How to budget for a winning holiday gift guide season

Working on your holiday gift guide strategy? You should be.

How to budget for holiday gift guide season

Even what once were considered “short lead” digital publishers work on features months in advance.

Similar to your digital advertising spend, the competition is incredibly high for gift guides. You’re not just competing against the brands in your space. You’re competing against EVERY brand targeting that consumer archetype or demographic.

It’s an inconvenient truth that performance marketing and the big return on digital spends have become a race to the bottom. Brand A outspends you for that small space on my phone, so you need to outspend them. It doesn’t matter if brand A is trying to sell toilet paper or surf wax. You both want to be on my screen. Space is limited, and the highest bidder wins.



PR outreach is underutilized and underbudgeted compared to performance marketing, even as brands continue to throw dollars at their digital spending in a race to the CMP and CPA eyeballs. Especially when you consider that studies have shown more than 90% of consumers trust earned media. How many people “trust” advertising?

But how much time or fee should you spend? After 20+ years in PR – working in #HumbleBrag tech, snowboarding, wellness, finance, and general consumer products – I’ve come up with the perfect formula for budgeting a successful holiday gift guide push.

This isn’t just for brands using agencies or consultants. This formula can be used for deciding what level of effort your in-house teams should put forward. Keep in mind that PR is closer to cooking or fitness than an exact science. Recipes and routines may need to be tweaked based on taste and assets.

Answer these true-or-false questions:

  • Outside of PR/media relations, your brand will need to ramp up paid marketing efforts to compete this year around the holidays.
  • You are seeing diminishing returns from your paid media spend. You need to spend more to get the same, or even less, in terms of results as you did a year ago.
  • You believe the competition for holiday media coverage will be at an all-time high, or close to it.
  • You will be jealous if you see a competitor featured in a gift guide and you are not.

If you answered false to two or less of the above, close this browser window now. You’re in a unique space and don’t need to adjust your level of PR effort!

For the rest of us, here’s the formula.


Where do PR and media relations fit in your marketing budget in terms of percentage of time, spend, or actual dollars? Does 90% percent of your budget or time go towards PR? Or 15%? This is our baseline number to reference later.

Adjustment #1:

Now, using a scale of 0 through 10, rate and rank the below and keep a running tally of points.

  • Do your competitors have something better to offer? For example, if one of your competitors is going to have something mind-blowing coming out for the holidays that’s never been done (and you’re jealous your brand doesn’t have it), that would be a +10.
  • How much of your earned media coverage is proactive vs. reactive? If you throw a release over a newswire and the world covers it (a la Apple), that would be a +10. If half your media placements come from proactive reporter inquiries, then give yourself a solid +5.
  • How much do you value the results of an earned media/PR campaign compared to other marketing spends you have going on? Is PR coverage a way you differentiate from your competitors and something you leverage through your sales channels? Then score on the higher end. If you feel strongly that your social media content is what drives results, then score on the lower end.
  • What percentage of importance are holiday gift guides to your brand in terms of your PR efforts? Some brands rely on Black Friday or holiday-timed sales to be a significant part of their business. If that is the case, then score on the higher side. But if you make bikinis or are a tech brand placing a big emphasis on CES, those October through December placements might score 6 or less in terms of priority.

Your total for the above is Adjustment Number 1.

Adjustment #2: Using the same critical thinking and a scale of 0-5, answer the below and tally these numbers.

  • Is what you’re offering a giftable AND covetable item? Is it really? CBD dental floss and gas cards would be a stretch, even for a stocking stuffer, and should be a 0. Unsure? Take a media-first perspective and go through last year’s holiday gift guides. If it’s really giftable and something people want, then that would be a 5.
  • How much effort do you place on PR versus your closest competition? We once had a competitor in the ski industry fly journalists to Chamonix to see a new fabric technology. If your brand goes all out like that, you’re a 5. If your brand does a blast email once a quarter and hopes that journalists will respond, that would be a zero.

Add the above numbers together and you have Adjustment #2.

Subtract #2 from #1 and that’s the fuzzy percentage of how much you MAY need to increase your PR efforts by.

Seem unrealistic? Maybe, but don’t you amplify your other spends during the holiday season? Don’t freak out just yet though, we’ll need to adjust. Remember, PR isn’t an exact science and answering the below can help you decide how to allocate resources.

We have a few more things to consider that may affect your budget:

  • How competitive will your affiliate program be? Are you communicating that to the right people and publishers? In today’s modern PR world, I hope you know what I’m talking about.
  • Where does your brand sit within your industry? Are the Nike of your space? Or one people have mixed feelings about?
  • Is your brand new or undiscovered? This can help or hurt your efforts based on timing, since it can take time to turn a journalist onto a brand and publishers do want compelling content that drives clicks. See note above on affiliate
  • How competitive is your space for earned media? I could not guess how many brands right now make e-bikes or pickleball paddles. inPickleball Magazine will feature quite a few paddles for the holidsys. However, the gift guides in the tier-A mainstream pubs are only going to feature 1-2 of these in a general roundup story. Men’s Journal, HypeBeast and PopSugar are not going to feature a round-up of the top 10 paddles.

Factor your answers to the above into the total you came up with. You now have a number to consider, that when combined with a broader qualitative analysis, along with your gut instinct, on how much effort you should put forward.

Does it seem like you may have underbudgeted for something as simple as “emailing reporters and leveraging relationships?” That’s because strong PR programs involve a lot more effort than blasting emails out to cultivated lists.

While PR efforts can be less expensive than other marketing tactics, they tend to be under budgeted. Why? Because lucky shots do happen. Sometimes that one email lands that massive placement. Sometimes you throw the ball from half-court and sink a basket. Most PR people have taken those shots and scored, but that’s not how you plan on winning basketball games.

As you evaluate the level of effort you should put towards holiday gift guide in general keep all of the above in mind, even if you don’t want to do the math. It’s easy to get sucked into the “guarantee” of performance marketing, but as other brands with more resources compete for the exact same eyeballs, maybe it’s time to consider an effective avenue where there’s more space for success.

Bill Byrne is co-founder and managing director of Remedy Public Relations. He leads a team known for helping challenger brands punch well above their weight class. His Instagram is mainly photos of his pets and craft beer. He hates Slack. He would love to connect with like-minded communicators on LinkedIn.


PR Daily News Feed

Sign up to receive the latest articles from PR Daily directly in your inbox.