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Viewpoints: Rewriting the Christmas story

Clients need to make Christmas work. Consumer habits of gifting must be maximised and it seems as though retailers may have a glimmer of hope to be optimistic this year.

According to the SCMP and the Census and Statistics Department, although Hong Kong has been suffering a serious retail slump; the year on year decline in sales is narrowing, falling only 2.9% in October. This is the smallest drop for 2016, which if the trend continues, could hold hope for retailers.

There are still a number of factors that could keep the city in the doldrums such as currency exchanges making Hong Kong less competitively priced for the tourist consumer but here’s hoping the levels of big spending by the malls (according to Reuters, Sun Hung Kai Properties has set aside HK$38 million for promotional activities over Christmas across its 10 major shopping malls in the city, up 10% from a year ago) can pull in local and foreign customers.

Why is the trend still to panic purchase as the festivities near? We’ve all been there. The forgotten present which gets bought on Christmas Eve. With limited options and time, we throw more money at the situation and often end up spending over budget. Similarly it transpires that during the season, the occasional lifestyle brand forgets about PR.

Indeed, the PR panic purchase may come at a heftier price tag; it can also come with a diminished product. By its very nature, PR relies on other parties to help tell a brand’s Christmas story. Oddly enough this does not happen in December, even online media have deadlines! The main Christmas message should be wrapped up and ready for dissemination ideally by September. For those that forget to favour PR, we can pull off a Christmas miracle but client expectations need to be managed.

In such a competitive time of year, clients want to see a return on investment, which bluntly put, means an uplift in Christmas sales. Now is the time that brand exposure has to have a clear call to action to drive consumers to the point of purchase. Although PR can help to influence the customer’s decision process, it cannot drive sales all on its own. This is why it should not be an afterthought.

An integrated approach to marketing is required to ensure a successful Christmas campaign, with PR playing a major role in its nativity. Activating not only your PR agency’s network of media, influencers, socialites and celebrities is important, but CRM (customer relationship management) should also be linked with PR so that clients can double-up on their investment; attracting immediate sales coupled with widespread exposure for the brand.

Similarly make any and all marketing investments count; do not limit a big event only to VIPs when you can use PR to trend the event on social media.

Quality over quantity is the old adage that PR comes back to time and again; and it applies here, especially when putting last minute PR plans into practice. With so many festive activities targeting the same audience, be smart and think about the brand’s demographic. Yes, an online KOL with hundreds of thousands of followers will help with your KPI. However, will it improve on someone with a significantly smaller following that genuinely cares about your brand?

Each and every brand’s campaign is different, but here are some guiding principles that can be put in to play when it comes to Christmas 2017 to make sure PR is well and truly on the wish list.

1. Sign off and agree on your Christmas plan by 1 August. Ensure that PR is maximising your full marketing potential.
2. Determine your target audience and the appropriate communication methods.
3. Strategise timelines and deadlines – do not send everything out to everyone at the same time, you might miss opportunities.
4. Action your media relations plan.
5. Media follow-up – be proactive.
6. Begin your social media activation and KOL engagement.
7. Collate coverage and review campaign.

Laura Derry Southwood is managing director at Prime, a member of the Council of Public Relations Firms of Hong Kong (CPRFHK)

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