There’s no denying the signs - layoffs, budget cuts, restructuring - all telltale indicators of an economic downturn. While the next few months (or years) will likely prove challenging, we’re here to provide insight into one way to position yourself, and your company, for success. Many companies look to cut PR resources during a recession; however, the advantages to utilizing earned media coverage and having a public relations professional during a downturn ensure your brand continues to be favorable in the minds of would-be customers when the economy bounces back.
PR is cost effective. It’s an outside endorsement of your company that is effectively evergreen - lasting far longer than the recession and promising more bang for your buck.
What’s one way to let the world know that you’re not only surviving, but thriving during a downturn? Keeping them updated on all that your company is up to through the press. Your competitors will stay silent, and you’ll stay top of mind. (With competitors out of the media, you’ll naturally have more eyes on you)
We’ve asked 5 experts to weigh in on public relations in a downturn - here’s what they had to say:
“Regardless of what is happening in the world, the core function and impact of public relations remains the same. When times are tough, trust is more important than ever. And I'd argue that earned media is the greatest way to shift public perception in your favor. It's also more cost-effective than other tactics since the core of what we do as communicators is earned versus paid, so you'll get a greater ROI. When advertising and marketing budgets were cut during the pandemic, you know what wasn’t? My PR budget. Executive and leadership teams are beginning to recognize and understand the value of PR, but it's up to us as communicators to continue to prove our impact. Through analytics and measurement tools, I've been able to link press wins directly back to increases in new downloads and registrations on OkCupid. And during the pandemic, media relations was our most valuable tool.” - Michael Kaye, Associate Director of Global Communications at OkCupid
“Few macro trends produce anxiety and concern like an economic pull-back, and PR and external communications, as practiced best, can have a calming effect on stakeholders that are anxious and concerned. PR cannot fix an economic slump. What it can do is insulate a company, to a meaningful degree, from the reputational impacts of one…Also, don't sleep on the fact that those with the most money and power tend to make off pretty well during and after recessions. From a communications standpoint, this produces unique challenges and the potential for crisis scenarios. But it also gives those businesses a real platform to step up and do some good, and leaders who are in this fortunate position should seize the opportunity.” - Andrew Graham, Founder & Head of Strategy at Bread & Law, LLC; 2022 PRSA-NY Immediate Past President
“PR and all forms of communications is extremely important for businesses and organizations of all kinds to connect with the public. My company specifically serves small businesses and non-profit organizations, mostly entrepreneurs-led, and I can not stress how important hiring a smart and competent PR/Communications agency or strategist is to create their messaging and consistently creating opportunities to connect with the media. Public Relations is not a linear profession - my peers and I offer a series of services and supportive activities to help our clients introduce, connect and grow with their customers, donors and followers.” - Kimberly Wilson Marshall, Founder and Director at Wilson Marshall PR + EVENTS
“In so many previous cycles, it has been shown that you make your real money with the work you do during the downturn, building for when the economy takes off again. A huge part of that work is making sure you communicate to your audiences. Believe it or not, if you go into heads-down mode and neglect to communicate externally, people will often conclude you have failed and gone out of business, which is not the reputation anybody wants. But letting the world know about your activities, progress and momentum demonstrates you are resilient, agile and worthy of the attention of investors, partners and customers. The good news is many companies go quiet, meaning there is generally less noise and it is easier to create signal around your company.” - Saul Hudson, Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Angle42
“Change is the biggest thing that companies share in common during times of crisis. For many companies, that may include a reduction in team size or the delay of a planned launch. In these moments, your communication team is essential. PR and communications experts can coach your executives to deliver bad news in a manner that is straightforward and compassionate and help your team in preparing internal and external scripts. This preparation and your public response will preserve your company reputation and ensure that employees are treated with respect throughout the process.
Your PR team can also help if you are launching new products or making quick pivots to accommodate the shifting needs of customers. We witnessed a lot of shifts during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as clothing companies using their factories to build PPE, distilleries rushing to produce hand sanitizer, and education programs moving their courses online. Your PR team will help you to get the right message in front of the right audience to make sure that your launches have an impact.
No matter the change that comes your way, your communications and PR team will be the bedrock of your brand story. You have the opportunity to craft the narrative in a way that reflects your company values, showcases your mission, and reinforces why you’re a great place to work.” - Mandy Menaker, Director of Communications, Orchard; PRSA-NY 15 under 35 Recipient
PR is one of your most important tools during a recession to keep in touch with your audiences and find new ones. Don’t follow others who may be shedding their PR efforts — that is one of the worst things you can do during hard times. When you’re ready to invest in PR, finding the right person shouldn’t hold you back. Our vetted network of PR experts, including Saul, Kimberly, and Andrew from this article (!) are available on-demand to meet you where you are.