Regardless of where you get your financial news, one thing is clear: the United States is facing uncertain economic times. Some experts are saying the country will be in a full-blown recession by the end of the year. Others say we’re already there. With inflation at levels we haven’t seen since the 1980s, consumers’ wallets will be squeezed – right in time for the holidays.
The gloomy economic forecast presents significant communications challenges to both for-profit and non-profit organizations as consumers head into the holidays more guarded about spending. But with an effective communications strategy, organizations can weather economic uncertainty by keeping their audiences engaged and loyal. Here are a few tips for both the for-profit and non-profit sectors:
For-profit comms tips
Retailers are already trying to extend the holiday season with deals and flashy ads to entice consumers to spend. While the marketing team attracts consumers with messages about cost savings for the holidays, PR and communications professionals can send complementary messages that address ways businesses prepare for the holiday season in the face of an uncertain economic forecast.
Stories about high inventory levels, consumer trends on making each dollar count, and customer service challenges amidst employee shortages will drive the national consumer conversation this season. Use them to your clients’ advantage. Inject them into the economic narrative, a tactic often referred to as “newsjacking.” But in doing so, demonstrate you appreciate customers’ real concerns. Here are some other ways to connect with worried consumers:
- Involve spokespeople outside of the executive suite in delivering messages. Tap relatable frontline employees to be interviewed about what they are seeing and hearing from customers this year. Involving employees in earned media initiatives not only provides audiences with a real-life perspective of the current retail environment, it also introduces real people working hard to help worried consumers. Employees are the true face of the company. They are the ones interacting with customers every day. Telling their stories and highlighting their expert guidance and empathy will go a long way to combat consumer angst.
- Provide loyalty club members with support and perks during times of marketplace instability. Work with your clients to develop special offers for this audience and strong messages, making it clear that you’re in their corner as they face uncertain economic times. Use customer newsletters and consumer-facing websites to connect, making it clear that the company and its employees are ready to give preferred customers this holiday season the special attention they deserve.
- Highlight partnerships with non-profit organizations. Consumers love to hear stories about how their favorite brands are supporting mission-driven causes. It assures them that they, too, are supporting the cause just by being a customer. Teams from both the for-profit and nonprofit organization can work together to amplify the story of the partnership. The for-profit company will receive valuable exposure and credit for giving back during the holidays, while the non-profit organization taps into an important vein of new donors and supporters.
Non-profit comms tips
Speaking of nonprofit organizations, they also can benefit from many of the aforementioned for-profit tips. For example:
- The power of faces and the stories behind them are especially important for charitable organizations to highlight amidst uncertain economic times. Show the impact of the mission and the people who make it happen. Those being helped and those who are helping – -staff and volunteers — remind the audience that the organization needs them now more than ever.
- Just like for-profit’s customer loyalty programs, most nonprofit organizations have a core loyal donor base. Make sure these vital supporters hear often from the non-profit you represent. Emphasize the need for constant support, especially through economic downturns.
- If the economy is causing financial gifts to slow, ask for donors’ time instead. They believe in your cause and likely will welcome the opportunity to do more, especially if they are not able to make as large a monetary gift as they’d like. Let them know about other important ways to support the mission, like volunteering or providing an in-kind service.
Lastly, non-profit and for-profit communications teams alike should take time to assess the economy’s impact on the foundational elements of their communications plans. Has the economy caused a shift in target audiences? Are messages still on point or do they need to be adjusted? Are message delivery methods still effective? Comms teams should reexamine all variables as they prepare to weather an uncertain economy. Then just keep communicating. It’s the best way to ensure your audiences will stick with you come what may.
Philip McGowan is a partner with Finn Partners Southeast and co-leads its Government & Environment Practice. He develops integrated communications programs for clients in the public utilities, environmental advocacy, nonprofit and legislative relations spaces. Pat Warner is vice president at Finn Partners.