in the energy industry.

Still, that does not guarantee his clients will be mentioned.

"If you expect to be considered, you must start approaching [in early September], or at the latest, early October," he says.

When you are not targeting a list or a ranking, but rather trend and forecast features, you have to work the phones hard. You must call around and find out what editors are interested in, which of your clients would be willing to talk about these issues, and marry the two sides.

"Once you have both sides, then you begin to craft pitches and pull data to make a more compelling case for interviewing my consultants," Gimenez says.

"But remember, if you're not doing something today, you're already late, but still in the game," he adds. "If you wait much longer, you better have something really unique and a really great relationship with the editor if want any chance of getting crammed in at the last minute."

Technique tips

Do start pitching editors now. October/November is too late

Do create a calendar of deadlines and recruit the necessary resources to research and pitch

Do take the time to look at what your target titles covered last year, and how they covered it

Don't just focus on your product/service. Show editors how it fits into overall market trends

Don't limit your pitches to select titles, but rather cast a wide net

Don't forget follow-up. Your client can get PR mileage well into 2007 from the right ranking

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