PR for Santa: The Basics

Let's face it - it's not easy being the embodiment of all that is good and merry about the world. You spend all year in the freezing cold, surrounded by elves, pushed by SuperToy conglomerates to come up with faster and better toys, and then you get grief because you can't find My Little Pony nderpants. And that's just the presents for the adults. No, it's not an easy job, whether you're the real Santa Claus or one of his earthbound minions, chosen to spread his festive spirit for $5.30 an hour throughout the shopping malls, street corners and office parties of the world.

And there are many, many ways you could screw it up. Without deep concentration and careful planning, you can easily slip from the Guy in Charge of All that is Good in the World, to That Scary Fat Guy in the Red Suit who Ruined Christmas. That wouldn't be good.

So, without further ado, we present: PR For Santa: The Basics, written by Andrew McKay.

1. Don't forget your roots

Sure, the "I'm from the North Pole" shtick may work when working the bar at the Holiday Inn Express, but you can easily be exposed by deeper questioning if you don't have your facts straight.

So here's the scoop: you represent St. Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors, travelers, bakers, merchants, and most importantly, children. Santa was born in Asia Minor eighteen centuries ago. He went through torture and imprisonment, and yet, was responsible for giving gifts to all the children of the region of Myra, right up until his death. Think of that the next time a screaming kid tries to return a lame Batmobile kit.

2. Don't dis the sled

You've been given the greatest vehicle in the world: a two-seater sled that can fit enough presents for every boy and girl in the world. Think of it as a car with the style of a Bentley, but the storage capacity of a Hummer. Without the sled, you're nothing. Sure, the Salvation Army uses a U.S. National Guard C-130 to distribute toys and packages to the villages of Alaska. But you know they'd use the sled if they could. Like General Lee and her welded doors, you sacrifice some comfort for prestige.

3. Don't get caught up in Conduct Unbecoming to Santa

You're the giver of happiness, the best toymaker in the world, and you enjoy a nice rack of reindeer ribs like everyone else. That ought to be enough. There's no need to risk it all in the pursuit of insane leisure activities, like the Santa impostor who practices his chimney descents by rappelling down North Carolina's 315-foot Chimney Rock in his full red suit. Sure, it makes for a great photo op, but it leaves no time for wish lists - talk about mixed messaging for the average seven year-old!

4. Be careful about your posse

You'd think this one would be fairly obvious - maybe Santa's been scarred by partnerships, co-branded promotions and marketing agreements before. What's Santa's favourite drink? Coke? Next time you're doing a drop-by at the mall, consider this: exactly where did the marketing company pick up the help? It's difficult to think of a better way to permanently scar a child than to have an errant elf run amuck while she's describing which Bratz doll to pick up at Wal-Mart.

5. Remember Your Basic Values: "Good", not "Evil."

Because people expect you to slip into their houses and eat their food, it might be tempting to think you can ignore the laws of the land. I mean, $15.95 for a picture with Santa? Basic news searches will also show you that Santa seems to be a close second to Richard Nixon as the preferred disguise of bank robbers.

We can only assume that these larcenous Santas had stolen their suits off one of Santa's apprentices, but the fact remains that you can never be tempted by the fruits of The Suit.

6. Make sure the facts are correct

You must know about NORAD's Santa Tracker, which follows the Great One himself as he traverses the globe. It's a nice effort, but it wouldn't have been necessary if someone had actually checked a phone number. A Colorado newspaper misprinted the Santa Hotline phone number, and dozens of children started calling what was then known as the Continental Air Defense Command command center.

Fortunately, the good folks there tinkered with their radar until they could actually detect Santa and his reindeer taking off from the North Pole, but it's a risk you don't want to take with your valuable brand extension test in the carefully selected MidWestern city.

7. Don't believe the hype

To many, your arrival is a bright spot as the cold winter months approach. Don't push it. You have a foundation of trust and respect, built through years of hard work. While there will always be skeptics, don't assume that your hard earned rep will cover every indiscretion.

In a concept no doubt inspired by considerable amounts of beer, a Scotland town held a "Santa Idol" competition this year, putting prospective Santas through a rigorous audition process in the style of the successful TV program. Donald Baxter, 68, won the right to be Santa at Tourist Information Centres in Dundee and Arbroath.

"Some of the Santas were excellent, although I think there were one or two iffy ones to be honest," said one of the judges.

8. Mind your "Ps and Qs"

Sure, it's hard to go wrong when you're Santa. You can kiss strange children and ask single mothers their age. But there are some boundaries you just shouldn't cross.

Take, for example, a recent "Santa Claus of the Year" contest in Finland. Five contestants showed up, which is embarrassing enough. One brought a gift bag of his own paintings - nude portraits. Another gave the organizer an overly enthusiastic hug, squeezing her " in some of the wrong places."

The competition also included a contest to see how many children could fit into each Santa's lap at the same time. That's wrong on so many levels, we're pretty sure we don't need to go over them here.

9. Don't dis the help

Sure, it's hard being Jolly St. Nick, squeezing through chimneys, and keeping that damn smile on your face. But you can never forget the little people who got you there, the poor folk responsible for reindeer maintenance. Think it's an easy job? Think again.

Apparently, reindeer herding is the most dangerous job in Sweden. There were 150 deaths on the job between 1961 and 2000, said Per Sjoelander, one of the authors of "Fatal Accidents and Suicide Among Reindeer Herding Samis in Sweden." The number of deaths was more than twice that for farmers and more than three times the total for construction workers during the same period.

Remember THAT the next time you lift your heaving gut into the sled.

10. Protect the corporate image

People get lazy. It's a busy time of year, the production lines are humming, the elves are trying to figure out exactly how Elmo learned the "limbo." You don't have the time to track your key messaging, support the new brand and protect the corporate image. What happens with all these distractions? A scandal like "Elf."

In just over 90 minutes, one movie sums up everything that can go wrong when you don't pay attention to your image.

Consider this: you've got a human elf, who is raised at the North Pole because Santa supposedly didn't see him sneak into The Big Red Bag. Then you've got elves mocking him (and displaying positively un-elflike behavior), just because he's 6-foot-five. He's wearing yellow tights, when the corporate Elf manual explicitly specifies red leggings. And the climax of the movie insists that Christmas spirit and carefully-herded reindeer aren't enough to drive the sled; you also need a turbo-boosted engine that only the fake elf can fix.

What's that mean for Santa? A visit from Child Services, possible ISO 9000 violations because of the tights, and a suit from the FTC because your 1/18 souvenir models of the sled do not reflect reality.

Throughout "Elf", Bob Newhart has a look that says "I had a good career, worked hard, had two hit shows - how the hell did I end up HERE?" The same thing could happen to you if you're not entirely vigilant every time you don The Suit.