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Don’t let Bleak Friday

During Christmas Past everyone loved a Boxing Day bargain.

It was especially true of news editors who could bank on snaps of savvy shoppers queuing through the night to bag a much-coveted £100 three-piece-suite or a £10 TV.

Retailers rubbed their hands with glee while counting down the hours to the annual sale of all sales. It was a time of PR gold…guaranteed media coverage of bargain hunters camping outside shops ready for the 6am rush. The switched-on store managers (advised by PR firms) supplied deck chairs and hot drinks to please the punters and tease out some extra coverage.

That was in the good old days…

If we turn our attention to Christmas Present the picture isn’t looking quite so festive.

In fact the once jolly jog to the front of the Boxing Day sales queue has turned into a month-long marathon run over broken glass.

So what’s changed?

It’s hard not to apportion some blame to the march of internet shopping (in general) and the PR phenomenon of Black Friday (in particular).

It feels like sales snowballs are being pelted at shoppers from every direction from now until the New Year.

Also when Black (or Bleak) Friday arrived on our shores it didn’t travel alone. It brought with it appalling behaviour, shopping chaos and nightmare PR.

Who could forget the coverage that Asda and Tesco received in 2014? Phone footage of customers grappling each other to the ground for a Christmas bargain received wall-to-wall publicity in print, online and across social media. Add to that the online Black Friday shopping frenzy which was followed by awful weather and undelivered Christmas presents and you have the perfect PR storm.

We can’t really blame the Americans for our behaviour (or our weather)…but what we have learned is that appalling behaviour and poor service (whatever the reason) will now travel faster and further than it ever has before.

Social media speed is now giving Santa a run for his money and it’s extremely difficult to stop negative publicity once it’s out there.

Where does that leave us and how can strategic communications firms advise their clients about the potential pitfalls of Christmas Future?

Unfortunately for those in retail PR the bottom line may be that Black Friday is still a success, giving sales a much-needed boost during difficult trading conditions. The best communications firms plan for and manage any festive fall-out on behalf of their clients.

Christmas is not all about greed, it’s is a time when businesses can be particularly creative and talk about the positive changes they’ve made and can make.

The best Christmas campaigns are still all about giving, however they don’t happen overnight and require meticulous planning.

One of my favourites comes from the States when eBay truly embraced the rapidly-advancing capability of the mobile phone and encouraged app users to donate a toy to a child in need. Simply by scanning the tag of toy in a shop meant that toy was donated to a child. Perfect.

Fast forward this concept to your clients and with a few tweaks they could be on to something for Christmas 2017.

Harvey Nichols ‘Giftface’, Oddbins ‘What’ the Fox’ and Asda’s ‘How to decorate a Christmas tree’ are also worth Googling when looking to adapt great ideas for different markets.

What they have in common is that they are positive, funny and original and are all perfectly packaged for social media sharing.

So how can businesses connect with their customers during Christmases to come?

Some may be queuing outside a store, others may be queuing online, but one thing’s for certain – wherever their customers are – the vast majority will be using their smart phones to search, shop, share and socialise.

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