Say No To More Recession Talk

Jul 16, 2009

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By: Vanessa Horwell

Argh! Just when we thought things were looking up, the Department of Labor spoils it with the latest unemployment figures. I’m sure many companies upped their cutbacks again, rather than upping their PR budgets this past week.

So, really, this isn’t a recession anymore — it’s a global gut-check. And there aren’t any Lucky Dip bags filled with taxpayer money waiting for us at the end of the recession rainbow. Businesses everywhere have been paralyzed over which course of action to take. Be bold, be innovators? Or bring out the hatchet to those bloated costs and inefficient operations driven by years of faux-plenty? It’s been a wake-up call for all.

Inevitably, in such a challenging (and changing) environment, many businesses have trended toward batten-the-hatches, slash-the-budget tactics. But in these actions, they may have failed to see that strategic positioning and public relations could actually help their companies gain market share, increase sales, and experience organic growth. You may think I’m biased, but when we look at recent history, we see such opportunities have indeed arisen out of uncertainty:

  • Sears surpassed Montgomery Ward during World War II
  • Kellogg overtook Post in the breakfast cereal market during the Depression
  • Revlon and Phillip Morris gained market share in the ’70s recession
  • Taco Bell and Pizza Hut gained share from McDonald’s during the ’90-91 recession
  • In the 2001 slowdown, Apple, which had languished as a second-place player in the personal computing business, launched the iPod and revolutionized its business model, and, well, us
  • During the 1991 recession, PR spending actually increased across the U.S.: as a result, twice as many companies climbed from the bottom of their industries to the top

PR can be one of the most cost-efficient tools for businesses, and particularly compared to advertising or traditional marketing tactics. Traditional advertising is simply out of reach for the lower or middle classes of American business, and for those start-ups without VC funds to dole out fat checks, forget it!

When PR initiatives get out of the traditional, old-school, press-release trap — by including new media and unconventional thinking, the effect and efficiency is magnified: Companies that perceive PR as the distribution of biased and self-serving drivel to be micro-managed are missing out on incredible opportunities to rebuild and reposition their businesses in an authentic and tangible way.

So rather than switching off the publicity tap, PR should be viewed as an important component to business survival – even more so during crappy times. Money spent on effective PR adds value to an organization. Instead of viewing PR as a luxury line-item, think of it as an integral part of a business strategy to increase revenues and profitability.

To be sure, PR is not a magic cure-all, but an important part of a company’s plan to achieve recognition and support growth. Now is not the time to retreat from the marketplace. Nor is it the time to throw money out the window on an all-or-nothing gamble. It’s not about spending more or less. It’s about operating smarter. It’s time for businesses to build dialogues with their customers based on honesty, providing the most value and the best service — all of which can be achieved by a kick-ass PR strategy and a group of people who can think beyond press releases and PR-speak.

PR is not for dummies, but for companies that think and act smart.

Crazy Times Call For Strategic, Not Defensive Thinking
Different times call for different solutions, not defensive ones. Increased internet usage, evolving market needs and the way people access content has turned public relations into a very different beast, and a very effective one, too.

When we finally drag ourselves out of this economic hell-hole, there will be winners and losers, divided, as always, along the lines of who was prepared and proactive and who got caught with their pants down, scrambling. I’m willing to bet money on those businesses that sustained their PR and visibility efforts will be ones to come out on top.

So pull your socks up, everyone, and start thinking beyond the recession. A broader mindset filled with promise and opportunity is a much healthier way to visualize and enable a company’s success far into the future.

Just don’t forget to include PR in that picture.

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