Tips and advice for effective public relations

It comes just once a year but Christmas is such a massively important trading period for garden centres that the earlier you start your publicity planning the better.
Everyone in the media is overwhelmed with press releases about Santa’s Grotto, sleigh rides and the rest that, for many journalists, New Year cannot come soon enough.  A key part of the problem about generating publicity at Christmas is quite simply the media has “heard it all before”.
So be different. This does not necessarily equate with a big spend, just think out of the box.
Pot plants are enormously popular at Christmas both as gifts and home decorations.  And what happens. They are stuck on a table by a draughty window. The central heating is on full blast to keep granny warm. Mum is so anxt about preparing food that she will forget to water them. The curtains are drawn early and, because we sleep in later over the holiday, they are not pulled back until late, cutting out light. 
A dramatic and potentially life-threatening combination for most pot plants. So why not produce a pot plant Christmas survival guide? With a bit of clever pre-planning you may even be able to sell them! At the very least pop in a hints and tips printed sheet into the bag when you sell the plants.  
You can easily turn this into an interesting news release that your local paper or radio station is likely to use because it gives them a different angle on Christmas.
Give the garden birds a Christmas treat. The robin gets more publicity now than at any other time of the year. But do people actually do anything about caring for garden birds over the colder Christmas period?
Ask your bird food supplier if they have any press information on winter-feeding that you can issue, under your garden centre name, to the local media.  It is a great opportunity to publicise feeders, birdbaths and tables and roosting boxes. Try to obtain a photograph of a robin on a feeder and get it over to your local newspaper.
Give them a ring and find out when their Christmas deadlines are and get your information in early.
Decorations and Christmas trees are a cornerstone of the festivities. A charity link at this time of the year is helpful in publicity terms as well as providing much needed funding for the concerns. Are you able to provide a decorated tree for a local hospice or children’s home? In most cases the concerns are delighted to receive offers of help – but make contact early. Again, this is a news angle for your local press release that will differentiate you from the others. Making these points of difference is so important.
Home safety and, in particular, the risk of fire are issues that the media like to emphasise at this time of year. Ask you suppliers for statements and include this information in press releases. This applies to decorations and tree lights. Ask your local fire brigade if they will work with you on producing a code of good practice for Christmas home decorations. Include copies of this with all sales and – as ever – send the local media a press story on your initiative.
The food court – if you have one – will benefit from as much publicity as you can generate. If you are lucky enough to work with local suppliers, create a joint press release on the Christmas food offer.  Include photographs and, where appropriate, emphasise the natural elements of the foods.
Have you heard about the Reverse Santa? It is an unusual idea that will help generate publicity and also drive footfall into centres. The traditional Santa gives presents to children. The Reverse Santa receives wrapped toys and children’s gift from young visitors to your centre and these are then taken to a local children’s home, hospital or hospice. If you like this suggestion, take it a step further and ask the local newspaper if they want to jointly sponsor the idea with you. That way you are guaranteed regular publicity in the build-up to Christmas and, as everything is brought to you, footfall is guaranteed.
And finally, that real reindeer. One clever garden centre operator who organised one last year even managed to get a couple of paragraphs in The Times. It might be a tad too difficult for some readers but the truth is that, like most of the other ideas put forward in this column, it makes a point of difference between you and the others.
I realise that it is early August as I write this, but Happy Christmas.