As the U.S. sinks into what is looking like another recession, businesses are cutting expenses they believe are not essential for survival. Despite the plethora of historical evidence telling them to do otherwise, CEOs tend to put public relations on the chopping block. The panic of revenue loss has likely made them forget that recessions are actually an ideal opportunity to stand out as a leader in a crowded marketplace and let their audience know that the company is still going strong.
Just like every recession in recent memory, PR companies must remind their clients that abandoning their services is the last thing they should do when the economy takes a plunge. With this in mind, here are a few ways to demonstrate the value of PR during uncertain times:
Tell your story when everyone else has gone quiet
Recessions trigger a substantial reduction in general noise, largely due to widespread cuts in PR and marketing services across industries. This opens up more space for your clients to tell their stories and leave a lasting impression on their audiences. It’s time to turn up the volume on your clients’ communication channels and overtake the dwindling narratives of their competitors in order to cement themselves as industry leaders.
You can accomplish this by creating narratives that portray your clients as stable, trustworthy and essential, as opposed to flashy, trendy or luxurious. Think about it: How trustworthy and essential could your clients’ competitors be if they’ve gone silent the moment the economy goes south?
You can also stress the fact that while some of their competitors might not survive the storm, your clients are committed to meeting their audiences’ needs for years to come. Since the competition is nowhere to be found, your clients will soar to the top of the conversation and set the stage for a productive transition when the economy inevitably gets back on track.
Position your clients with evergreen content
Another highly effective way to evoke trust and stability is through earned media. A feature story in a media outlet shows that a brand has gained the respect of an objective third party, which can only signify that the brand is thriving. Consumers often operate in a herd mentality during recessions, so when they see that a brand has a publication’s trust, it’s only natural to jump on the bandwagon.
Since so many companies are cutting their PR services, plenty of journalists will be looking for new material. In terms of content, it would be wise to position your clients in evergreen articles that can be found easily and repeatedly. You may consider targeting resources your clients’ audiences will likely consult to help them make smart purchasing decisions. After all, this is when consumers need to be absolutely sure they aren’t overspending or buying poor-quality goods.
For example, reviews that live on product recommendation services like Wirecutter are read by massive audiences for months (or even years). The inclusion of backlinks to your clients’ websites on these popular resources will also do wonders for your clients’ SEO long after the recession has ended.
Put a positive spin on negative news
Odds are, your clients are going to have to relay some form of bad news to their audiences. Maybe the recession has forced them to increase prices, reduce staff or lengthen delivery times. The need to communicate this information comes with several risks. Your clients certainly don’t want to damage their reputations or give the impression that they won’t be around for much longer.
To spare your clients from these risks, develop a storyline that doesn’t skirt the truth but ultimately emphasizes optimism and growth. For instance, you could include the bad news in a series of “strategic announcements” that promote recent milestones in your clients’ trajectories. This will create a positive corporate image that steers your clients’ audiences away from the negativity of the recession. You can also compose internal and external scripts for your clients so they’re prepared to deliver similar messages to their employees and partners.
The quality of your narrative — as long as it doesn’t seem contrived or disingenuous — will remind your clients or your value as a business partner. They’ll be impressed by the care you’ve devoted to their public image during this pivotal period in their journey.
Prepare a compelling argument for ‘The Talk’
Even if your clients are well aware of the value of your services, the desperate need to save money might force them to reconsider virtually every monthly expense. So, you’d best prepare a compelling argument when it comes time for “The Talk.”
Since PR and marketing are often lumped together, you may have to reiterate that earned media is much cheaper than paid media and advertising. When a journalist accepts a pitch, there’s no added charge to the PR firm or the client. Compared to the monthly expense of a marketing agency, PR is a budget friendly strategy for maintaining relevance during a recession.
It’s also important to tell your clients that, unlike traditional advertising, earned media is an evergreen investment. An advertisement might be able to trigger a one-off purchase, but the endorsement of earned media will showcase a brand before a massive audience for months — even years — on end, and for a surprisingly low cost.
Lastly, you may have to remind your clients that if they don’t take advantage of the reduction in noise that accompanies recessions, someone else will. Though it may be tempting to cut PR to save a few dollars, there’s a good chance that the lost momentum from this hasty decision will allow another brand to step in and steal the spotlight.
PR holds the key to ruling recessions
History has repeatedly proven that recessions separate the strong from the weak. And the strong don’t just sit back and expect sales to keep rolling in. They give consumers a reason to choose them over their competition, and as your clients will see, that reason is effective PR. This is the time when your clients’ audiences need to hear from them the most, so don’t let them abandon their greatest tool for standing out: their story.
Steve Marcinuk is co-founder and head of operations at Intelligent Relations.