Written by • Published 19th December 2013

Christmas an important time for PR

‘Image courtesy of FutUndBeidl on Flickr’

So this is Christmas. It is finally here, although it does seem like it has been with us for weeks now.

We had that John Lewis advert, which sparked excited conversation in countless homes and offices across the UK.

John Lewis’ many rivals followed, and they all came along weeks before what we now call Black Friday, a Thanksgiving-related sale extravaganza imported from the US. This was hotly followed by Cyber Monday, an internet retail bonanza a full 23 days before December 25.

These key moments, the work of marketers and advertisers and helped along by the press, shoe-horned an early Christmas in homes across the land.

But being told we are now in festive mode by advertising gurus is nothing new: Coca-Cola has been doing that for years.

Christmas ads are designed to recall lost moments of the Festive Season last felt when we were children.

Today, they are not just adverts, but beautiful mini-movies which are also multi-channel ‘experiences’ to spark debate on Facebook, Twitter and across the web.

Million upon millions of pounds are pumped into them, and Newsnight recently broke down last year’s spend.

According to research, last year Tesco spent £8.4 million on its Yuletide ads. Sainsbury’s forked out £5.7 million, Morrisons £5.5 million and Waitrose ‘just’ £2.2 million.

Of these big names, the one which enjoyed the best Christmas uplift was Waitrose, with a 9.3 percent increase in sales.

Analysts and business journalists will be closely watching the performance, and it may not all be sweetness and light, despite hugely positive noises about the economy and recovery.

Stats from Markit suggest household finances have deteriorated sharply as pay rises have fallen below the cost of living, hinting that families are entering the festive period feeling anything but.

The index measures a perception of financial well-being and was at its lowest in November since April.

Clothing retailers have already been hit – last month’s unseasonal weather already dented sales in the new winter clothing lines.

The media will be all over footfall and revenue figures in the final run-in to Christmas, whipping themselves into a frenzy to write about Christmas Day online takings on Boxing Day, and more traditional Boxing Day sales the day after.

The budget end of the market – both supermarkets and clothing outlets – will again be interesting. Primark was labelled as the high street’s star performer last year. Anyone who has ducked in there to pick up one of the crazy Christmas jumpers which are all the rage again will testify how it manic it is in the stores. The Aldi and Lidl success stories should continue – reports suggest they are already experiencing very good sales this year.

But critical eyes will again be on the companies which have spent big bucks on big advertising campaigns.

And the real crunch will come in Januar when revenue figures start being unwrapped.

With the advertisers and creative long having moved onto their next project, enter the financial and corporate PRs and their teams.

They will be the ones working to deflect any the sharp lines in the business pages, and analysis from shows like Jeff Randall Tonight on Sky News, and the erudite and excellent David Buik, who is as brilliant on Twitter with his analysis as he is on TV. Work on PR strategy commenced even before the Bear and the Hare snuggled up on our screens.

Lines between advertising and PR are often blurred, but Christmas campaigns show perfectly the differences in responsibilities.

The PR challenge will be in telling their own company’s Christmas story, and with the hope the big-money adverts have drawn in the customers, making their start to 2014 a smoother one than last year.