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Small Business Digest


Economic Downturn Is Not The Time to Axe Public Relations Budget

In business, things aren’t always as they appear and some line items that seem on the surface to be superfluous may actually be the very expenditures that can mean short-term success and long-term staying power.

Public relations is just such an example. The ability to manage perception and influence decisions has allowed many a company rise above the crowd, yet because the profession ironically does a poor job of properly positioning itself, it is often among the first cuts made in a financial downturn.

This is one of the biggest mistakes a business can make.

Just as a company is examining its financial state, customers too are examining theirs. It is in tough economic times – when consumers are shuffling their financial cards – that they become even more selective on what to spend and where to spend it.

In times like this, people are not inclined to gamble on the unknown or jump to the latest carnival barker. It is the strong and trusted brands that win out.

Nothing builds and supports a brand like public relations. Public relations spawns customer trust and loyalty because a good public relations program marinates in the four most important elements of trust: integrity, honesty, promise-keeping and loyalty.

A program having this as its foundation helps with attracting new customers and keeping the old. It also helps with galvanizing employees, a challenge employers face now more than ever as salaries freeze, benefits structures are re-examined and nervousness mounts.

If companies don’t think they have the money for public relations, they should think again. Public relations is the most cost-effective way to spread a message when compared to the other arrows in the marketing quiver.

Advertising, direct mail and other sales initiatives which might populate a communications playbook all cost more to execute than public relations. At a time when every dollar spent matters and when attracting business equates to survival, public relations enables a company to keep their name prominent and positive while spending dollars wisely.

The key is finding the right public relations partner to help with all of this. Challenging economic climate allows little margin for error and selecting the right agency has never been more critical.

Four things to consider now more than ever in a public relations partner are:

  • Make sure that the agency has the resources to handle all of the company's demands in a seamless fashion, yet is not so large that the company will end up spending precious dollars to pay for resources they never see, never use and never need. This is no time for waste.
  • Make sure that the agency has a broad and deep understanding of the industry including its issues, language, textures and sensitivities. In these times companies can’t afford to watch Bambi take her first steps or to pay for a long learning curve.
  • Make sure the agency understands the business objectives and recognizes that publicity just for publicity sake isn’t the answer. It must be strategically driven and directly tied to overriding business objectives.
  • Make sure the agency knows how to successfully integrate public relations with all other components in the company's marketing cocktail so that all of the pieces work together – in one smooth rhythm – relative to message and timing. Properly executed, public relations will make sales efforts even more effective and allow marketing dollars to go even further. Poorly executed, companies will find themselves with a Frankenstein assortment of disjointed pieces that just don’t seem to fit together.

It is easy, and perhaps even tempting, to remain in the shallow end of the pool until normalcy returns to the marketplace. But nobody knows for sure when that will be or what the new “normal” will look like.

The companies that emerge from this economic downturn stronger and better positioned will be those whose brand remains strong, whose values remain true and whose reputation remains unpolluted. Sounds like a job for public relations.

Edited from article by Ross K. Goldberg, president of Kevin/Ross Public Relations

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