Brand Strategy

The biggest present for brands this time of year? Landing on a gift guide

We spoke to some of the PR pros whose job it is to get brands on lists from The Strategist to Oprah’s Favorite Things.
article cover

Francis Scialabba

5 min read

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. AKA the time to frantically Google terms like “best gifts for moms who are hard to shop for” and “boyfriend gifts not lame.”

Annual gift-giving guides aren’t just potentially useful for frantic shoppers—they can be big wins for the brands that land on them. There’s a lot of money to be made: According to Gallup, US consumers expect to dish out an average of $932 on presents this holiday season.

But getting on a gift guide can take work, and that work often falls to PR and affiliate marketing firms that pitch products to media outlets year-round.

“Holiday and gift guides are kind of like the Super Bowl of PR,” Jessy Fofana, the founder and CEO of LaRue PR, which counts brands like, Health-Ade, and Sips by as clients, said. “There’s a lot of focus and a lot of attention because it’s a time when the consumer is buying, and they’re looking for ideas.”

Guiding the guides

Making a great product doesn’t guarantee inclusion in a gift guide. That’s why many brands hire PR teams to send out pitches and product samples to editors and reporters in hopes of convincing them to recommend those products to readers.

When it works, the results can be tremendous for sales and brand recognition. One food and beverage brand represented by the firm Dreamday PR is on track to earn $120,000 solely in affiliate revenue in November, due mainly to the brand’s inclusion on various gift guides, Dreamday founder and CEO Lauren Kleinman said. Dreamday, which counts Our Place, Girlfriend Collective, and Brightland as clients, works with some brands that make half their annual revenue during the holiday shopping season, Kleinman said. Overall, the fourth quarter “is kind of the pinnacle of the year for basically all of our brands and for our agency at large,” Kleinman told us.

But the work begins long before Q4. Some PR firms ask brands to prepare gift guide materials for as early as June, when editors begin working on long-lead gift guides for publications like Real Simple magazine, Goop, and Oprah’s Favorite Things, Jamie Werner, Dreamday’s VP of communications, explained. Dreamday will create what is essentially a gift guide for creating gift guides, highlighting different products and other information that they hope will be useful for harried editors.

“We put together a really beautiful visual Canva that includes all of these offerings from clients, and it includes all of their pricing, the details about the brands, their story, [and] affiliate information,” Werner told us, adding that those packages are tailored to specific editors and publications. “It’s all very nicely packaged in one place.”

Get marketing news you'll actually want to read

Marketing Brew informs marketing pros of the latest on brand strategy, social media, and ad tech via our weekday newsletter, virtual events, marketing conferences, and digital guides.

Once gift guide season kicks off, it’s the main focus at many firms for the rest of the year. “We have a joke in the office in the summer: Merry Christmas in June!” LaRue’s Fofana said.

Cream of the crop

Not all gift guides are created equal, and some perform better than others, Kleinman and Fofana said. Heavy hitters include the New York Times’s Wirecutter lists, New York Magazine’s The Strategist, CNN, and publications like Refinery29 and Marie Claire.

And then there’s Oprah’s Favorite Things, which both Kleinman and Fofana said is particularly coveted and particularly competitive. The list is widely read and repackaged, and the Oprah stamp of approval can be used long after gift-giving season is over.

“Just having that cachet of saying that Oprah and her team handpicked this product is quite coveted for brands,” Kleinman said. “Many of our brands use that in their marketing for the next 12 months.”

Inclusion in other gift guides can provide positive long-tail effects. Take the condiment brand Fly By Jing, a Dreamday client that was recently recommended by Wirecutter in a gift-basket guide. Shoppers who search reviews for Fly By Jing may see the brand’s inclusion on a gift guide that’s populated on Google and then purchase directly from those gift guides, creating an “overall halo effect,”  Kleinman said.

Read the room

Heading into a holiday season clouded by inflation pressures and recession fears poses a potential challenge for the people who make gift guides a reality. Affiliate revenue data from past quarters tipped Dreamday off to the fact that consumers were dialing back on full-priced purchases Kleinman said.

“We saw that consumer spending was changing, and that people were really clicking through to [product recommendation] stories, but not making those purchases until the brand offered a sale,” Werner said.

As brands this year have begun offering Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals weeks before shopping season in an effort to incentivize purchases, the gift guides you peruse this year may also include less expensive options or discounted items. Because brands, PR firms, and publications alike are incentivized to drive sales, Fofana said it’s essential to consider price sensitivity when pitching products.

“You never want to be tone-deaf,” she said.

Get marketing news you'll actually want to read

Marketing Brew informs marketing pros of the latest on brand strategy, social media, and ad tech via our weekday newsletter, virtual events, marketing conferences, and digital guides.