With the specter of a recession looming over the economy, business leaders are understandably nervous about what the future holds. Economic uncertainty can color every aspect of work life—from product development to employee morale—and business as usual simply isn’t going to be enough.
When it comes to marketing and public relations during a recession, the same holds true. Frantically slashing budgets can do more harm than good in the long term, but putting on blinders and continuing forward as though nothing is happening can be just as damaging.
PR and Marketing During a Recession
When facing a recessionary environment, the following approaches to your PR and marketing strategies will help you effectively navigate the challenges ahead.
With economic instability, the first instinct for most of us is to panic. This can manifest in various ways, from rapidly shifting tactics to immediate budget or personnel cuts. Although those actions may be necessary, the danger of panic is that it will cause you to plunge forward without careful thought, which could have disastrous long-term consequences.
To avoid being driven by instinct alone, you need to carefully evaluate the situation to better understand what challenges you are facing. Have you already experienced revenue drops, or do you anticipate that you will? Why is this happening? With that information in mind, what goals do you want to reach over the next year?
Once you have a better idea of the big-picture goals, then you can determine how marketing and public relations can help you achieve them.
Understand Your Customer
You may already have ideal customer profiles and marketing personas that drive your communications strategy. However, customer priorities can change if they start feeling the pinch of a recession or even the threat of one. Research is key to keeping track of their values and pain points so you can stay in tune with what they need and stay ahead of competitors.
Conduct surveys, update personas, and stay in close contact with sales and support teams to keep your finger on the pulse of the concerns and desires of your customers, both current and prospective. This will give you valuable intelligence you can use to decide which marketing and PR strategies will have the most payoff and which audiences you want to target with your efforts.
Focus on Reputation
Stability and reliability are more important than ever during times of economic uncertainty. This is where a strong communications strategy—particularly one that incorporates public relations—will play a critical role.
During the panic phase I mentioned earlier, many companies will eliminate PR as a quick budget fix. If you instead choose to stay the course, this allows you to fill gaps in the marketplace and add your expertise to the conversation. A solid PR program during a recession will often focus on thought leadership and targeted earned-media opportunities for company executives in the form of expert quotes, bylined articles, or op-eds about important issues in your industry.
Placements in publications your target audience read and respect will grow your share of voice in the marketplace and keep you top-of-mind while your competitors fade into the background. Further, it clearly illustrates your expertise, strengthens your reputation, and assures customers that you are in good shape even if other companies are struggling.
Now that your strategy and goals are in place, it is time to decide where to make cuts and where to invest. Doing the work to understand your market position and customer needs means that you can make cuts with surgical precision rather than taking a sledgehammer to the entire marketing or PR department. It also allows you to more confidently invest in activities that will bring you closer to reaching those goals.
This could mean reevaluating campaigns and pausing those that have less ROI or do not fit your messaging going forward. Aligning efforts and breaking down silos to get more bang for your buck is also essential. For example, make sure your messaging is consistent across the organization or leverage an op-ed not only as an earned placement, but also on social media, on your blog, and in sales materials.
Increased Focus on Sustainability
Circumstances can change at a moment’s notice during an economic downturn, and your marketing and PR teams need to be prepared to pivot along with them. In addition to continually evaluating strategic plans and goals, it is crucial to have a crisis communication plan ready to be executed if necessary. Further, if you have been working to strengthen your reputation and build relationships with journalists and customers, it will serve you well when dealing with a crisis.
Making the Most of Marketing and PR During a Recession
Economic uncertainty is not going away anytime soon, and companies will have to confront challenges along the way. However, this uncertainty can also open the door to PR and marketing opportunities if you know how to take advantage of them. Now is the time to keep cool, build a strategic communications plan, and make informed investments that will help you thrive—even as your competition flounders.
About the author
Katharine Quaranta Katharine is a public relations manager based out of Youngstown, Ohio. She has a track record of building strong relationships with reporters and writing copy that resonates with the intended audience, be that customers, media, or employees. Over the years, she has also worked to plan, develop and execute many public relations plans as well as lead-generation strategies and campaigns. Read more articles by Katharine Quaranta.