Why PR People Are Obsessed With Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day
Small heart-shaped ornaments are displayed for Valentine's Day in a shop in Beirut February 13, 2009. Cynthia Karam/Reuters

Are you a reporter? OK, quick experiment: Search your inbox for "Valentine's Day." What pops up? Lots of items, probably—romantic plans with your partner, maybe, or E-cards from your mom, but mostly an unrelenting deluge of bad PR pitches somewhat bafflingly themed around February 14. "New York has been ranked the #2 most 'Puppy Loving' U.S. state, according to the Milk-Bone Doggy Love Index," boasts one. "Avoid an STD on Valentine's Day," reads the subject line on another. (It's for "a Yelp-like health app that helps users find Free HIV & STD testing centers"—important, but probably about as sexy as another often necessary pre-Valentine's Day evil involving pubic hair.)

PR people love Valentine's Day. Not because they're in love, or if they are, it's not with human beings but with the elusive, obsessively sought-after ideal of the "news hook." I receive lots of PR emails on any weekday, but more pegged to Valentine's Day than any other holiday, save perhaps Thanksgiving or Christmas. According to self-loathing PR guy Ed Zitron, that's at least partly my fault.

"Valentine's Day is an example of thematic seasonal pitching," Zitron told me. "The reason PR people love it is because lots of people write about Valentine's Day. You do look amongst the tech publications and consumer publications and you'll see these vague, vapid listicles of 'X Apps for Valentine's Day,' blah blah blah."

Plus, since the holiday's themes are so broad, there's almost no limit to what gets thrown into the V-Day Deluge. A social connectivity app for potheads? Check. Heartwarming footage of a spider monkey meeting another spider monkey whose name shares the first three letters as "Valentine"? Sure, ripe for puns. A sex finder app "playing Naughty Cupid"? A company that has even the slightest relation to chocolate or candy? Research stats from a dating site desperate to raise its profile? Yes, go ahead, throw it all in.

"For some reason, people believe that if they brand even the most meaningless, far-away-from-possible thing in the world toward a particular season, they think they'll get coverage, even if no human on earth will do it," Zitron added. Hence, the idea that "you can just inception a journalist because 'Oh my god, he said Valentine's Day! This is now relevant to my interests! I will now write about it!' Even though most of these pitches barely touch it."

"PR people often work against the dark-side equivalent of an editorial calendar," explained Steve Cummings, a fellow at the Hodges Partnership. There's obvious appeal in tying a PR pitch to a timely hook, and while most news pegs that aren't the election or the Super Bowl are tough to anticipate, holidays pop up at the same time each year. Some of them are risky for the PR world: Memorial Day is too somber, 9/11 too sensitive, Good Friday too sacred. Others have fairly narrow themes (there's only so much you can tie in to Presidents Day).

Valentine's Day, though, is sort of about love, sort of about getting it on, but also kind of about chocolate and consumerism and loneliness and whatever other emotion your brand is trying to sell. And it's not especially sacred. Valentine's Day has been mangled, maligned and torched beyond any semblance of sanctity. Any dignity the holiday once held has been obliterated by decades of bad rom-coms.

"It's a unique holiday in the sense that it's got a bunch of hooks all baked into it: relationships, sex, marriage, gift-giving, economics, sex, the fragile global cocoa supply—so just about any company or PR person can make tenuous bridges betwixt its client and the holiday," Cummings added. But it's also just the most successful peg: "Valentine's Day is when they make clients make the most money.… We pitch more of what is successful, and so I would guess journalists often get assigned more Valentine's Day stories than other observances and that those stories happen to use more PR stuff than normal."

Of course, PR firms are not the only companies drawing a disproportionate profit from Valentine's Day. It's surrounded by one of the busiest consumer retail weeks in general, as Jerrid Grimm, co-founder of the "content marketing platform" Pressboard, noted in an email.

"It's Valentine's Day, everyone's looking for a little love," Grimm said. "Brands get lonely, too."