NEW YORK: Media reports and speculation about the spending habits of Americans during the holiday season - long seen as an indicator of the macro-economy's health - appear en masse in the final months of the year. But for the organizations that provide data for such stories, their media relations strategy can start months earlier, according to two organizations that provide the data for many of these articles and television news segments.
"We develop and build relationships with reporters on a yearly basis, and we're on a first-name basis with the top retail reporters by the time shopping season comes," said Ellen Tolley, director of media relations for the National Retail Federation (NRF). The NRF is a trade association that provides consumer-activity reports during the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Nevertheless, Tolley insists that the proof is in the data.
"Pitching will get you so far, but delivering what we've promised is what gets us press."
The NRF is one of the most frequently quoted sources of consumer activity in news reports along with ShopperTrak, a retail intelligence firm that monitors shopper traffic and other sales indices. ShopperTrak employs spokespersons from agency of record Scott Phillips & Associates year-round, but ramps up its efforts during the holiday season as reporters look for the latest data and spending trends.
"We started early, being very aggressive with the media," said Jason Milch, account supervisor at Scott Phillips & Associates. "We let them know when the data would be available, and the response has been unbelievable."
ShopperTrak's data was featured on the front pages of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today business sections. The NRF has experienced similar results this year.
"Certainly, holiday press spirals out of control very quickly," Tolley said. "When you have an article in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, or USA Today, reporters come out of the woodwork." She added that the NRF gets between 60 and 80 press calls per day.
In addition to cashing in on earlier labors, the two organizations actively pitch broadcast news to get spokespeople to appear on news programs such as the Today show.
"We did pitch some broadcast over Black Friday weekend," Tolley said, referring to the Friday after Thanksgiving. The day is generally considered one of the busiest shopping days of the year, and the official start of the holiday shopping season.