As the economy has gone really sour, I’ve received more invitations to bid on work than in the preceding six months. A friend of mine in the advertising/branding business tells me that several of his (smart) clients have actually increased their marketing budgets, sensing an opportunity that will pay off in difficult times.
One of the most difficult tasks facing PR/communications professionals is proving their worth. You can showcase a handsome clip file, you can hire one of those specious companies that measure “impressions” against a paid advertising equivalency, or you can go hoarse trying to convince your client that what you’ve done is paying lucrative dividends. But in corporations where the bean counters rule - and that’s most of them - there’s no profit attached to the communications function. Therefore in tough times - like now - when companies are looking for ways to save money, PR is often the first thing thrown overboard.
Those that adhere to this notion, however, do so at their own peril. Think about it for a second. In boom times when customers are just knocking at a company’s door and sales are exceeding supply, PR isn’t even needed. In down times, though, PR can give a company an edge up - providing what we used to call “free media” and now call “earned media,” - increasing public exposure and awareness, driving sales, and advertising a firm’s message and strengths in a very economical way. As The Economist recently pointed out, some major corporations, such as Bank of America and Verizon are suddenly boosting their advertising and PR budgets and laughing all the way to the bank as their competitors cut back (See “Perfecting Pitches”). “When the good times roll, a strong marketing message can be drowned out in the cacophony as brands compete for consumers’ attention,” The Economist said. “But as weaker firms cut promotion in a slowdown, relatively strong rivals that maintain or increase their marketing spending can stand out more easily and steal market share.”
Anecdotally, I would say that some companies get this. In the last couple of months, as the economy has gone really sour, I’ve received more invitations to bid on work than in the preceding six months. A friend of mine in the advertising/branding business tells me that several of his (smart) clients have actually increased their marketing budgets, sensing an opportunity that will pay off in difficult times.
Maybe warning companies not to cut PR in a down economy is a perennial spin from the spinmeisters themselves (see “Down Economy is PR’s Time To Shine”). But it just rings true to me that crisis brings opportunity (of course, I specialize in crisis communications.)
So how can we better measure results? Well, in most cases we can’t. Even if you could, your client might not believe you. I once had a client who blamed me for the few times something negative appeared about him in the media, and praised only himself for all the positive coverage he received (“Damn, I’m good,” he would crow, never acknowledging the hours I spent flogging his sorry tale to the press). That’s just the way it is for flacks.