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December 4, 2011 6:44 PM   Subscribe

With holiday gift guides in magazines, what is the process like?

It seems many magazines feature a "Holiday Gift Guide" in the November/December issue - gift guides for dad, for mom, for your BFF, et cetera. I know this may differ from one publication to the next, but.. how does it generally work? Do they get a ton of sample products during the year and pick one? Does the company pay to have their merchandise included? Is it a deal with their advertisers?

If anyone has worked for a magazine or can offer a lead for a blog or book that may describe it, I would love to hear about specifics. Thanks!
posted by amicamentis to Media & Arts (11 answers total)
I hope this is helpful.... I haven't worked for a magazine, but I have managed a store. My experience was that the editor picked which stores (s)he wanted to feature and sent writers and photographers out to work with me to select which items were appropriate to feature. They would take notes and pictures of up to a dozen products and one or two would be included in the gift guide.

There was no payment or other incentive, but in some cases (not always) we had been regular advertisers through the year. Caveat: this was with mid-range to high-quality lifestyle / home magazines local to a specific Canadian city. Things may be different in other countries and/or if you want to target national publications.

We were encouraged by the writers to regularly send new product updates to the writers and editors so they were aware when new items came in and what types of products / styles/ colours were popular. Staying friendly with the writers and editors was important, but not to the point of giving free stuff to them.

Are you at a store now? If I was advising a store manager I'd say to take note of publications you think you would be appropriate for you, and send a friendly email or letter along the lines of "I really enjoyed your gift guide. Do you know about [store XYZ]? We have products such as A, B and C that would have fit in really well. Why not come and take a look so you can get to know us better? I'd be happy to show you round and help you learn about our products."

In other cases there were paid advertising gift guides and they were clearly identified as such in the publication - "Paid advertising" at the top of the page or whatever.

MeMail me if you'd like more information.
posted by valleys at 7:04 PM on December 4, 2011

My experience is smaller-time in that it's in local newspapers and magazines, but some general things that would happen:

The editors and/or sales team would send out notice of the Gift Guide issue well ahead of time, to garner ads and press releases.

The editors would assign people to cover various beats - clothing, children's, lingerie, scent, outdoor gear, whatever - for the gift guide issue. IF there was a specific interest in something one retailer offered, the editor would stipulate coverage of that. This could have happened because the editor got a sample, or just got a great press release, or just saw a sign somewhere or liked the product him/herself. Buzz certainly mattered as did fit with this year's angle.

The reporters would talk to the people they knew within that sector, or really just walk the beat store to store to ask owners and managers to recommend selections.

Sometimes there's some editorial process - for instance, my partner wrote a body/fragrance Gift Guide section this year, and basically did it through the filter of who he knew + the editorial guideline specifying the angle of "local/independently owned."
posted by Miko at 7:09 PM on December 4, 2011

It's been a while for me, but at the magazine I worked at, these roundups came out of a mix of sources.

First, the magazine invites companies to submit entries for the 2027 HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE!!!! At the same time, the marketing/PR arms of those companies have been prepping their own special gift guide roundups and send them to us: "10 Widgetmaster Widgets To Give This Holiday Season!" with a summary of the items, specs, a link, a price, a shiny picture, some demo shots, and an offer to send a sample. Amplify that by about 20 (or 50 at larger fashion magazines) and you can see what an avalanche it can be. So a lot of effort goes into culling out the obviously boring and then the obviously awesome, and then debating on the quirky unitaskers or the is-it-awesome-or-awful ones.

Also, the writers and editors are just steeped in this stuff anyway--they read all about these kinds of items, know people who are tastemakers, They know what's out and what's been performing well, so they can curate a good collection of items based on their own expertise. it's very casual, in many ways--they'll just go poll their friends, people they know in the industry, talk to bloggers or journalists who work on teh same stuff, and just brainstorm from there.

On a more practical note: usually a magazine will try to distance their editorial content from their ad department (separation of church and state, we called it). Sometimes it's inevitable that you'd be reviewing, say, Cover Girl Outlast Lipgloss and yet Cover Girl has an ad in the same issue. Then you just make sure they're really far apart in the book so it doesn't look like we felt pressured to include the lipgloss because the ad for it is on the facing page. So there's a bit of a dance when it comes out to layout.

It's a little tangential, but "The September Issue" which followed Anna Wintour around during the making of the September 2010 issue of Vogue (the Superbowl of women's magazines) and it gives some good insight into the creative process.
posted by elizeh at 7:23 PM on December 4, 2011

Not claiming to be the be-all and end all of this process but you'd put it about, typically rolled into either an advertising deal - "buy half a page in november or dec issue, get rolled into gift guide FREE!" or as a "reward" for all the year's worth of advertising.
posted by smoke at 7:48 PM on December 4, 2011

Yes, I get offers to be in gift guides of I advertise with them for a certain rate all the time. But part of me still believes that many places choose items because they are just really cool.
posted by Vaike at 8:02 PM on December 4, 2011

Whether gift guide inclusion is bundled with advertising is going to be publication specific. Some publications don't have a problem with breaking down their advertising/editorial walls that way, or they consider their gift guide purely an advertising feature. Others consider their gift guide editorial content and would consider engaging in quid pro quo for advertising dollars to be a major ethical breach.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:16 PM on December 4, 2011

I do not work for a magazine but I do work for a fairly popular website that does a gift guide. We pick things because our editors and writers think they are awesome. People do send us samples of things all year round to review; sometimes we review those things, and sometimes we don't. Sometimes we find out about cool stuff from readers or other sites, and subsequently request items for review. Sometimes the things we review in the guide are made by companies who have bought ads on the site in the past, but that's not the reason we pick the things to feature -- no one is allowed to pay to be picked for the guide. We do have named sponsors of the gift guide (people who buy ads to be featured alongside the gift guide picks) but make it very clear that those are ads and not editorial.

Actually, in the U.S., at least, blogs are technically subject to much stricter legal rules about sponsorship / freebie disclosure than print media. And Google also puts pressure on websites to disclose what's paid and what's editorial (even down to demanding differences in the HTML code between paid and editorial links to avoid passing SEO value through the paid ones).

I wish the FTC would apply the same disclosure to print magazines and television shows that they do to bloggers! We'd probably find out about a lot of interesting payola.
posted by BlueJae at 10:34 PM on December 4, 2011

Just a clarifying note: print media do have to track and report all such graft and the "codes of ethics and employment standards for journalists are fairly strict - for example, the NYT policy on gifts. They just haven't been required to disclose which items have been given as graft in the printed editorial content. It is an interesting discrepancy but I expect it is because blogs are a more recently emerging media and codes of ethic/professional standards had yet to be developed. It might be a good idea for print disclosures too, because standards vary, and things seem to be really different at, say, fashion and food magazines vs. news outlets.
posted by Miko at 5:25 AM on December 5, 2011

Sorry, borked that link to the SPJ Code of Ethics.
posted by Miko at 6:29 AM on December 5, 2011

I work for a large, national magazine that does a gift guide every year—not the full-on chunk-of-the-feature-well gift guide, but a gift guide nonetheless. I also know a ton of people that work in the magazine industry. And a lot of these answers are pretty accurate, but I would like to add: at most mainstream national magazines, bundling gift guide inclusion in the advertising package is a BIG NO-NO. I don't know of any magazines that do this—albeit I don't have much experience with smaller city magazines, or niche publications, but I just don't see that happening, unless they produce a gift guide advertorial (which would be labeled as such).

As for how we select the gifts to include in the guide, elizeh pins it. It's mostly a mix of two things: (1) editors know tastemakers and/or are tastemakers, and (2) PR reps know the holidays are coming. From there, it's just a matter of boiling down what's actually awesome. And playing with the strange/weird/super cool products and gadgets that begin flooding the office once the holiday season starts [which, for magazines, is in August or September].
posted by good day merlock at 8:00 AM on December 5, 2011

We've had a couple of things from our business in magazines or blogs. One tip that worked for us is to anticipate things early (given the timelines magazines are dealing with).

For instance, now is the time to have Valentine's stuff on your site, and send it to bloggers/magazines.
posted by dripdripdrop at 8:50 AM on December 5, 2011

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