Doing More With Less

It’s no secret that corporate America has been and still is experiencing a down economy. Companies are assessing their options against the unremitting background of lower performance and decreased expectations, while continuing to tighten their budgets.

An article in The Economist (“Perfecting Pitches,” August 16, 2008) points out that marketing budgets are often cut first and hardest. Communications in general tends to follow this rule because, like other “shared services,” it does not generate a profit. The paradox, however, is that communications, and earned media coverage in particular, are more important than ever in a down economy.

Generally accepted economic theories tell us that expectations help drive economic growth. The way consumers, stakeholders and investors imagine companies will perform is a partial measure of how they will behave: positive publicity drives momentum which, in turn, shapes perception. The job of every PR professional is ultimately dependent on this dynamic – particularly when a company’s constituents are more concerned about their pocketbooks than new products.

By strict definition, PR is about getting the word out, disseminating valuable information to the right people so that the public can make more informed decisions. As communications professionals, we help generate awareness about new innovations and future possibilities. The more elusive and challenging aspect of PR is the actual shaping of perception, attitudes and behavior.

In a slow-moving, uncertain economy, maintaining a strong, positive image can differentiate your company (or client) from your competitors and send a strong message that you are not only weathering the storm but performing in spite of obstacles. A company that can do that is a company that people want to be associated with through thick and thin. The same Economist article suggested that “the downturn may even be a blessing in disguise,” as strong companies “can stand out more easily and steal market share.”

So despite the instinct to adopt a reactive foxhole approach during times of trouble, communicators should encourage their clients, business partners and leadership teams to be proactive; challenge the skeptics and rally the troops.

Economic slowdowns should signal business leaders to be more bullish with their PR efforts, which they can do without breaking the bank. For example, desk side briefings, executive speaking opportunities, rapid response media outreach, blogging and op-eds all offer inexpensive but valuable ways to promote overall thought leadership, products and executives.

Most communications professionals agree that showing ROI for PR is a challenge, even under the best of circumstances, but it is exactly in these difficult times that we have the opportunity to prove the value of PR to the companies we serve.

Budget cuts are often inevitable, but can be temporary. Use these cuts to make your group stronger and prove your worth as a PR professional. Be creative and proactive, and get back to the basics, back to strategic media relations that will position your company positively even in a downbeat economy.