Can PR help you grow during periods of economic uncertainty?
By Bekki Bushnell, Head of Business Development
The last two years have been interesting, haven’t they? I won’t waste time recapping, we’ve all lived through it. But just as we thought we were out of the woods, along comes an anticipated recession. You can’t make it up.
As we know, the first fatalities of any period of uncertainty are typically PR and marketing. But as we saw from the pandemic, the brands that continue to invest in these functions are able to better connect with their audiences on a meaningful level, build trust, brand loyalty and ultimately grow their business in the longer term.
If the UK does go into a recession, it may be hard to find a brand that remains unaffected — particularly when it comes to PR and marketing budgets. In fact, according to an IPA Bellweather study taken during the pandemic, marketing budgets in the UK have suffered the highest cuts in the 20+ history of the report.
However, just because the majority of businesses might do it, is it the right thing to do? As a PR agency, we’re always going to argue no, and there is evidence to back this up. A study by Harvard Business School researchers shows companies that cut marketing investment come off worse when coming out of a downturn.
Here are our top four reasons to keep doing PR during the times of economic uncertainty based on our 25+ years of experience in the industry:
#1 Communication is still important
Never write off the importance of communications. Now more than ever your stakeholders, be it, customers, staff or investors, will look to you for assurance. Whether that’s about operations, customer service or delivery, the best way to do this is through communications – so keep the communications flowing because once those relationships are gone, they’re very hard to build back up again. It’s about having a constant stream of open and transparent information to avoid assumptions being made. This is especially true when it comes to the media – you want to keep those strong relationships so that when you’re ready to kick-start wider campaigns, they still know who you are and what your business stands for.
#2 The trust factor
If you don’t communicate, how do you build trust? In times of uncertainty, people want to spend money with businesses they know will deliver for them in the way that they need. Your customers trust you to do this and it’s one of the ways you can demonstrate your credibility to those brands you are yet to work with you. If you’ve developed a new product or service, that builds trust because it shows you understand the landscape your clients and prospects operate in and are evolving to ease their pain points. If you’ve recently secured investment, appointed senior hires or made an acquisition then you are growing, and that builds trust because to grow you must be trusted by others.
So why keep doing PR? A good PR agency will work with you to pinpoint the right stories and messaging that will evoke the right reactions from your target audiences and understand which triggers will lead to a sales enquiry.
#3 PR can be flexible
You may have the impression that PR is something that requires a big budget and isn’t very flexible. I’m happy to tell you that you don’t need to execute extravagant ideas or invest in a big PR campaign. Part of this is having an agency and account team that respond to your current needs. Your account team should advise and guide you through any situation you find yourself in and if that means reducing spend or reallocating some budget to focus on a different area such as crisis comms then there’s nothing to say that can’t be done. There is also no need to put blind faith in an agency in hope that they deliver results — make sure you are working with a partner that puts in fixed deliverables, set KPIs and formal service level agreements so you have total peace of mind about your investment.
#4 PR is so much more
There’s more to PR than traditional media relations. Whether that’s working with you on social and digital, delivering creative campaigns or incorporating marketing elements, the agencies of today have broader skills across channels and can tailor make campaigns to suit your business needs — now and into the future. More than that, account teams often act as an extension of your own and have tremendous value to add over above “traditional PR”, especially in times when proving a return on investment is so important.
In times like this PR still has an incredibly important role to play in maintaining brand health and engaging with your audiences — whether you’re using it in the same way as before or in an adapted way. And with budgets under scrutiny, working with the right team can help you realise your ever-important return on investment.