Marketing Communications in a Recession
One of the first knee jerk reactions from Directors and Senior Managers when faced with an economic downturn is to cut the marketing budget. The logic is that with a slow down in the economy advertising or promotions to raise awareness regarding your products and services will be less effective. However, there is a considerable body of evidence to suggest adopting a contradictory approach when it comes to marketing communications in difficult economic conditions.
I remember whilst studying for my Management Masters of Business Administration, reading about the strategy adopted by that global giant Unilever as it faced the economic downturn in the early 1990s. This multinational consumer products company regularly spends over 10 percent of its annual turnover on advertising and promotion. Interestingly, during the recession of the 1990s it increased its advertising expenditure by 9 percent.
Source: M & M Europe (October 1992)
Our habit of keeping articles which we read at the height of previous recessions, proves its worth once again. However, if organisations are going to maintain or increase the marketing expenditures then there is no excuse for poor, ineffective communications that may result from this. Every sum of money incorporated into the budget must be properly accounted for with clear objectives stated and appropriate performance measures put in place to monitor returns.
One area that is often overlooked, an area that can offer plenty of scope to provide cost effective marketing communications is the use of public relations. However, a caveat must be included at this stage. The same principles of accounting for and measuring performance must be incorporated into any public relations budget just as a company would for an above-the-line advertising campaign.
Public Relations – A Proper Definition
Public Relations or as it is perhaps better known – PR is often seen as the “black arts” of marketing communications. Before we provide our top tips for maximising your Public Relations exposure let us face clear up one or two definitions. Public Relations or PR is not just “press releases” and “press relations”, a number of marketing societies and organisations provide detailed definitions and we have come across several over the years, our own definition of Public Relations is:
“The management science of studying trends in media and markets, predicting their consequences and implementing planned, co-ordinated programmes of action which serve both the organisations and stakeholders interests.”
One of our team members has worked for a number of years as a lecturer in marketing communications teaching at Post Graduate level so we tend to defer to him when it comes to such definitions. With the squeeze on marketing budgets we enclose our top five tips on how to get the best out of your PR.
1). Think about Internal Publics not just External Stakeholders
Many organisations focus on the need to maintain goodwill and relations with external stakeholders (external to the organisation). It is essential that management recognises the importance of maintaining goodwill amongst that very important, and often overlooked group of stakeholders – the staff. In a recession, the workforce will be concerned about their jobs and their own financial position. Internal PR can be used to keep team members informed about the company’s progress, contracts won and updates on the market place. Staff can be motivated to help improve cost management, to save money on basic items such as stationery and administration all helpful when in the teeth of a recession. For relatively little outlay, just some care and thought in most cases, management can keep their staff on board.
2). Set Clear Aims and Objectives when considering Public Relations
Typically public relation campaigns are not thought out in enough detail. Objectives are not clear and precise. It is vital to ensure that before commencing a PR campaign, perhaps to maintain the corporate brand or product positioning, properly composed and carefully reviewed campaign objectives need to be set out and communicated.
Try to set SMART objectives, for example:
S = Specific, M = Measurable, A = Achievable, R = Relevant or Realistic and T = Timed objectives
A SMART Objective: To raise awareness amongst UK based prehistoric animal model collectors from 20% to 80% within 8 weeks of the campaign start of the launch of the new Carnegie Safari Dinosaur Collectibles range. women power
Such an objective, is clear, precise and permits campaign activities to be measured against specific criteria.
3). PR has Cost Implications
One of the common misconceptions about Public Relations is that even if you do not go to the expense of investing in a professional Public Relations agency, PR does have costs. The adage that there is “free publicity” to be gained is not entirely accurate. Admittedly, an article published in an influential magazine or newspaper can prove to be very cost effective, especially when compared to the cost of an above-the-line advertisement but remember to cost in the time of your staff in composing and managing the PR exercise. There is also the “opportunity cost” to consider, that is the cost of not doing other management tasks when you are focusing on developing the PR campaign.
4). Consider a Crisis Management Plan
One of the key functions of any PR role is to handle a company crisis appropriately, this area of Public Relations can be overlooked but the benefits of having a clear policy in this area is crucial to the continued success of your business operation. For example, recently our company was emailed by an irate American lady who had come across a web log posting about our “Dinosaurs for Girls” part of our website. She accused the company of not being positive towards the role of women in science. One of our team members was given the task of providing more information to this particular person and ensuring that a more accurate and representative picture regarding our company was communicated to the blog site manager concerned. Once information regarding our very proactive approach towards encouraging young women to learn more about Earth sciences, including pictures of team members running a special fossil study day with an actress dressed as Mary Anning, one of the founders of modern palaeontology was circulated this situation was rapidly cleared up. So impressed was the blog site manager with our professional approach towards the concerns of their readers; that our response indicating a positive role for women in science was published on their web log.