I remember my first year of blogging suddenly receiving these Christmas show invitations and wondering what it was all about. So first question, why Christmas in July?
What is it?
The big monthly magazines, and even some of the weeklies, work way in advance, finishing their Christmas editions by late summer. So to get their Christmas wares featured, the PR teams of the supermarkets and major retailers need to get them seen in July. These Christmas showcase events usually last for one long day, with a drop in approach to visits between morning to late afternoon, or even evening. Many of the events will take place on the same days, making it easier for journalists to get round to lots of shows in one day.
How do you get invited?
If you are on the press release list or mailing list of a major retailer PR firm, you will probably get an invite anyway, but it could be worth giving PRs you are in regular contact with a quick friendly nudge. If you're not on their lists, send a professional e-mail to companies you're interested in, and the big PR agencies, introducing your blog and asking to be added to their press lists. You can usually find the details you need with a bit of detective work on Google.
If you get wind of an event for a retailer you work with, and you haven't received an invitation, do get in touch with the PRs you know. It is nigh on impossible to make sure everyone makes the invitation list, and as with most things in life, the worst they can say is no!
How does it work?
As I mentioned above, the showcases tend to last all day, although some of the smaller ones may be only half a day. They can start from as early as 8am, although 10am is more usual, and end as late as 7/8pm, with a drop in approach expected from visitors. They will invariably be based in central London, often in big event spaces, fancy hotels, or possibly just at the company's HQ or PR office. Some will go all out, especially the big supermarkets, with a proper grotto feel, while others will just be a showcase of product. There will usually be several on the same day, my record was eleven in one day last year!
What can you get out of it?
If you want to run Christmas features showcasing the new products to your readers, then go along. You will get lots of ideas and inspiration, a stack of press releases, and will get to see what's going to be on the Christmas shelves before everyone else does. If you only want to go in the hope of goody bags and don't intend to give anything back, stay away. You really don't want to get on the blacklists! On the other hand, don't expect too much attention. These events are really busy, so don't be offended if the PRs can't stop to chat with you for long. Although you may get lucky and arrive at a quiet time, and it is a great way to put faces to names and check in with people you want to work with more.
Can you take children?
I have done, and many people do, but it can get a bit tedious for them, and if you have lots of events on can slow you down and make everyone hot and bothered. To be honest, if you can avoid taking them, it is easier to go on your own, although most events will welcome them. If you are taking young children, check out our guide to the best things to do with children in central London. As for babies, try to avoid taking a pushchair at all costs, it'll be a nightmare with busy streets, buses and tubes, not to mention lots of steps, to negotiate. This is the time for a baby in a sling, and a rucksack on your back.
How to plan your day
- Make a list, and check it twice - write down in your notebook or on your phone exactly who you will see, what company, where and when. If you're going to lots of events, plan your day so that the big supermarkets are at the end as they usually give out the heaviest goody bags, and may also give you beautiful flowers to take home. Believe me, a day lugging those round everywhere else is hard work!
- Buy an A to Z, or make sure you have a decent map app on your phone.
- Dress for it - there's no real dress code, so choose clothes that will keep you cool and your comfiest shoes, there's a fair bit of hoofing between locations, and central London is likely to be busy and hot.
- Take a rucksack, the best place to stash all those press releases and samples.
- Make sure your phone and camera are fully-charged, and take a notebook and pen too.
- Take business cards, you'll need them for new PR contacts, and maybe even the odd competition.
- Schedule coffee and lunch breaks, and accept all drinks and offers of food at the events, you'll need it!
What's expected from you?
Essentially, turn up, chat, make appreciative noises if you get a guided tour of the product, and write up afterwards. Make sure you take lots of notes so you know what to write about, and jot down aide memoires on any business cards you are handed, or you risk not remembering if George or Ben was the great new contact. I find it helps to make some notes on the press releases too if there's anything I particularly want to highlight in my write-up.
However, it's customary not to write much until autumn when the product will start appearing in the shops and the national press. There may not be explicit embargoes or NDAs (non-disclosure agreements), but the done thing is definitely not to reveal too much until the Christmas build-up begins. Although I tend to write my posts a.s.a.p. and schedule them for November/December, as if I leave it till then to write I'll either be too busy, or will have forgotten stuff - or both!
Having said that, the brand and/or agency are sure to appreciate some tweets on the day, and many will have fun selfie opportunities and/or a hashtag to tweet.
Is it worth it?
This is the question I am asked most often regarding press events. I guess it depends what you want to get out of it, and how much it is going to cost you to get there. It's unlikely that travel expenses will be covered and Christmas in July events are usually located in central London to be convenient to print journalists, so if you can get there at reasonable cost, go. If you want to connect with PRs more, go. If you want decent Christmas content, go. Personally, I think the events are fun, interesting and great for content, so for me well worth attending. See you there!
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