Why doing PR in a recession is more difficult and what you can do to help

Here are some quick observations and recommendations. If people have others please comment and I’ll update the entry.

1. Clients are more careful with their marketing spend, which means they are both more cautious in the risks they are prepared to take and less willing to spend on potentially expensive ideas even if the long term returns are worth it. Recommendations: Think carefully about the ideas you are giving to your clients and about the way these ideas are presented. In difficult times clients want to feel that approaches are going to work and are therefore less worried about ideas being new or innovative.

2. Clients become even more focused on the current quarter and results that will impact their bottom line. This is understandable but all the best practice studies show that the brands that remain committees to long term goals tend to do the better than those who simply worry about the current market. Recommendations: Understand the sales process and sales cycle of your client’s business and marry programs to that cycle. This is a god discipline in any environment but in a downturn it becomes vital.

3. Competitors typically have more opportunities to highlight a client’s deficiencies as typically companies in a recession are struggling to be successful and are therefore losing customers, letting staff go etc. Recommendations: When competitors highlight your client’s short comings talk about the strategies that your client is using and the success it is having. However, don’t overstate the situation and don’t keep repeating the bad news that is at the heart of the issue as this will only reinforce the point your competitor has highlighted.

4. During tough times it is tempting to say as little as possible on the basis that the media are likely to make a bad story out of anything your client does. Indeed it is all too common for companies to try and hide during recessions and then reappear when they finally have good news to tell. Recommendations: Don’t let your clients go completely silent. They must maintain an active dialog with the media to ensure a trusted relationship continues. The same goes for the blogosphere. When companies hide they make themselves an even bigger target.

5. In a downturn PR departments can sometimes see PR agencies as the competition. By that I mean that they fear that with budgets likely to be reduced they either need to cut the agency fees or risk losing their jobs. This is understandable but clearly unhealthy. Recommendations: Instead of spending hours trying to justify your existence, talk openly with your clients about the roles each party is going to play and the metrics upon which you will be measured. Ultimately you may still be a victim but professionalism goes a long way and will serve you well once a downturn has ended.

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3 Comments on “Why doing PR in a recession is more difficult and what you can do to help”

  1. Connection Maven says:

    Sage advice, especially the bit about the sales cycle!

  2. j-vaidya says:

    The fourth point you make is a great one.

    I believe more than ever that an economic downturn is the right time for organizations to take advantage of the direct to consumer conversations that result from engaging the blogosphere.

    Not only can these conversations be carried out at minimal cost to the organization, but they provide key insights into consumer behavior during a period of shifting market trends.

    For example, I just read an article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday that said brand loyalty is on the decline as consumers become more price conscious shoppers.

    This presents a great opportunity for less well-known brands to engage their consumers and promote the advantages (such as cost) of their brands.

    Like you said, the key is not to panic and to make informed decisions.

  3. Fionnbarra says:

    I think a perennial challenge is how to measure the impact of PR. If you can’t quantify things they are harder to defend. My point of view it to not attempt to build an ROI driven business case. Instead, I have had some success in treating the PR process in the same way as companies do with their sales pipeline process. In other words use pipeline stages, qualification discpline, periodic targets to introduce more rigor to the process. This should yield better results and will probably help you to market the impact of PR to people that are used to reviewing results in this manner.


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