PR in a soft economy: double down and step up

October 12, 2022

The threat of a strong and prolonged recession is causing businesses to panic. Some are laying off a percentage of their staff, reigning in their global efforts, and even stalling innovation. Since marketing tends to be one of the first budgets to get slashed, CMOs and other marketing leaders need to prioritize what they’re doing.

One knee-jerk reaction to budget cuts is to kill or pause some programs outright because savvy marketers know that cutting back equally across the board by 25% or 50% won’t drive the same results. One thought that may arise is, “Should we just go dark PR-wise and reemerge after the storm has passed?” Most definitely not. Companies that feed the PR machine in a down economy get better results over the long term because some of their competitors have gone dark.

Then, when the recession is over, the companies that adopted a lights-off strategy wonder why their competitors are getting the lion’s share of media coverage. They also wonder why it’s so difficult to start back up.

The reason is simple: PR is like kinetic energy, meaning that it’s easier to gain momentum if you have some already than to accelerate from a stationary position.

Third-party credibility is important

One reason some companies discontinue PR during a recession is because it’s viewed as an expense versus an investment. While it’s true that PR does not offer the absolute control some other tactics such as advertising and in-house blogs do, company messages gain the most traction when credible third parties such as industry analysts, press and other influencers are repeating them publicly. Like testimonials, customers want to hear from third parties that your company is as reliable, trustworthy and innovative as you claim it is.

At Bospar, we’re working hand-in-glove with clients now to align and orchestrate their efforts with ours, and in doing so, we’re discovering new and exciting angles to pursue. In some cases, we’re also taking on more content and social media responsibilities as job requisitions get pulled and clients’ marketing team members resign without planned replacements.

Consistency is key

PR, like branding, should always be consistent. If it isn’t, your company will be positioned by default and most likely in a way you’re trying to avoid.

For example, in sales situations, your competitors make a point of framing you in an unflattering light so it’s easier for prospects to choose them. When they do that, they will fan the flames of fear, uncertainty and doubt by pointing out your company’s weaknesses and perceived weaknesses, often with reckless disregard for the truth.

One way to counter that is to have a steady stream of press and analyst coverage that argues the opposite. While a company with deep pockets can do this with greater frequency, a steady stream of newsworthy information and insights helps position your company as an industry leader.

For example, when I wrote for Informa, the publisher which owns InformationWeek, I would often get list assignments in the fourth quarter that were “companies to watch.” As always, some candidates are obvious – the usual A-listers which pioneered or hijacked an industry category. However, there were others worth mentioning because they had a novel approach to innovation, their tech was breaking new ground, or they had marquee customers disrupting entire industries.

I never covered some of the companies I included in lists because the pitches I received were not compelling or appropriate. For instance, I didn’t cover news, but I did make mental notes about the companies which had demonstrated momentum in terms of expansion, customers, partners and product/service roadmap. Then, when it came time to make another list, guess who was top of mind?

Every now and then, PR clients say, “But we don’t have anything to talk about – no customers, products, services, awards, or new offices.” So what? Why not make news? Bospar does that often, in good times and bad.

One way to make news is to commission a research report that will generate new data. Another tactic is to engage an influencer most people recognize who has some logical connection to your brand. For example, we used physician and immunologist Anthony Fauci for Healthline, astronaut Buzz Aldrin for PayPal Galactic, Star Trek Voyager actor Tim Russ (aka Tuvok) for Unistellar and Star Trek original series legend George Takei (aka Sulu) for the “House of Cats” augmented reality app launch.

Another thing we’ve been doing – and now offer it as a bespoke service – is integrated content marketing which involves more that PR, bylines and press releases. While PR, bylines and press releases are obvious staples, we’re getting even more media traction and even greater overall results when we can align our services with a client’s strategic goals and orchestrate and produce various sales and marketing deliverables in such a way that they support each other, telling a larger overall story.

Bottom line

In a soft economy, it may be tempting to forego PR, but that isn’t a wise long-term strategy. Instead, double down and step up to meet the challenge because some of your competitors won’t. Then later, when the clouds dissipate and the economic forecasts return to sunny, you’ll be top of mind among analysts, customers, investors, journalists, and prospects.

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